In Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson first and foremost argued for a cultural conception of nationality and nationalism, contending that the two ‘…are cultural artefacts of a particular kind’ (Anderson, 2006, p.4). For Anderson, nationalism emerged at the end of the eighteenth century as the spontaneous intersection of various historical and cultural forces, and once formed, they became models to be emulated in a wide variety of contexts. However, and most importantly, Anderson’s main line of
enquiry was not to ask which political or cultural factors brought nationalism into being, but rather to demonstrate how and why nations and nationalism elicit such profound and emotional responses, and how their meanings have changed over time (ibid., p.4).
Anderson maintained that nationalism should be treated as if it belongs with other concepts such as ‘kinship’ and ‘religion’, denoting its status as a social grouping, rather than as an ideological construct such as ‘liberalism’ or ‘fascism’ (ibid., p.5). In this vein, Anderson coined the concept of ‘imagined communities’, encompassing his ideas on how humans have conceived, and continue to conceive, of the nation. Anderson forcefully emphasised that ‘imagining’ does not imply ‘falsity’, countering this implication in Gellner’s work. For Anderson, communities should be distinguished not by the degree to which they are false or genuine, but rather by the processes through which they are imagined (ibid., p.6).
Anderson located the roots of nationalism and the modern nation in the disintegration of two previously self-evident cultural systems: the religious community and the dynastic realm. The gradual decline of these systems, beginning in the seventeenth century, provided the historical and geographical space in which the rise of nations could take place. In the context of Enlightenment-era rational secularism, Anderson argued that nationalism would provide a secular alternative to the previously sacral role of explaining and answering for the weight of human suffering (ibid., pp.11-22).
Most importantly, Anderson posited changing conceptions of time as a third factor, coinciding with the decline of religious communities and dynastic realms, which made it possible for humans to ‘think’ the nation. Borrowing from the ideas of Walter Benjamin, Anderson argued that the idea of ‘simultaneity-along-time’, referring to the medieval conception of time as situating events simultaneously in past, present and future, was replaced by ‘homogenous, empty time’. Simultaneity could thus be understood as being transverse-across-time, marked by temporal coincidence. This fundamental shift allowed the nation to be ‘imagined’ as a unit, moving ‘through’ time (ibid. pp.22-4).
These cultural roots were supplemented by commercial book publishing on a mass scale, a phenomenon Anderson termed print-capitalism, in turn laying the bases for national consciousness. In its intersection with the impact of the Reformation and the adoption of some vernaculars as administrative languages, print-capitalism created a stratum of communication below the increasingly esoteric Latin, and above spoken vernaculars. Over time, these print-languages were given a new fixity, which imbued them with the sense of antiquity crucial to conceptions of the nation. Anderson used the example of the mass consumption of newspapers to demonstrate how print-capitalism facilitated the conception of simultaneity in relation to national consciousness, arguing that it is difficult to envision a more ‘vivid figure for the secular, historically clocked imagined community’ (ibid., p.35; pp.37-46).
Lastly, Anderson’s theory of nationalism is also concerned with its ‘modular’ development – how subsequent nationalist movements emulated those models that already existed. He controversially located the first nationalist movements in the New World, identifying the creole communities of the Americas as developing their national consciousness before most of Europe (ibid., p.50; pp.64-5). Anderson continued by tracing the development of the European popular linguistic nationalisms of the nineteenth century, against which later ‘official nationalisms’ would react and develop, emphasising that these were not confined to Europe and were in fact pursued in the African and Asian territories subjected to colonial rule (ibid., pp.67-82; pp.109-111). Anderson’s final exploration covered the anti-colonial nationalisms in Asia and Africa, contending they were largely inspired by the examples of earlier movements in Europe and the Americas (p.113; pp.139-40).
Imagined Communities has not been without its critics, yet it remains one of the most original and influential accounts of nationalism to date.
Anderson, Benedict. 2006 . Imagined Communities. London: Verso.
The Non-Arbitrariness of the Sign: Academic English and Domain Collapse
“… an idea largely foreign to the contemporary Western mind: the non-arbitrariness of the sign. The ideograms of Chinese, Latin, or Arabic were emanations of reality, not randomly fabricated representations of it” (Anderson 2006:14)
“… no idea here of a world so separated from language that all languages are equidistant (and thus interchangeable) signs for it. In effect, ontological reality is apprehensible only through a single, privileged system of re-presentation” (ibid.)
Benedict Anderson proposed that a set of unchallenged sacred languages made possible the vast religious communities that preceded nationalism (ibid:12) – Church Latin, Qur’anic Arabic, and Examination Chinese. I want to capitalize on Anderson’s account of the role of these sacred languages in order to discuss the implications of the contemporary hegemony of the English language in academic writing and publishing.
In a recent article by journalist Adam Huttner-Koros, the dominant status of the English language in academic publishing is highlighted and discussed (2015). For instance, he mentions a 2012 study showing that 80 percent of the articles included in the world’s largest database for peer-reviewed journals are written in English. Moreover, all of the top 50 academic journals are published in English. Huttner-Koros adds that “scientists who want to produce influential, globally recognized work most likely need to publish in English” (ibid.).
Anderson emphasized that the unsubstitutable nature of the sacred languages was vested in their alleged capacity to function, in effect, as “privileged systems of re-presentation” through which “ontological reality is apprehensible” (2006:14). He goes on to detail the historical processes that led to the decline and displacement of these truth-languages, and in this respect he stresses print-capitalism in particular.
In light of Huttner-Koros observations, it has perhaps become prudent to ask whether the privileged status of the English language in academic writing is having a sacralizing effect that would warrant comparing it to the script-languages addressed by Anderson. Huttner-Koros cites a linguist, Joe Lo Bianco, who describes an emergent process of “domain collapse” (2015):
“… the progressive deterioration of competence in [a language] in high-level discourses”. In other words, as a language stops adapting to changes in a given field, it can eventually cease to be an effective means for communication in certain contexts altogether”
In this sense, history as described by Anderson appears to be running in reverse: the unsubstitutability of the sign has returned, privileging academic English as the dominant means through which ontological reality can be accessed – the non-arbitrariness of the sign appears today as the constitutive a priori of scientific discourse, feeding the process of domain collapse.
What are the effects or implications of domain collapse and the dominant status of academic English?
Anderson, Benedict. 2006 . Imagined Communities. London: Verso.
Huttner-Koros, Adam. 2015. “The Hidden Bias of Science’s Universal Language”. http://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2015/08/english-universal-language-science-research/400919/?utm_source=SFTwitter [accessed on 2015-10-28].
“Storytelling Redifined”: Self-Publishing Online
More than at any other time’ [publishing] was a great industry under the control of wealthy capitalists’. Naturally, ‘booksellers were primarily concerned to make a profit and to sell their products, and consequently they sought out first and foremost those works which were of interest to the largest possible number of their contemporaries. (Anderson, 1983: 38)
How can we link Anderson’s theory of imagined communities to online self-publishing today?
Mass publishing created a new form of “imagined community” (ibid: 5 – 7) as the ability to connect and share news information had no bearing on proximity. Language was also changing; the shift from Latin, for example, to the “vernacular” (ibid: 16 – 18) is something Anderson attributes to the (ongoing) popularity of Shakespeare.
Print capitalism…made it possible for rapidly growing numbers of people to think about themselves, and to relate themselves to others, in profoundly new ways. (1983: 36)
Today, publishing has taken on different forms. The public are able to read news from a variety of sources. Print news, however, is declining whilst online news readers are increasing (Greenslade, 2015). The introduction of e-readers has also proven popular (Walter, 2014).
Online, self-publishing is increasing (LaRue, 2014) and can cost nothing for a new writer yet reap “royalties” of up to 80% per book sold online (Amazon, 2015; Singh, 2012). One website that allows writers to expand their audience is Wattpad.It is one of the largest forms of online publishing available to new and established authors. Based in Canada, the site has a global membership of approximately 40 million “Wattpadders” (Wattpad, 2015); they vary across all demographics and writing experience. Technological benefits for its users include the ability to upload stories on smartphones and tablets (Dilworth, 2015).
Despite its size and phenomenal reach across the globe, Wattpad calls itself a “community” (Wattpad, 2015). Writers and readers can connect with each other, send messages, upload images and discuss ongoing topics related to their interests. Unlike the capitalists who invested in a new, profitable industry in the 16th Century, this mass-oriented work is for free.
Amazon, 2015. Take Control with Self Publishing [online]. Available from: http://www.amazon.com/gp/seller-account/mm-summary-page.html?topic=200260520 [Accessed 24 October 2015]
Anderson, B (1983) Imagined Communities, London: Verso
Dilworth, D (2015). Wattpad Has More Than 40M Monthly Users. Adweek [online] 29 May 2015 http://www.adweek.com/galleycat/wattpad-has-more-than-40m-monthly-users/104245
Greenslade, R (2014). Online news more popular, just about, than news in newspapers. The Guardian [online] 25 June 2014 http://www.theguardian.com/media/greenslade/2014/jun/25/ofcom-newspapers
LaRue, J (2014). The Next Wave of Tech Change: Self Publishing & Libraries. Library Journal [online] 7 October 2014 http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2014/10/publishing/self-publishing-and-libraries/the-next-wave-of-tech-change-self-publishing-libraries/
Singh, A (2012). Self-published author is Kindle’s biggest seller. The Telegraph [online] 9 February 2012
Walter, D (2014). Self-publishing: Is it killing the mainstream? The Guardian [online] 14 February 2014
Wattpad, 2015. Wattpad is the world’s largest community of readers and writers [online]. Available from: https://www.wattpad.com/about [Accessed 24 October 2015]
Modern Indigenous Nations and the Blurred Lines of Sovereignty
The Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations have been involved in a land claim dispute – involving 1.3 million acres of timberland – with the US government for over 100 years. After a ten year-long lawsuit, it was settled that the US Department of Interior would pay $186 million collectively to the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations. On Oct. 6, 2015, the agreement was signed into law. The rhetoric and events that transpired during this event presented a number of questions, taking Anderson into consideration.
Relevant History and Data
The U.S. 2010 census grouped Chickasaw and Choctaw language speakers together, despite the languages being somewhat distinct from one another. Estimates show around 10,500 speakers out of 195,764 Chickasaw and Choctaw. In both cases, some resources, education, and print media exist for language learners and speakers.
In 1983, the Chickasaw Nation created a three branch government and signed a constitution, with the Choctaw Nation following suit in 1984. Since, they have each established programs for education, health, culture, and economic development. (Though it should be noted that all American Indians have the right to access all the same services as other US citizens.) Both refer to themselves as nations.
The Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations exist within the Oklahoma Tribal Statistical Area, which are areas still defined by their former borders, but hold no legal distinction: the land is managed and owned by Oklahoma.
The Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations both have print capitalism, defined boundaries, and political structures. A question, however, exists to the issue of sovereignty. Regarding the land settlement claim mentioned above, video coverage of the event revealed a number of curious points. First, the leaders present included the Choctaw Chief, the Chickasaw Governor, and the US Secretary of the Interior: this itself is to be expected but is extremely awkward nonetheless because the US Department of the Interior is responsible for national parks and wildlife… and American Indians. Second, while all three nation’s flags are on display, the US flag is more prominent. Third, the language used by the US Secretary of the Interior, during her speech, is noticeably patronizing. This list could continue on, but the point to be known here is that while the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations presented this event as a landmark achievement and spoke of a sovereign-to-sovereign relationship, the images and actual circumstances suggest that the sovereignty of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations is limited.
- Accepting the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations’ self-identification as nations, can we define these pre-colonial communities as creole nations, do they more resemble European states, or are they something different entirely?
- All American Indians born on US soil are American citizens by law. Would Anderson’s view accomodate people who identify as both Choctaw/Chickasaw and American?
- Technically the US government recognizes the Choctaw and Chickasaw peoples as sovereigns and allegedly negotiates with them as such. Thinking of Anderson’s definition of a nation (imagined, political, sovereign, and limited), do we find the lines are blurred in cases where American Indian nations are subjected to the US government’s interpretation of the word sovereign? Does sovereignty, the the case of Anderson’s nation, necessitate complete and total sovereignty or does the partial and conditional sovereignty that the US government grants nations such as the Choctaw and Chickasaw count?