Benedict Anderson was born in China in 1936 to and English mother and an Irish father in Imperial Customs Service. Having lived briefly in China and Ireland, in 1941, the family moved to the United States. Then, Anderson was educated in both the United States and England graduating from the University of Cambridge in 1957 and later receiving a Ph.D. from Cornell University. With his academic focus on Southeast Asia, Anderson lived at the center of key tensions in nationalism discourse: East vs West, European vs American, imperial vs anti-colonial. In his research, Anderson addresses these tensions by looking at the process of nationalism and within what boundaries the nation exists.
Anderson’s magnum opus, Imagined Communities, understands nations as sociopolitical constructs which emerged in the 18th century as previously established religious communities and dynastic realms began to retreat. Thus, the nation serves as an alternative mean through which to explain human suffering or martyrdom. After explaining why nations arose in modernity, he goes on define a nation as an imagined community which is both limited and sovereign.
1) it is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members…
2) … limited because even the largest of them…has finite, if elastic boundaries, beyond which lie other nations
3) … sovereign because the concept was born in an age which Enlightenment and Revolution were destroying the legitimacy of the divinely-ordained
4) … a community because… the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship.
Nations, as Anderson notes in his definition, evolve in the age of Enlightenment and Revolution. Nations are intrinsically tied to print-capitalism. Anderson considers literature and newspapers as cultural products which play an important role in giving “a hypnotic confirmation of the solidity of a single community”. Even though the act of reading them is conduct privately, each member of the community knows that “the ceremony he performs” is being replicated by others “of whose existence he is confident, yet of whose identity he has not the slightest notion”. This action gives a feeling of cohesion within a greater narrative constructed by the dominant institutionalized discourse.
For example, a large portion of Anderson’s book focused on what he called “creole nationalism” in the Americas and the processes which follow. In the Americas, unique communities which could identify neither with the pure-Europeans nor the natives began to seek autonomy having used community-specific newspapers to foster their imagined communities. As a process, the spread of nations was, thus, in Anderson’s own words: a “spontaneous distillation of a complex crossing of discrete historical forces.”
As 21st century technology increases the ability, as newspapers once did, to foster a nation, consider an imagined community in practice: nearly three decades of conflict between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) caused an exodus of a large proportion of the Tamil population, who are now found scattered across the globe. Today, Tamils have acquired citizenship and formed diasporic communities outside of Sri Lanka. During conflicts, researchers have found that the some Tamils outside Sri Lanka support the LTTE’s nationalist movements by sending money and equipment or spreading awareness. While not necessarily having experienced direct oppression from the Sri Lankan government nor necessarily supporting the militant Tigers, Tamils from India to South Africa to the UK and beyond form a broad diaspora group which imagines itself as part of one united nation.
1) How do Anderson’s views differ from previous theorists? What does he say about imagination which differs from ideas of invention or fabrication?
2) If nationalism is the product of the rise of vernaculars brought by print-capitalism, does it means that the nation is such kind of group whose members shared the similar culture or reading material? If so, how to foster the strong sacrifice spirit by those cultural products? How might these same cultural products divide nations?