UNL political scientist's work honored with national award

Released on 07/15/2010, at 12:00 AM
Office of University Communications
University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Lincoln, Neb., July 15th, 2010 —
Elizabeth Theiss-Morse
Elizabeth Theiss-Morse

The American Political Science Association has chosen "Who Counts As An American?: The Boundaries of National Identity" by University of Nebraska-Lincoln political scientist Elizabeth Theiss-Morse as the winner of the 2010 Robert E. Lane Award as the best book in political psychology in 2009.

In "Who Counts As An American?", Theiss-Morse, the chairwoman of UNL's department of political science, draws on social identity theory to examine the dynamics of national loyalty and commitment. She develops a social theory of national identity and uses a national survey, focus groups and experiments to explain why national identity is such a powerful force in peoples' lives.

Her results show that the mixture of group commitment and the setting of exclusive boundaries on the national group clearly affect how people behave toward their fellow Americans.

In reviewing the book, political scientist Diana Mutz of the University of Pennsylvania said it "could not be more timely in its recognition of the tensions between Americans' need for a sense of community as well as for greater appreciation of the country's diversity."

Theiss-Morse's work finds that those who strongly identify with the "national group" care a great deal about it -- they sincerely want to help and to be loyal to their fellow Americans. But by limiting who counts as an American, the strong identifiers place severe limits on who benefits from their generosity. Help and loyalty are offered only to "true Americans," while others are relegated to the edges of the national group.

"I'm honored to receive the Robert E. Lane Award for 'Who Counts as an American?'," Theiss-Morse said. "When writing the book, I set out to tackle both the positives and negatives of American identity, including how we help fellow Americans and how we react to their criticism.

"The boundaries we place on who counts as being fully American is relevant in our current political climate, and it's very satisfying that the APSA has recognized my work."

The award, given annually by the APSA's political psychology section, is named for Robert E. Lane, the Eugene Meyer Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Yale University. Theiss-Morse will share this year's award with George A. Akerlof of the University of California, Berkeley, and Robert J. Shiller of Yale University, who wrote "Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy, and Why it Matters for Global Capitalism." Theiss-Morse will receive her award in September at the APSA's annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

"Who Counts As An American" was published by Cambridge University Press.

Writer:Steve Smith