Archive for October, 2016

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[1].  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[2]. 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[3].

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”[4]. 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.[5]”

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[6].

See: https://research.aston.ac.uk/portal/files/17446420/Diaspora_identification_and_long_distance_nationalism.pdf 

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?


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Academy of Government/Nordic Horizons

Saturday 29 October 2016 – 12-5.30 pm

George Square Theatre, Edinburgh.

Brexit – Lessons that might be learned from the nordics – with six speakers from different Nordic countries.

Chaired by Lesley Riddoch

The Nordics manage to co-exist quite happily with every possible variation of relationship with the EU – in (Finland, Sweden, Denmark) out (Iceland and Norway) and shake it all about (Faroes and Greenland who are out while the “Mother Ship” Denmark is in). These two tiny Nordic players have no formal agreement with the EU, whilst Norway pays quite a bit to retain access to the single market. So quite a bit of variation.

Surely in all of this there are lessons for Scotland to learn – as a devolved government within the UK or possibly a small northern independent state sometime in the future.

So we’ve brought an interesting collection of speakers together for an afternoon conference which will be opened by the Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop;

Professor Mary Hilson – author of The Nordic Model, excellent Nordic Horizons speaker and now historian in the Dept of Culture and Society at Aarhus University Denmark will give a contemporary an historical overview of the Nordic nations and the EU.

Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson – ex leader of Iceland’s Social Democratic Party and former Minister of Finance and Foreign Affairs was responsible for their negotiations to join the EEA in the 1990’s. He will reflect on both EFTA in 1970’s and EEA – how Iceland achieved exemptions on fishing/agriculture – the pros/cons of that – and Iceland’s temporary post-crash desire to be in the Euro BUT not the EU.

Tuomas Iso-Markku, Research Fellow, at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs. Will reflect on why Finland appears to have a different relationship with the EU than many of its Nordic neighbours.

An important point is security – Russia next door — and the dangers to being a vocal small member.

Ulrik Pram Gad is Associate Professor of Arctic Culture and Politics at University of Aalborg, Denmark and recently published a paper on the triangular relation between Greenland, Denmark and the EU (quoted by Nicola Sturgeon). From 1998 to 2002 he worked for the Government of Greenland in Nuuk. Will discuss whether Scotland could do “a reverse Greenland’.

Dr. Duncan Halley, Scots born but now at the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research – will discuss the advantages for Norway of controlling its land use, fisheries, and conservation outside the EU and will speculate on similar advantages for Scotland. Duncan gave a brilliant Nordic Horizons talk comparing land use and forestry in the Scottish Highlands and SW Norway in 2015.

Bjort Samuelsen – is a Republican MP in the Faroese Parliament, Member of the West Nordic Council and was Minister for Trade and Industry, Infrastructure and Gender Equality in 2008. She was originally a journalist and worked for Norwegian and Faroe Islands Broadcasting. Bjort will explain why the Faroes decided not to join the EU with Denmark in the 1970s and discuss how easy it has been outside all trade blocs as a nation of just 49k people.

After these speakers we will have a final session asking if anything we’ve heard has relevance for Scotland. Amongst the contributors in that final session will be; the Chair of the Scottish Parliament’s Europe & External Affairs Committee Joan McAlpine, Professors Andrew Scott and James Mitchell from University of Edinburgh, the author of A Utopia Like any Other, Dominic Hinde and hopefully Labour MEP Catherine Stihler.

The event has been organized by Nordic Horizons volunteers together with Edinburgh University’s Academy of Government and speakers’ costs have been met by a Scottish Government grant. We are charging for the first time to help pay for tea and coffee on the day and help us cover the cost of meals for speakers. So it’s a mighty £3!


Please book tickets via this Eventbrite link.


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Anthony Smith

Anthony D. Smith was a British historical sociologist, and is considered to be one of the founders of interdisciplinary field of nationalism studies. His best-known contributions to the field are the distinction between ‘civic’ and ‘ethnic’ types of nations and nationalism, and the idea that all nations have dominant ‘ethnic cores’. While Smith agrees with other authors that nationalism is a modern phenomenon, he insists that nations have premodern origins.

One of Smith’s main theses is the idea that nations cannot be created ex nihilo; rather, nationalism necessarily appeals to a deeper, historical ethnic root, a fact which he insists should not be ignored. As previously mentioned, Smith holds that nations are still a fundamentally modern occurrence, but emphasizes the importance of these ethnic cores, or ethnies, in the genesis of nationalism. Smith identifies these ethnies as a group of people having, among other characteristics, a common word for themselves or their group, common historical memories, and a common historic homeland. Nationalism according to Smith is based on exploitation and propagation of these ethnies, and he posits that two different types of ethnies can be identified, lateral and vertical. Lateral ethnies he describes as ‘wide but shallow’, a machination of the ruling class that failed to permeate to the commoners. Smith asserts these lateral ethnies tend to produce ‘civic’ nations, such as France or England, where allegiance to the state is prioritized over ethnic ties. In vertical ethnies, on the other hand, all social strata share in a common heritage and culture. Smith gives ancient Greece as a prime example of a vertical, or demotic ethnie, where no matter their class or city-state, Greeks shared a common cultural and historic bond. Indeed, the Greek national and cultural identity is still alive and well today, which Smith sees as a testament to the staying power of vertical ethnies, considering that lateral ethnies contemporary with ancient Greece, such as Babylon or Assyria, were largely abandoned with the collapse of their regimes.

Another prime example of a vertical ethnie is the Kurdish nation, stretching throughout Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran. Despite being an ethnically distinct people, with their own unique language, culture, and history, the Kurds do not belong to a singular Kurdish state, and indeed exist as an often marginalized minority in the states they do inhabit. This is a clear example of nationalism transcending the border of any one state, thus we can emphasize the common cultural bond that Kurds share as the crux of their nationalistic sentiment. Many Kurds do actively campaign for the creation of a single, independent Kurdish state, while others fight for increased autonomy within their current states. One interesting insight into Kurdish nationalism is offered by the following documentary from The Guardian, which follows the Kurdistan football team as they enter a tournament for unrecognized nations. While the documentary mostly focuses on the tournament itself, the players also describe their feelings toward Kurdistan, how Kurds view themselves, and how they construct their own nationalism. They share how the football team gives hope to all of Kurdistan, how some wish above all else for Kurdistan to be unified under self-rule, and how the bond to their fellow Kurds is the strongest force in their lives.

Kurdistan Football Documentary


  1. Is Smith right to delineate between lateral and vertical ethnies? Is it possible for an ethnic core as such to be a combination of both concepts, or to escape the definition of either?
  1. Is it really possible to consider the ‘ethno-symbolic’ aspects of nations and nation building while not fully addressing how politicized national identities are? And the role that a clearly identified ‘state’ or ‘leader’ plays in establishing that identity?

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Ernest Gellner

“Ernest Gellner wrote with devils at his back, his theory of nationalism contained a tension between dislike of its potential for exclusion and realisation that the nation-state remained the receptacle most likely to advance citizenship.”

Ernest Gellner’s theory of nationalism emerged just as nationalism had been condemned to the ash heap of history by academics and statesmen alike due to the demise of the zealously nationalistic states of Nazi Germany and fascist Italy at the end of World War II. Gellner’s focus on nationalism is largely a result of his bilingual and multicultural upbringing. The son of Jewish-Bohemian parents, he grew up in a vibrant and multinational Prague and spoke Czech, German, and English. A particularly enlightening incident in Gellner’s childhood, which no doubt influenced his emphasis on language’s bearings on nationalism, involves him offering to sing the Czech national anthem in German which invoked a stunned silence from his Czech schoolmates. Gellner and his family were eventually forced to flee Prague at the advent of the German incursion on Czechoslovakia which led to the demise of some of Gellner’s relatives.

In a characteristically flippant tone, Gellner liked to quip that he had nothing more to say on the subject beyond what he had written up to 1983 when Nations and Nationalism was published. Essentially, his argument can be summarised by the following quote:

“nationalism is not the awakening of mythical, supposedly natural and given units. It is, on the contrary, the crystallization of new units, suitable for the conditions now prevailing, though admittedly using as their raw material the cultural, historical and other inheritances from the pre-nationalist world.”

Gellner narrates the transition from agrarian to industrial society to illustrate his view that nationalism invents nations. He argues that in agrarian societies the ruling minority culturally differentiated itself from the majority who were made up of “inward-turned communities” which were culturally isolated from each other. He notes that the ruling class possessed neither the will nor the capacity to culturally homogenise the majority. Industrial society, however, with its hunger for exponential growth required a new breed of men who were mobile and could effectively communicate with one another. Individuals in this society are provided with a standardized and generic education which means that they can be easily retrained to preform different jobs, as Gellner explains, “a society which is destined to a permanent game of musical chairs cannot erect deep barriers of rank that would hamper mobility.” Both requirements of industrial society, mobility and ease of communication, require a homogeneity that manifests itself as nationalism. Therefore, in Gellner’s view, nationalism doesn’t impose homogeneity, “it is rather that a homogeneity imposed by objective, inescapable imperative eventually appears on the surface as nationalism.”

It can be argued that Gellner’s theory of nationalism is a powerful tool in explaining the Kurdish problem of Turkish Republic. The Ottoman Empire, the predecessor of Turkey, was a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-lingual, and multi-religious one. In terms of social, political and economic features, it was an agrarian society and a pre-modern state. The birth of the Turkish Republic in 1923 accelerated the modernization process tremendously which had already started during the final decades of the Ottoman Empire. The founding father of the new republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and other founding elites, took decisive steps in transforming the country into a nation-state whose economy is based on industry. The state authority was centralized, different education systems of the old Empire were unified, nationalized and put under the state control. Although mandatory education was already started during the Ottoman years, it could only be implemented widely during the Republican times.

ernest.pngConsidering the Kurdish problem in Turkey throughout the 20th century, one might easily find a causational correlation between industrialization of the country, implementation of a central national education system in Turkish language, and the Kurdish nationalism. Kurdish rebel groups organized and fought against the state authority many times in the 1920s and 1930s. The problem seemed to be halted during the harsh conditions of the WWII but it resurfaced in the 1960s. The ongoing armed conflict is between the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, PKK, which was established in 1978, and is considered by many other states as a terrorist organization. The link below is about the current restrictions of the state towards Kurdish language. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EM5zm18Shko




  1. How relevant do you think the language is in the emergence of nationalisms in different regions? What would Gellner’s response be regarding the multilingual nation states whose official education is in more than one language? Or different nations who speak the same language?


  1. Do you agree that the transformation from agrarian societies to industrial ones was where the origins of nationalism lies? How do you explain nationalist movements that occurred in the regions whose economies were not yet based on industry?

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A interesting BBC report on a new (‘Putin-sanctioned’) Russian film extolling the Russian-Kazakh hero/martyrs of Panfilov’s 28 Men. That the story behind the film is largely felt to have been a Communist invention seems neither here nor there.


Of more importance is the national story of a multi-ethnic Soviet Union steadfast against fascism – with clear echoes of the current Russo-Ukrainian crisis and of Russian/Kazakh relations.

You’ll find the BBC report here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-37595972

The movie trailer is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQq_cnX5eUA

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