Archive for October, 2012

Liah Greenfeld

Dignity From the Nation

Greenfeld believes that an important factor in understanding the dignity attached with belonging to a nation, is the semantic change of the word ‘nation’. Starting as a derogatory word for non-Roman citizens, it evolved into meaning communities of opinion and purpose at French universities to use at Church councils adjudicating church issues, and from here it developed political and cultural meanings, especially individual sovereignty,

Members of this ‘people’ participate in its “superior, elite quality and it is in consequence that a stratified national community is perceived as naturally homogeneous” (Greenfeld 1993:7). The concept of the nation elevated the lower class and gave them a sufficient degree of social mobility as to allow them to be ennobled.

This then leads us to the concept that the “symbolic ennoblement of the populace in nationalism makes membership in the nation, i.e. nationality itself, an honourable, elevated status” (Greenfeld 2005:327). This is thus able to be directly linked in one attaching their sense of identity and self-worth…dignity, to one’s national identity.

Dignity is addictive: once tasted, it is hard to achieve similar levels of happiness without it. It is this convergence of factors that ensures commitment to a national community, and even more so, a sustained and vested individual interest in the overall appearance of the nation’s prestige.

A resident of Ramaphosa Squatter settlement on the outskirts of Johannesburg uses a golf club to demolishes a shack to stop the fire from spreading after several shacks were set alight.

Does this proposed link with dignity suggest underlying causes for nationalist violence and aggression? For instance, can we view the use of violence during the May 2008 riots in South Africa as an example of a previously persecuted group using violence as a ‘state of exception’ against another group?


Nationalism and the Rise of Economic Japan

In “The Spirit of Capitalism” Liah Greenfeld attempts to analyse the causes of economic transformation. Her central thesis is that the reason for the reorientation of economic activity towards growth is the emergence of nationalism. Essentially nationalism is the organizing principle of modernity. She argues that nationalism is a “unique form of social consciousness” and that the emergence of national consciousness is, at its core, fundamentally democratic: “egalitarianism represents the essential principle of the social organization it implies, and popular sovereignty its essential political principle.”

Greenfeld applies a (critical) Weberian analysis to economic transformation, positing that the purpose of Weber’s most famous work ‘The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism’ is to:

explain the shift in social attitudes to economic activity, and the nature of new attitudes, which, in the then existing conditions of material development, pertaining to the state of markets, financial institutions, technology, population, and agricultural capacity, oriented the economy toward, and were responsible for the definition of, growth as socially desirable, making it a value and thereby promoting its institutionalization.”

In discussing the ideas proposed by Greenfeld, an interesting case study is that of Japan. The Meiji restoration overturned the highly traditional government in 1868. By the mid 1880s the traditional social structure was dismantled and a new order constructed in which industrialization was taking place at breathtaking pace. The ideology of the Meiji restoration, Greenfeld argues, is nationalism.

Nationalism, it is argued, is imported from the West, and was well received due the pervasive condition of status-inconsistency which affected various strata in Japanese society. There is a very interesting study of the disaffection and transformation of the Samurai military class (which was ultimately disbanded) in Greenfeld’s writing . She argues, for example, that the egalitarian ethic of nationalism led to its embrace by this class, as it refocused loyalty on the community and the people, and de-emphasized lineage as the sole source of status.

The Meiji nationalists felt that the prestige of Japan was low – a fact that became clear through interaction with the Western powers. The desire for rapid industrialization and modernization is perhaps best summed up by the declaration of a nationalist leader Ito:

“The aim of our country has been from the very beginning , to attain among the nations of the world the status of a civilized nation and to become a member of the comity of European and American nations which occupy the position of civilized countries. To occupy this comity of nations means to become one of them…Both ruler and ruled should apply their efforts smoothly and harmoniously to preserve tranquility; to elevate the status of the people; to secure the rights and promote the welfare of each individual; and finally, by manifesting abroad the dignity and power of Japan, to secure and maintain her dignity and independence.”

Economic achievement thus becomes a central value in Japanese national consciousness. Greenfeld ultimately argues that this, as the decisive node of Japanese national consciousness, and the economic system remain essentially unaltered today, and that the guiding “spirit” remains. This, she posits, is central to Japans continued economic success on a global scale.

Does Greenfeld’s theory of the role of dignity within nationalism explain the meteoric rise of Japan as an economic power?

Migrant Nationalism

Greenfeld identifies C16 England as the original nation and looks to it as the definition of “individualistic civic nationalism”, the form of nationalism to which membership is a consequence of individually exercised sovereignty. Inherent in this definition are the rights of the individual as enshrined in Enlightenment thought; reason defined humanity, individual consciousness was autonomous, civic liberty an entitlement and the choice between alternatives a matter for personal reasoning. Much as this is understood to have been symptomatic of English nationalism, Greenfeld sees other later nationalisms as having been imported. Russia, for example, modelled their own nationalism after Western European patterns, leading to a form in which inferiority – or ressentiment – is a fundamental ingredient. Equally important to this model is a shared sense of dislocation from the existing structure – anomie; “dissatisfaction with the traditional identity reflected a fundamental inconsistency between the definition of social order it expressed and the experience of the involved actors”.

International population movements and the negative impact they are perceived as having on homogeneously defined nationalisms have been accorded increasing attention across various fields. How these movements will contribute to the changing shapes of nationalisms could be examined from Greenfeld’s perspective:

Do the often limited rights accorded to migrants entitle them as national members to demand structural change?

Are new forms of nationalism being imported by or generated amongst migrant communities?

What impact might migrants have on shaping national identities?













Madness and Modernity?

Greenfeld proposes that modern culture has an impact on three distinctly human faculties: identity, will and symbolic imagination. Identity is the key to positioning ourselves within our social world and being able to gauge our social position relative to others. Symbolic imagination gives humans the ability to judge and react accordingly to given situations, where deciphering symbolic gestures such as facial expressions or body language is particularly important. Finally, will gives us the ability to override our natural impulses to actually enforce the correct symbolic responses, to modify our behaviour to that appropriate to the given situation.

Greenfeld argues that modern society presents individuals with such a bewildering array of choice and mobility that it ”inhibits the formation and normal functioning of the human mind”. Through the rise of modernity we are now able to achieve a far wider range of social identities, whether these relate to money, career or love. This is ”made possible by the egalitarianism of nationalism and the system of stratification it creates.”. In a society where anything is possible, however, frustration of these ambitions can lead to feelings of confusion, anxiety and depression, as our attempts to define ourselves using identity, symbolic imagination and will fail. This is summarised as resulting in an increase of mental disorders throughout the ”most prosperous and freest nations”. She concludes:

”If I am right, deeper, more accurate understanding of nationalism may be the key to the treatment of ever-spreading mental disorders which have called modern psychiatry and clinical psychology into being and which modern psychiatry and clinical psychology have been trying in vain to cure – more than that, a deeper, more accurate understanding of nationalism may be the key to the very problem of happiness and unhappiness.”

Whilst a compelling narrative to account for the rise of mental illnesses amongst Western societies, do we agree with her theory of nationalism as the root cause of the problem, as well as the potential source of the solution?

For an article examining historical sociological perspectives on mental illness:


And for a brief article on the rise of mental illness in the UK (strangely concentrating on the economic ramifications) see below. Particularly the map showing distribution of mental illness within the UK:


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Benedict Anderson

Image         Source: http://www.city.fukuoka.lg.jp/fu-a/en/culture_prizes/detail/52.html, October 22, 2012.

Benedict Anderson is best known for his work regarding Nationalism in his book Imagined Communities.

Anderson defines the nation as, “an imagined political community – and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign…It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion” (Anderson, B., 1983, p.6).

“The nation is imagined as limited because even the largest of them, encompassing perhaps a billion living human beings, has finite, if elastic, boundaries, beyond which lie other nations. No nation imagines itself coterminous with mankind…It is imagined as sovereign because the concept was born in an age in which the Enlightenment and Revolution were destroying the legitimacy of the divinely-ordained, hierarchical dynastic realm…Finally, it is imagined as a community because, regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may occur in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep horizontal comradeship” (Anderson, B., 1983, p.7).

Question 1. Do we agree with Anderson’s definition of the nation?

  • Nationalism as a Positive Force

During an interview at the International Literature Festival in Stavanger, Anderson makes the case for nationalism as a positive force:

I must be the only one writing about nationalism who doesn’t think it ugly. If you think about researchers such as Gellner and Hobsbawm, they have quite a hostile attitude to nationalism. I actually think that nationalism can be an attractive ideology. I like its Utopian elements

A link to the full interview can be found below:


In Imagined Communities, Anderson argues that nationalism is not linked with racism:

“The fact of the matter is that nationalism thinks in terms of historical destinies, while racism dreams of eternal contaminations, transmitted from the origins of time through an endless sequence of loathsome copulations: outside history…The dreams of racism actually have their origin in ideologies of class, rather than in those of nation: above all in claims to divinity among rulers and to ‘blue’ or ‘white’ blood and ‘breeding’ among aristocracies” (Anderson, 1983, p.149).

However, in their review, the Influence of Benedict Anderson, McCleery and Brabon (2007) argue that, “whenever civic nations (as they imagine themselves)raise barriers against immigrants and even those seeking asylum, they almost always do so on a racialized basis”.

Question 2. To what extent do we agree with Benedict Anderson and his view that nationalism is a force for good?

  • Imagined Communities: Language

“What the eye is to the lover – that particular, ordinary eye he or she is born with – language – whatever language history has made his or her mother-tongue – is to the patriot. Through that language, encountered at mother’s knee and parted with only at the grave, pasts are restored, fellowships are imagined, and futures dreamed” (Anderson,  1983, p.154).

Anderson argues that language plays a key role in national identity and nationalism throughout Imagined Communities.

Claims are made that Flemish speakers in Belgium have been marginalized. This has given rise to a Flemish nationalist movement which has seen recent political success. Relevant articles can be found below:




Source: http://www.flags.net/BELG.htm, October 22, 2012.


Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Vlaamse_vlag.jpg, October 22, 2012.

Question 3. Do the recent political gains of Flemish Nationalists prove Anderson right? How does this compare with other nations and nationalist movements?

  • Imagined Communities: Sport

Anderson (1983) suggested that while the most members of one single nation will not know each other, they are brought together by the image of their communion. Anderson’s concept of imagined communities carries the idea that nations can be re-imagined and therefore transformed.


Source:http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/features/3634426/How-Nelson-Mandela-won-the-rugby-World-Cup.html, October 23, 2012.

The Springboks team, explicitly supported by President Nelson Mandela was projected as a symbol of democratic multi-racial South Africa. The team’s success projected a positive image and rapid political changes that took place in South Africa. The victory of South Africa is not like any other sporting victory, but as a victory of the nation over continuous racial wars. The media directly links this rugby game to political rhetoric, which is supposed to reinforce South African national identity and promote country’s status of a ‘new’ stable nation. “Nations are what their citizens imagine them to be, and nation-building occurs not only through political and economic processes, but also in cultural and symbolic contexts. In this regard, arenas such as sport, and representations of sport and nation in the media, are crucial sites for imagining and re-imagining the nation” (Farquharson & Marjoribanks, 2003, p. 45).

Interesting images to look at:


Source: http://theinspirationroom.com/daily/2007/england-never-surrender/, October 23, 2012.

ImageSource: http://adsoftheworld.com/media/print/rbs_lets_get_behind_scotland, October 23, 2012.


Source: http://www.newsday.com/opinion/oped/burton-will-the-u-s-ever-host-the-olympics-again-1.3902451, October 23, 2012.

Question 4. Do you agree that sporting events create and reinforce imagined communities, for example, how effective was the London 2012 Olympics in conveying an imagined community?

Imagined Communities, Diasporas and the Impact of Modern Technology

As we saw, Anderson’s definition of a nation assumes some level of “contrasting” with an “Other” (the limited aspect) – it is therefore all the more interesting to apply his definition of a nation to diaspora and migrant communities.

Consider two somewhat different examples. One is the issue of Sikh nationalist and separatist movements in Canada. While most Sikhs worldwide are believed to have abandoned the notion of an independent Khalistan, a separate Sikh state (in the territories more or less corresponding to Punjab in India), there is still evidence that separatism is flourishing in Canada, believed to have the largest Sikh diaspora in the world (for more details see: http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/804021–sikh-separatism-still-alive-and-festering-in-canada ). But this issue, while rising to prominence in Canadian politics, has not had a huge impact on politics in India.

On the other hand, if you look at the impact of Arab and Jewish diasporas (and their nationalisms) on the politics of numerous Western powers as well as Middle Eastern states, not to mention their home countries, you can see the level of influence is quite different.

This raises certain questions regarding the impact of current technological opportunities (media, internet, and also travel) on the spread of certain nationalisms from country to country and from continent to continent. How do diasporas then relate back to their compatriots in the countries of their origin and what impact does this have on the nationalism back home?

Question 5. How do you see the “imagined communities” growing and spreading their nationalism in new areas in the modern world?


Barbara, Euan, Luba, Mar-Lisa.

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ENNIN Seminar, Wednesday 24th October 2012

The seminar will take place on Wednesday, 10th October from 5.00pm at the Seminar Room in Chisholm House (High School Yards). We will have two presentations:

Eirik Fuglestad (Edinburgh)

‘Autonomy, Property and Nation: revealing a continuum.’

Regina Kuhl (Bremen)

”Loving  your own country or reflecting on it: what impacts attitudes of German exchange students towards their host country?’.

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Anthony D. Smith

(Source: http://ukrainianweek.com/Politics/57600, Oct. 14, 2012)

Anthony Smith’s ethnosymbolist approach stands as an example of the culturalist/ethnicist school of thought in nationalism studies, which aims to explain nations and nationalism by focusing on cultural factors and pre-modern continuities with what Smith terms the ‘ethnie’. Smith argues that the modernist paradigm pays insufficient attention to the long-term formation of national identities and, moreover, to the political power of the ‘myth-symbol complex‘ and of ‘myth-memories‘ in modern nations and nationalist movements: in particular, the myths of the ‘golden age’ and of ‘ethnic election‘, which he argues provide nationalists with powerful tools for mobilisation. He is, however, careful to allow for the obvious fact that many supposedly ancient nationalist myths are modern inventions. What counts is that such myths are on some level believed to be true. Smith paraphrases Rousseau in arguing this:

“A nation must have a navel, and if it has not got one, we must start by inventing one.”

For Smith, culture is central.


1. England: A Classic Example of a ‘Lateral’ Ethnie in Pre-Modernity?

Smith regards England as a classic example of ‘lateral’ or aristocratic ethnie in pre-modernity. He suggests that some lateral ethnies like England, Spain, France and Sweden were able to survive over many centuries through a process of ‘bureaucratic incorporation’. Using this process, they were able to bring other strata and regions of their society into the principal ethnic culture of the state. Smith argues that these states were able to utilize state apparatuses and processes to ‘disseminate and regulate’ the myths, values, traditions and symbols of the dominant ethnic core of the state. This process allowed for the redefinition of the cultural identity of the state. Such redefinition entailed a process of expansion and accommodation within the aforementioned cultural identity to incorporate “peripheral ethnic cultures” (1991, p. 55).

In the case of England, for Smith such accommodation played a key role. He suggests that, for a couple hundred years after the Norman Conquest, the Normans engaged in considerable redefinition of their cultural identity, incorporating aspects of Saxon culture while consolidating the state. By the end of this process, Smith suggests that common language and myths of common descent had emerged. Smith does not suggest that this means that and English nation existed as early as the 14th century, rather he suggests that these processes make the nation formation process ‘discernible’ in the English case. He argues that full formation as a nation only occurred later, during the Tudor era and reformation, when the nation emerged in a more comprehensive way (1991, pp. 55-57).

Smith’s exploration of the English case demonstrates how he believes ethnies can transform over time, evolving alongside state-building processes and eventually forming a nation. It also demonstrates how he believes how alien cultural elements can be integrated into a dominant ethnie’s cultural identity; a process which he believes helps ethnies survive over time.
Source: Smith, Anthony  D., 1991. National Identity. Reno: University of Nevada Press.

♣ Do you find Smith’s narrative convincing or could an alternative story be told?

2. Macedonia: Competing Myths of Origin

The Republic of Macedonia makes for an interesting case concerning Smith’s ideas about ethno-symbolism. In the past few years, a discussion on the ethnic ‘origins’ of the Macedonian people has flared up within Macedonia. A view of the Macedonians as a Slavic people which entered the Balkans in the 7th century is confronted, quite literally, with, in Smith’s words, “the antiquity of nations”, the simple idea that the contemporary Macedonians are direct descendants of the Macedonians of the classical antiquity.

(Source: http://www.wikipedia.org)

The country’s current ruling party, VMRO-DPME, is in favour of the so called ‘antiquisation’ of the Macedonian nation, and shows this support quite overtly in the public space, placing a controversial and gigantic statue of Alexander the Great, the most famous of ancient Macedonian kings, in the country’s capital, Skopje.

(Source: http://turkeymacedonia.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/alexander-the-great-statue-giant.jpg, Oct. 14, 2012)
‘Is VMRO, as some claim, turning Skopje into a theme park?’

The fact that there’s a lively discussion about the sort of ethno-symbolism which is deemed to be ‘correct’ for the Macedonian people clearly shows the relevance of Smith’s ideas about the imagination of the ethnic past and the very real political power it holds. For instance, some argue that VMRO’s assertion of a more ancient past is a bid to forge a form of ethnic national unity, a bid which will exclude the large Albanian minority that is present in Macedonia. But it’s also interesting to see the conflict that arises out of the disputed origins of the Macedonian people is challenging Smith’s definition of the nation, of which one ingredient is: a shared myth of common origins. Thus, we would like to ask:

♣ If a nation is at a certain point sharply divided on the issue of its origin myths, especially when these
origins are ethnic in character, is it in danger of falling apart? In other words, is a shared common origin
myth crucial to the existence and continuous reproduction of a nation?

For a concise article about the current conflict between Slavic and ancient Macedonian origin, see:

3. Response from the Academic Community:
    Sinisa Malesevic defines Smith’s ethnosymbolist approach as ‘Durkhemian‘, and critiques it on those terms:

  • Malesevic argues that ethnosymbolism tends to fall victim to ‘evolutionary historicism‘, and the view that the progression from ‘ethnie’ to ‘nation’ follows a set, linear path: there is, in his words, “too much coherence, and still too little contingency” in these narratives.
  • Ethnosymbolism assigns too much agency to the group-as-entity and pays too little attention to the ways in which group identities are constructed and lived in practice. Ethnies and nations are too often described simply as homogeneous independent actors with a collective will. For example, Smith states that Kievan Rus is claimed by both “the Ukrainians” and “the Russians”. But do all Ukrainians and Russians do so? Or is the claim made by individuals and organizations in the name of these groups? Smith’s usage blurs this distinction.
  • Ethnosymbolism takes an ‘idealist’ approach, and this de-emphasises the economic and political factors that drive competition between groups and thus encourage elites to invoke group identities in order to mobilise members of their societies and to paper over social divisions by contrast with the other.

♣ Do these criticisms of Smith’s method seem fair? And how do they play out in the ethnosymbolist interpretations of the cases presented above?

Ben, Michel, Regina & Thomas

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Ernest Gellner

Ernest Gellner’s theory of nationalism is a description of how nations and nationalism form. Over our reading we came to the view that his theory works primarily as a historical account of how nations develop, with regards to industrialisation, uneven development and the striving of nations to have coherent cultural and political boundaries. This led to us debating whether Gellner’s theory of nationalism is still relevant to a post-industrial world.

We have two contemporary examples – one of an un-industrial and one of industrial nations.

The first one concerns the new Republic of South Sudan, which recently celebrated its first anniversary of independence. South Sudan gained independence through a referendum after a long period of civil war (a brief overview of this is given in this article):


There are still continuing conflicts between Sudan and South Sudan, as well as ethnic and religious conflicts within South Sudan, although some moves towards reconciliation have been made:


The second contemporary example concerns the ongoing disputes within European countries after the financial crisis of 2007 and the present crisis within in Eurozone countries. Our focus is on Greece and Spain, both of which have suffered large percentages of unemployment as well as collapse in their economies, with negative growth and the credit worthiness of the nations being downgraded.

The first of the two linked articles gives an overview of the financial problems of the two countries, and the subsequent protests within them, and the second article focuses specifically on Greece and the rise of the extreme right-wing party Golden Dawn:



Linking these problems to Gellner’s theory, these are our questions:

1) In reference to the case of Sudan and South Sudan, how well does this reflect Gellner’s these of uneven development, seen also in his parable about the Empire of Megalomania and Ruritania (Gellner, 1983: 58-62)?

2) Gellner (1983: 22) points out that industrial society lives by and relies on continued and sustained growth and improvement. With regard to the present Eurozone crisis, and the protests within some countries, would Gellner’s statement imply that the legitimacy of the ruling political states are being called into question?

3) Taking these points into account how relevant is the whole of Gellner’s theory of nationalism to the contemporary world, or do some elements work better than others?

William, Johannes and Xingxi

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It’s not only Scotland ….

The Catalan premier has declared his intent to allow Catalans to vote on their constitutional future.

See: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/06/world/europe/in-catalonia-spain-artur-mas-threatens-to-secede.html?hp&_r=0

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