Rogers Brubaker is an American sociologist and has been a professor at the University of California Los Angeles since 1991. His works focus on ideas of social theory, immigration, citizenship, nationalism, and ethnicity. His early works Citizenship (1992), Nationhood in France and Germany, and Nationalism reframed: nationhood and the national question in New Europe (1996) sought to analyse nationalism in Europe from a historical and comparative perspective. His subsequent analytical essays collected in Ethnicity without Groups (2004) sought to develop alternatives to the predominant analytical approaches to the issues of ethnicity, race and nationalism, and applied his approach to the collaborative Nationalist Politics and Everyday Ethnicity in a Transylvanian Town (2006). His book, Grounds for Difference (2015) identifies and engages with three prominent contexts for the politics of difference: the return of inequality, the return of biology, and the return of the sacred; and his most recent work Trans: Gender and Race in an Age of Unsettled Identities (2016) seeks to rethink race and ethnicity to the lens of the transgender experience, with the aim of emphasizing the malleability and arbitrariness of racial classification.
OPINIONS ON NATIONALISM
What is the role of commemoration ceremonies?
According to Brubaker, the creation of a National Day is part of the historization of a nation, in which the date of such commemorations is linked to a constitutive event in the “national history”. Take for example the 1848 revolutions, in particular the Hungarian rebellion against the Austrian Empire.
Brubaker presents two models of interpretation. In the “desacralized” model, the Hungarian revolution is part of the liberal Pan-European movements against Old Regimes. In the “sacralized model,” the rebellion is nothing more than the struggle for liberation. In that sense, the role of commemoration ceremonies is to support political ideologies. Nowadays, this rebellion can be mobilised as a tool for or against European integration.
What can explain the birth of nationalistic claims in a plural society?
Brubaker’s “triadic nexus” describes the relationship among national minorities, nationalizing states, and external national homelands. This relationship is sometimes conflictual but can also not be. Additionally, the relationship is very interdependent; responsive and interactive; and mediated. Brubaker uses his triadic nexus to discuss the breakup of Yugoslavia.
National minority: The definition of a national minority varies and can range from attempts to introduce the minority language into aspects of the government and education/administration or to full-fledged claims for independence, depending on how deeply it perceives itself to be oppressed.
Nationalizing state: This is a dynamic situation in which the state is not yet a nation-state but might aspire to be one day through efforts such as homogenizing language and culture, improving the economy, etc. The nationalizing state does not have to articulate that it wants to become a nation-state, but rather it simply needs to be perceived by the national minority and/or the external national homeland to be considered as such. If the minority is attempting to assert its rights, the nationalizing state may consider it disloyal and increase its nationalistic policies.
External national homeland: Nationhood extends across territorial boundaries and the homeland feels responsible not only for its own citizens but also for those “ethnic conationals” living in other states. The extent to which the homeland intervenes varies.
What is the difference between Race, Ethnicity and Nationalism?
Brubaker thinks the literature on Nationalism issues tends to be essentialist. Despite the fact that recent researches have a more multidisciplinary scope, scholars tend to consider ethnicity, race and nations as “static groups.” Brubaker does not give a clear definition of these three terms. According to him, the fundamental research object is the understanding of a definition. He explains that a notion such as ethnicity has to be understood as dynamic and cognitive. To understand ethnicity, one needs to observe the practices of a group, which can change over time, thereby changing the classification of the group. The intersubjective perception of the group depends on everyday narratives such as the words that we use to describe objects.
ASSIMILATION AND IMMIGRATION
With Brubaker we revisit the idea of ethnic vs. civic understandings of nationhood. In Citizenship and Nationhood in France and Germany, he describes the French understanding of nationhood to be ‘state-centred and assimilationist’, whilst the German understanding is described to be ‘Volk-centred and differentialist’ (Brubaker, 1992:1). He discusses a number of reasons why this difference came about, including geographical, political and cultural circumstances.
In France, the nation is conceived in relation to the state’s institutional and territorial frame. The unitarist, universalist and secular definitions of nationhood and citizenship, which stem from the revolutionary and republican past, reinforce the essentially political understanding of nationhood already present in the ancien régime. Yet, whilst French nationhood is constituted by political unity, cultural unity is a major aspiration, which is why political inclusion entails cultural assimilation, both for regional cultural minorities and immigrants.
In contrast, national feeling in Germany predates the nation-state, and is not originally a political idea, nor linked to the abstract idea of citizenship. Instead, it is an organic cultural, linguistic, or racial community. Thus nationhood is understood in ethnocultural terms (based on blood, descent and ancestry), not as a political fact. The Volksgeist is constitutive of nationhood, while the state, though important, merely lends to its expression.
These differences result in a stark contrast when it comes to citizenship ascription. Whilst in France, citizenship is ascribed to most persons born on French territory, even if of foreign parents (ius soli), Germany used to ascribe citizenship only on the basis of descent (ius sanguinis). In his 2001 article The return of assimilation, Brubaker mentions the changes introduced in 1999 in Germany, through which this principle was liberalised. Henceforth, citizenship is attributed to children born in Germany to foreign parents, under the condition that at least one parent resided legally in Germany for at least eight years.
In various instances, Brubaker emphasizes his aim to present a perspective on concepts as nationalism and ethnicity that moves away from scholars who ‘defined the axes of debate on nationalism in the 1970s and 1980s’. Brubaker confirms this aim once again in his article on the construction of ethnicity, race, and nationalism (Brubaker 2009), as he argues that these core concepts must not be analysed as separate classifications that only work in bounded ethnic and racial groups, and nations.
Brubaker criticizes Smith, Gellner and Anderson for their ‘macroanalytic’ theories of nationalism: “[Their focus on] long-term formation of nations involves profound socioeconomic, political, and cultural transformations; but once formed, nations are treated as static, substantial entities” (ibid: 30).
A contemporary issue that can perhaps be analyzed using Brubaker’s triadic nexus is Ukraine and the Russian annexation of Crimea, an area of Ukraine that has historically been populated by ethnic Russians. Russia has often been perceived as taking an active “homeland” stance towards its ethnic conationals in Ukraine. In 2009, ethnic Russians living in Crimea held anti-Ukrainian protests. In 2013, Ukrainian President Yanukovych failed to sign the Ukrainian-EU Association Agreement, leading to more protests. By 2014, Yanukovych had fled the capital amid protests, and Russian President Putin stated they needed to work to return Crimea to Russia and that Russia had a right to protect Russians in Ukraine. However, how much of this was fueled by political reasons rather than the actions of a genuine national homeland “protecting” its people?
The Ukraine Russia Conflict Explained – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vdxG-fLv0vI
- Do you think Brubaker’s critique on the stasis of Smith, Gellner and Anderson is justifiable? Discuss.
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of studying ethnicity without groups, as Brubaker advocates?
- Does the role of commemoration ceremonies change over time? What are some examples where the context and meaning of the ceremony might have changed?