Mad Dogs and Englishmen
: Constructions of UK State Identity in Internet News Reporting On the 2011 Libyan Civil War

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This thesis asks how UK state identity is constructed by UK internet news reporting of the 2011 Libyan civil war and the events immediately preceding it. Adopting a discourse-theoretic approach, my analysis examines news reporting on Libya between 15 January and 31 December 2011 in a politically balanced range of outlets: the BBC, The Daily Mail, The Guardian, The Telegraph and The Sun. The articles were selected using a variety of broad keywords relating to Libya, the UK and conflict or violence in order to examine the widest possible range of material. I conceptualise the re/production of state identity as a continuous process in which identity is constituted in relation to difference, relations which may be positive, ambivalent or negative. Key to the process of state identity production is the concept of threat. Risk is omnipresent, yet not all risks come to be recognised as “threats”. In this thesis ‘threat’ is not taken to be an objective assessment of a situation but rather an interpretation of a particular subject, object or issue as dangerous. The designation of ‘threats’ is produced by and productive of two elements: the apparent source of the threat and the identity of the subject at risk. Several issues dominate reporting on the Libyan civil war and are presented as a ‘threat’ by UK news outlets: the past relationship between the UK and Libya, violence in Libya, migration and weapons of mass destruction. Using these ‘threats’ to structure my empirical chapters, I examine representations of UK identity and other related subject positions.

I find that the UK is portrayed in four specific ways: as capable of making difficult decisions for the greater good, as a supporter of global democracy and human rights, as able to provide for its citizens through an established welfare state, and as a great power ready for military operations. The representation of the UK in these positive terms is underpinned by representations of other subject positions such as Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan people and the Libyan state, which are variously presented as, for example, evil or childlike. This thesis contributes to the field by making use of an understanding of state identity not commonly applied to the United Kingdom and focusing upon how this subject is constructed. This approach is important because it allows us to consider what is taken for granted in discussions about the UK, especially its role in international politics, and illuminates the way in which power disciplines conceptualisations of UK state identity.
Date of Award12 May 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorKaren Tucker (Supervisor) & Jutta Weldes (Supervisor)

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