top of page

Hofstede finds his Boojum:
Fabricating identities and then counting them in Singapore

National University of Singapore Hofstede doctoral thesis making identities count

[1] The title of Sense Egbert Hofstede’s doctoral thesis, produced at the National University of Singapore under the supervision of Ja Ian Chong is ‘Claiming community: How Chinese Ethno-Nationalism Imagines Contact Points for Influence in Singapore and Taiwan’ (Hofstede 2022).

[2] Under: “Methodology…This research is inspired by the work of Ted Hopf on Soviet/Russian identity’s impact on the country’s foreign policy [and cites Hopf, ‘Constructivism at Home’.]. The method is that of the Making Identity Count (MIC) project [and cites Ted Hopf and Bentley B. Allan, eds., Making Identity Count: Building a National Identity Database (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).] It consists of discourse analysis of a variety of texts to uncover the different identity clusters. A researcher uncovers these identity clusters by counting identity descriptors in representative texts: leadership speeches, newspapers, history textbooks, novels, and movies [and cites pages 33 and 34 of ibid].  To make up for gaps in my data, I cite a report from MIC as well as reports from the more recent Making Identity Count in Asia (MICA) project…”

(Hofstede 2022, sic, emphasis in the original, pages 8 and 9).

[3] However, I did not find any reference called ‘Constructivisim at Home’ by Ted Hopf, date unknown. Hopf published something about the Cold War with a very different name (Hopf 2012).*


* On page viii of that publication, Hopf writes: “…This book has a history of its own…”.

I’m not arguing.

making identity count in asia national university of singapore political science ja ian chong international relations

[4] Nor could I find any database. A link for the Making Identity Count project is here. The Making Identity Count in Asia project is identical to the Making Identity Count project, merely grouping together the reports from Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam. The most ‘recent’ reports were published in 2015.

[5] The location of the data is in “…The first appendix contains the source selection and the rational for the choices that have been made. The following three appendixes contain the identity reports produced for this project as well as descriptions for those imported. That is where much of the original research for this project is to be found, inspiring the qualitative discussions in the country chapters. By combining multiple identity reports from multiple authors into a qualitative discussion, we can control the accuracy of each report and contribute to the MICA project by testing how easily one can plug other reports into new analysis…” (Hofstede 2022, page 10).

[6] Under “…Appendix APrimary Source Selection…” (Hoftede 2022, emphasis in the original, page 196), we are informed that the primary sources selected from each of China, Singapore, and Taiwan were: (i) two speeches by a national leader; (ii) op-eds and letters to the editor from two newspapers, collected on the 15th of every month “...for the year of measurement…” (ibid). These were 1998, 2008, and 2018; (iii) two school history books; (iv) two novels; and (v) two movies.

making identity count in asia international relations singapore national university of singapore
political science national university of singapore international relations
making identity count in asia china report

[7] Under “…B.2 China in 2015…The report for 2015 was produced by Xiumin Su as part of the online MICA project that was also the source of the projects in the other appendices [and cites the report for 2015 produced by Xiumin Su (sic)]. This also includes TV dramas. The number of discrete identities is rather high in this particular report, which could have benefitted from merging some of the categories. The problem with the report that was created is that many categories have the maximum salience of five symbols and only originate in one or two media sources, making it harder to judge relative importance or contrast elite and mass discourses. The report compensates for this by being more verbose than the one for 2010…” (Hofstede 2022, emphasis in the original, page 213).

[8] To understand what Hopf and the Making Identity Count project did, and what Hofstede either recycled or applied to a couple of selected op-eds, novels, and movies, one may draw upon the study of manipulation of language by the UK health system reported here.

[9] ‘Creatures’ were made by the UK health system to define woman as something which has lost fertility prematurely, needs to be ‘topped up’ with powerful steroids, and fucked frequently.

[10] For example, one ‘creature’ was (frequency of sexual intercourse). Another fairly quantifiable ‘creature’ could be (muscle mass). The ‘creature’ of (urogenital atrophy) was problematic, because it could be, physiologically, any number of things, and so it was removed from the guideline on hormone replacement therapy, and placed into its own world or guideline. Ultimately, a (woman) ‘creature’ became (premature menopause) ‘creature’ with or without (uterus), (oral contraception), and/or (hormone replacement therapy) ‘creatures’.

[11] Hopf, Making Identity Count, and by extension Hofstede, could not form their ‘creatures’ in the same way because (developing), (peace-loving), (unhealthy social comparision), (corrupt), (insecure), and (US), to name but a very few, exist only as nouns in the media selected for analyses, (see Su 2015, unfortunately the pages of that report are not numbered).

[12] For example, while (frequency of sexual intercourse) denotes the number of times an act is performed, (insecure) is not a number, act, nor performance.

[13] A justification for the ‘creatures’ of the UK health system is not merely the administration of powerful steroids to woman, by mouth, through or under her skin, and/or vagina, for the generation of profit for pharma company shareholders. As mentioned in the report, other stakeholders share interest(s) with the developers of this public health system guideline.

[14] What is the justification for Making Identity Count? A justification is quoted in paragraph [7] above, namely to “...judge relative importance or contrast elite and mass discourses…” (Hofstede 2022, page 213). To confirm: “…If political elites do not take into account the taken-for-granted world of the masses, elite ideological projects would likely founder against daily practices of resistance…” (Hopf 2013, in the Abstract).

[15] And what is the nature of “…elite ideological projects…” (ibid)? “…The results are used to theorize a constructivist account of hegemonic transition and draw out the implications of the results for the future of Western democratic neoliberal hegemony. The volume concludes that while there is strong support for the democratic elements of Western hegemony, mass texts all over the world express concern with the negative effects of neoliberal capitalism…” (Hopf and Allan 2016, in the Abstract).

ted hop political science international relations
ted hopf political science international relations

[16] When I first read the title of Hofstede’s thesis (2022) mentioned in paragraph [1], I wondered: What is ‘ethno-nationalism’, be it Chinese, Dutch, or Martian? As I understood what Hofp and Making Identity Count had done, and by extension Hofstede, it became clear that the more urgent question is: where is ethno-nationalism?

[17] Hopf makes identity count. Every word counts. He is making it, he is constructing it. He is identifying it, he is selecting the sources and the ‘creatures’. He is counting as in one two three.

[18] Hofstede went out to look for ‘ethno-nationalism’. He made it, he constructed the noun out of other nouns. He identified it, he selected a couple of sources, recycled others’, and picked the ‘creatures’. And then he counted them, one two three.

[19] While Hopf’s ‘elite vs. masses’ sociology may appear laughable, he at least knew what he was serving or working towards, and how: a quick and dirty method to guage media sentiment. What he may not have heard is that ‘there is no truth in the news, and no news in the truth’.

hofstede think tank

[20] What Hofstede appears to confuse, along with others at Making Identity Count such as Manali Kumar, is the distinction between what you are looking at and how you are looking at it:


“…In their already-mentioned article, Allan, Vucetic and Hopf highlight the fractured nature of ‘national identity’ when they define it as ‘a constellation of social categories about what constitutes the national self or what it means to be a member of a nation’…Naturally, not every member of a nation tells the same story. However, going over large numbers of texts does allow us to identify ‘identity clusters’ that help us establish the outlines of a generalised national identity…These provide the cognitive structure within which participants have to act. As Edward Saïd wrote, ‘novels are not simply the product of lonely genius’…written texts can tell us about the society that produced them…”

(Hofstede 2022, page 9).

fragmented identity clusters asia

[21] The confusion between what is being looked at and how is it being looked at is further confounded by who is looking. This is best examplified by quoting from the Making Identity Count in Asia: Identity Relations in Singapore and its Neighborhood project by Hofstede’s supervisor, Ja Ian Chong and, not Hofstede, rather Reuben Wong:


“…The national identities of these countries will be recovered using discourse analysis of mass and elite texts in each country Singapore will also be a testbed for multiple methodological approaches beyond discourse analysis, including a national survey, focus groups, ethnographies, and an analysis of social media. Monographs and research articles are planned on the identity relations among these states, between these states and great powers, the national identity projects of these states, as well as on multiple methodological approaches to studying national identity. The project involves NUS faculty from Political Science, Sociology, Southeast Asian Studies, History, as well as from Yale-NUS, SMU, and NTU. The project is related to the Making Identity Count project which aims at creating a large-n interpretivist national identity database for all great powers from 1810-2010. The first publication from that project is Making Identity Count (Oxford 2016)…” (click here to access).

[22] Hofstede attempted to construct a so-called ‘ethno-nationalism’ by counting nouns that were selected, and so projecting the communication that it has been made to count. But what does it do?

[23] What it does is mentioned in paragraph [20]: “…These [fragmented identity clusters] provide the cognitive structure within which participants have to act…” (Hofstede 2022, emphasis added, page 9). The only cognitive structure in the entire thesis is Hofstede’s, and the only one having to act is Hofstede. This is because counted nouns do not construct a cognitive structure no matter how hard anyone tries, and words on paper and other media do not act on their own.

[23] In other words, Hofstede (2022) is simply the product of loneliness, not unlike a novel.

hofstede edward said international relations political science national university singapore

…Then the bowsprit got mixed with the rudder sometimes:

A thing, as the Bellman remarked,

That frequently happens in tropical climes,

When a vessel is, so to speak, “snarked.”…

singapore straits sailing ship bowsprit rudder lewis carroll

…They sought it with thimbles, they sought it with care;

They pursued it with forks and hope;

They threatened its life with a railway-share;

They charmed it with smiles and soap…

charming snark hope forks soap seeking

…“It’s a Snark!” was the sound that first came to their ears,

And seemed almost too good to be true.

Then followed a torrent of laughter and cheers:

Then the ominous words “It’s a Boo-”

snark boojum singapore

In the midst of the word he was trying to say,

In the midst of his laughter and glee,

He had softly and suddenly vanished away—-

For the Snark was a Boojum, you see.

hofstede identity singapore

From The Hunting of the Snark: An Agony in Eight Fits

by Lewis Carroll



Hopf, Ted. 2012. “Reconstructing the Cold War: The Early Years, 1945-1958.”

Hopf, Ted. 2013. “Common-Sense Constructivism and Hegemony in World Politics.” International Organization 67 (2): 317–54.

Hopf, Ted, and Bentley B. Allan, eds. 2016. Making Identity Count: Building a National Identity Database. Oxford University Press.

Su, Xiumin. 2015. “Making Identity Count: China 2015.”

doctoral thesis singapore national university of singapore NUS
bottom of page