A fetishised gift: The legal status of flags

Orr, Graeme (2010) A fetishised gift: The legal status of flags. Griffith Law Review, 19 3: 504-526.

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Author Orr, Graeme
Title A fetishised gift: The legal status of flags
Journal name Griffith Law Review   Check publisher's open access policy
ISSN 1038-3441
Publication date 2010
Year available 2010
Sub-type Article (original research)
Open Access Status File (Publisher version)
Volume 19
Issue 3
Start page 504
End page 526
Total pages 23
Place of publication Nathan, QLD, Australia
Publisher Griffith University Law School
Collection year 2012
Language eng
Abstract Accounts of the relationship between flags and the law have focused on a narrow strain of contentions drawn from debates about political expression. This essay seeks to bridge the gap between cultural studiesʼ insight into nationalism and its symbolics, and the flagʼs legal status, to better understand the unique position occupied by national flags. Flag ʻwavingʼ has become more prevalent in many liberal democracies. In such societies, flags occupy not a religious role, but a quiet and quotidian place in what Billig terms ʻbanal nationalismʼ. As a cipher for the whole, a particular flagʼs design is relatively unimportant; what lends it power is a mix of the gravity bestowed by its official designation and the easy commodification lent by a flagʼs easy reproducibility and portability. Unlike other state symbols such as the currency, coat of arms and honorifics, the state does not seek to monopolise the flagʼs use, let alone define its meaning. An analysis of the laws in several countries governing flag designation, observance and ʻdesecrationʼ reveals that the law accords the flag distinct status yet only equivocal protection. While the state may crave its citizensʼ fealty, a flag is not a symbol of some distant governmentality. Rather, it is gifted to ʻthe peopleʼ and relies for its relevance on its organic proliferation. As both object and image, people attribute a power to the flag – a power they recognise over themselves and others with whom they share a body politic. A key source of this fetishisation is its official, legal designation. Though it embodies no particular values, a flag is valued, even fetishised, by flag-wavers and flag-burners alike.
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Document type: Journal Article
Sub-type: Article (original research)
Collections: Non HERDC
TC Beirne School of Law Publications
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Created: Mon, 24 Jan 2011, 15:07:10 EST by Associate Professor Graeme Orr on behalf of T.C. Beirne School of Law