Archive for the ‘MSc in Nationalism Studies’ Category

Its the end of an era for Nationalism Studies at Edinburgh as we bid a fond farewell to our long-time home in Chisholm House. The centre of the programme will now move to the Chrystal MacMillan Building, George Square, at the heart of the main campus. Fittingly, we were able to say goodbye to Chisholm House whilst welcoming back our class of 2011, back in Edinburgh for a very happy reunion. Always good to see old friends!


Chisholm House, High School Yards


The class of 2011

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“…banal forms of nationalism and a sense of national identity are likely to strengthen rather than weaken over the next ten years.” (Malesevic, 2013)

A couple key nationalism theorists provide validation of food’s potential for stirring nationalist sentiments. In his Banal Nationalism (1995), Michael Billig raises the everyday backdrop of our lives, which he sees as being sprinkled with national symbols. He argues that quotidian images, signs, phrases, flags etc. which represent  a nation’s values and identity provide sort of glaze, if you will, over the broader concept of nation. It’s worth blending Malesevic in here — in beginning of his Identity as Ideology (2006), he notes that identity has become an”indispensable ingredient of every human being”and that “nationalism remains the most potent source of state legitimacy.” Thus, food folds its way into nationalism: branding of food, histories of food, specific recipes or versions of recipes, etc. all can flavour how a person sees, represents, and defends their national identity. This post will assess a few recent programmes and notable events soaked in food-related “British identity” and banal nationalism. Bon Appétit.

Supermarket nationalism: ‘British beef’ in England vs. ‘Scottish oatcakes’ in Scotland

A Scottish national identity can be seen in how products in supermarkets are labelled. It is much more likely to find a product labelled ‘Scottish’ in Scotland, than it is to find something labelled ‘English’ in England. South of the border, ‘British’ is often the  word used for the products. This is proved simply by doing a search on Google images. When searching for ‘English’ and ‘Lidl’, only products labelled ‘British’ appear, as ‘British beef’, ‘British potatoes’ and so on. If you do the same with ‘Scottish’ and ‘Lidl’, several products pop up labelled ‘Scottish’ and often have a remarkably sized Scottish flag on them as well.

These findings comply with the differences between the English and the Scots when asked if they identify more as British or Scottish/English. When Brits were asked this question in 2007, 47% of the English felt more English than British, whereas 38% felt more British than English. In Scotland, as many as 77% felt more Scottish than British, and only 14% felt more British than Scottish (Bechhofer & McCrone 2014: 311). Thus, it can seem that, at least until recently, Scots have had a stronger Scottish identity than the English have with English identity. This can be one of the explanations for the differences of product labelling in the two nations.

Lee and Copus have also suggested that the emphasis on ‘Britishness’ in England partly is due to a deliberate policy of suppressing English political identity in favour of being British. (Bechhofer & McCrone 2014: 313). According to them, the British state could not survive such an expression of national identity.Tunnocks-Tea-Cakes.jpg

No matter the reason for the national differences in product labelling policies, the importance of ‘Scottish products’ to Scots was highlighted when famous Scottish cake and biscuits company Tunnock’s decided to remove the Scottish Lion Rampant from their packaging (Alexander 5/1/2016). The company also started calling their cake ‘The Great British Tea Cake’. This angered many Scottish nationalists, who understood this as Tunnock’s were abandoning their Scottish identity. Many even called for a boycott of the company. This incident shows that there is a form of ‘supermarket nationalism’ among Scottish nationalists – labelling of Scottish grocery products as being Scottish with symbols representing ‘Scottishness’ seems to be an important part of their national pride and identity. ‘Britishness’ is, to them, undermining this identity.

Nationalism in BBC Cooking Shows

In his Imagined Communities (1983), Anderson describes national consciousness forming as a result of people across a wide range of physical space being able to consume the same information and stories. The novel and the newspaper aside, societies now have film and television to inform their nation-view. In BBC cooking programmes, such as MasterChef, Jamie’s Great Britain, Great British Bake Off, and James Martin: Home Comforts, one finds all sorts of banal nationalism. “British” recipes and local ingredients are often chosen and chefs will sometimes provide a story about the dish’s roots in British history. Often the kitchen backdrop will be designed to “look British” and will include Union Jacks. Recipes that have existed in the UK for over 50 years, but have origins in another nation generally keep their “not-British” identity, while their flavours can inform “new British” cuisine. Watch any episode of a food programme on the BBC and one could compile a list of instances of banal nationalism. Moving beyond, however, this topic illuminates questions about who is British if one is using food to define identity.

In the last couple of years there has been discussion in various news articles and online blogs about the “contemporary  multicultural Britishness” portrayed in Great British Bake bake_2332965b.jpgOff. Last year, a Muslim woman was crowned best baker. Some were pleased with this, stating that it forced viewers to reconsider Britishness. Others have been less amused, accusing  Great British Bake Off of trying to push a “multicultural agenda” onto viewers by intentionally choosing diverse contestants who do not represent the average Brit. Those once, and sometime still, considered “not British” are now on the Great British Bake Off stage, making sponges, puddings, and fairy cakes in aim of being awarded best baker. In being able to allow “non-British” people to show their Britishness by baking perfect scones, food plays a divisive role in defining national identity and challenges people to think about what it means to be British.

One final tidbit to think about is that many other countries have adapted their own versions of Great British Bake Off, tweaking the recipes, kitchen sets, etc. to fit their nation’s identity, whatever that may look like or mean. See more here and here.

Anglo-Indian Cuisine: A Multicultural Victory?

In 2001, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook asserted that Chicken Tikka Masala had become “a true British national dish, not only because it is the most popular, but because it is a perfect illustration of the way Britain absorbs and adapts external influences. Chicken Tikka is an Indian dish. The Masala sauce was added to satisfy the desire of British customers” (Buettner 2008). This statement identified the South Asian dining industry as such a massive force that it had seemingly earned inclusion into British national identity.

Indeed, one can likely walk down most streets in Edinburgh and stumble upon an Indian-styled restaurant within a few minutes. As an industry that employs close to 70,000 people and reports an annual turnover of approximately £2 billion, South Asian specialities have eclipsed other ethnic cuisines in the UK. As of 2015, there are estimated to be 9500 “Indian” restaurants in the UK, whereas there are merely 4700 Italian establishments (Federation of Specialist Restaurants). Balti curry, first developed in Birmingham, is another example of an Anglo-Indian dish that is now considered “British” cuisine.

While many Britons enjoy “going for an Indian,” the vast majority of curry restaurants are actually staffed by Pakistani and Bangladeshi people, and though the British capacity to absorb and adapt external influences has extended to South Asian food, it may not have extended entirely to South Asian people. In a series of surveys conducted in 2009, Vadher and Barrett found that many second generation British Indians and Pakistanis considered themselves British mostly in a legal context, with their white British cohabitants constantly reminding them of their true ethnic identity through discrimination, racism, and jokes (Vadher & Barrett 2009: 444). As Cook celebrated multiculturalism in Britain with his speech about Chicken Tikka Masala, he may have assumed too much about the nature of ethnicity.

— Jordan, Simen, and Taylor


Do you usually choose products produced in the country you are buying it in when shopping at the supermarket? Why do you choose this way? Would you have a different pattern in your own country?

Do British cooking programmes make you feel more connected to Britishness?

Can food enable a people to breach the boundaries of ethnicity?

Are scones more British than Chicken Tikka Masala? / Why might people think scones are more British than Chicken Tikka Masala?

Can a food be a synecdoche for a nation?

Is national identity undermined when a nation’s “national foods” are not consumed by its citizens?


Alexander, S. 5/1/2016. ‘Cybernats Call for Boycott of Tunnock’s Tea Cakes for Ditching Scottish Lion’, The Telegraph [Online] Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/food-and-drink/news/cybernats-call-for-boycott-of-tunnocks-tea-cakes-for-ditching-sc/

Anderson, Benedict. 2006 [1983]. Imagined Communities. London: Verso.

Bechhofer, F. & D. McCrone. 2014. ‘The End of Being British?’ Scottish Affairs 23.3: 309-322

Billig, M. (1995). Banal Nationalism. London: Sage.

Buettner, E. (2008). “Going for an Indian”: South Asian Restaurants and the Limits of Multiculturalism in Britain*. The Journal of Modern History, 80(4), 865-901. Retrieved February 28, 2016.

Federation of Specialist Restaurants. “Statistics & Data.” (n.d.). Retrieved February 28, 2016, from http://www.fedrest.com/marketresearch.htm

Malesevic, S. (2006)  Identity as Ideology: Understanding Ethnicity and Nationalism. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Malesevic, S. (2013). Future Identities: Changing identities in the UK – the next 10 years

Smith, A. D. (2001). Nationalism: Theory, Ideology, History. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Vadher, K., & Barrett, M. (2009). Boundaries of Britishness in British Indian and Pakistani young adults. J. Community. Appl. Soc. Psychol. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 19(6), 442-458. Retrieved February 28, 2016.

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Historical narratives and collective memories are frequently cited as requirements or components that help constitute a nation. They help create group solidarity and cohesion by suggesting that memories and history are shared between past, present, and future members of a nation (Calhoun 1993, p.232).


National histories and identities are the product of cultural production (through museums, literature, art, and even historiography) and there are a variety of arguments about the role nationalists play in their creation and propagation. The historian Eric Hobsbawm holds that national cultures have often been synthesized in a top down manner, ‘invented’, in order to promote group loyalty (Hearn 2006, p.70). Benedict Anderson, meanwhile, views culture as vital for helping imagine a community: for example, the chapter ‘Census, Map, Museum’ in the 1991 edition of Imagined Communities highlights the role of museums in colonial-era South East Asia as laying the foundations for practices that give national identities ‘infinite reproducibility’ (1991, p.225).


From the perspective of memory studies, past events are made understandable via their framing in particular representations and images (Irwin-Zarecka 2008, p.4, 54). However, while particular stories and ideas about national histories may be given tangible expression in museums and memorials with great symbolic value, collective memory is rarely a complete picture. It has been claimed that the term ‘collective’ falsely implies consensus about dominant narratives when memory and remembrance, particularly with regards to ‘traumatic’ memories, are in fact highly contested by those outside and within national groupings (Freidman and Kenney 2005).


Silencing and forgetting can be just as politically charged as acts of remembering, the cases below highlighting the variety of ways in which countries have discussed, revised, or downplayed aspects of national history. As noted by Craig Calhoun, even Ernst Renan recognised historical error and deliberate forgetting as ‘crucial’ in forging a national identity (1993, p.225). Indeed, memories of violence and trauma that play into a narrative of national suffering have frequently shaped or been used to justify political acts in the present, particularly when narratives assign particular roles of aggressor and victim (Kosicki and Jasinka-Kania 2007). For instance, Serb nationalist narratives in the run up to the Yugoslav Wars gave a prominent role to the Battle of Kosovo, a justification for particular actions (Gödl 2007).


Nationalism, history, and memory are deeply intertwined, no more so than in memorials and acts of remembering around conflicts that have seen blood spilt in the name of the nation. The three cases below examine a variety of practices with regards to WWII.



  1. Japan and the Yasukuni Shrine


“Currently, more than 2,466,000 divinities are enshrined here at Yasukuni Shrine. These are souls of men who made ultimate sacrifice for their nation since 1853 during national crisis such as the Boshin War, the Seinan War, the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese wars, World War I, the Manchurian Incident, the China Incident and the Greater East Asian War (World War II). These people, regardless of their rank or social standing, are considered to be completely equal and worshipped as venerable divinities of Yasukuni. Japanese people believe that their respect to and awe of the deceased is best expressed by treating the dead in the same manner as they were alive. Hence, at Yasukuni Shrine, rituals to offer meals and to dedicate words of appreciation to the dead are repeated every day.” (Yasukuni Shrine 2008).


Yasukuni Shrine, a source of perennial tension between Japan and its East Asian neighbors, is perhaps among the most well-known war memorial in the world. It was first founded by Emperor Meiji to commemorate anyone who had died in service of the country. In 1978, 14 Japanese Class A war criminals of WWII were enshrined in at Yasukuni in a secret ceremony. Since then, many Japanese Prime Ministers have paid visits to Yasukuni Shrine, frequently leading to international condemnation.


While Japanese government officials explain that visiting the Yasukuni Shrine is due to the respect to the dead, it has also become a focal point for right-wing Japanese nationalists to mobilize around (Blackburn and Lim 1999, pp.323-323). In particular, the promotion of historical narratives that portray Japanese military actions during WWII as being against western colonialism and liberating the rest of Asia is often bound up in discussions of the shrine. The Yushukan Museum that sits close by the Shrine, and recent school textbooks have also been seen as key sites that forward this ‘liberation’ view as part of Japan’s WWII narrative, derided by some visitors as propaganda (O’Dwyer 2010; Fallows 2014).


‘The ways that Japanese people interact with their Asian neighbors, attitudes toward conflicts in other parts of the globe, nuclear issues, and attitudes concerning the core symbols of Japanese nationhood — the flag, emperor, national anthem, constitution and Japan’s wider global role — are all inextricably linked to memories and interpretations of Japan’s wartime past. The war has not been forgotten. Quite the opposite, the Japanese seem unable to let it go.’ (Seaton 2007).


Many scholars argue that among the Japanese public, ‘the war has not been forgotten’. Although the government are involved in the retelling of history, public views are varied. According to Seaton (2007), there is a wide range of hard-to-reconcile war memories, including: (1) an “I don’t know or care” line; (2) a “progressive” line which makes the case for serious apologies and accepting responsibility of atrocities perpetrated under the flag of Imperial Japan; (3) a “progressive-leaning” line espoused by the Democratic Party, which largely concurs with the progressive line; (4) a “conservative” line espoused by actors like the central government, which admits war guilt but insists that Japan has apologized and made amends to the satisfaction of all victimized governments; and (5) a right-wing– nationalist line which holds that Japanese war aims and conduct were altruistic and beneficial to Asians.


The defeat of Japan in WWII has seen older generations in Japan choose to be silent while younger generations have asked questions about the war. This has, to some extent, given governments cause to educate later generations with a particular set of collective war memories that are not necessarily supported by all Japanese citizens. It is a serious question as to whether or not this has been pursued to rebuild a sense of national pride and patriotism, and redressing the idea that Japan is a ‘land without Patriots’ (Tamamoto 2001).


  1. War Memory, Movies and Nationalism in Germany


  1. From taboo to unavoidable topic: rethinking the Nazi regime and the Second World War in 1950-60s.


In the first few years after the WWII, economic reconstruction was the core task for the German government and public. There was a widespread view that the war and crimes against humanity were only related to Hitler and his Nazi regime. However, cultural elites began rethinking the war, stimulating public discussion via essays, books and movies. One of the most famous movie is ‘The Murderers Are Among Us’ (1946, by Wolfgang Staudte). The public realized how deeply the Nazi Germany hurt civilians in other countries. Several agencies were established by the government to investigate crimes in Nazi era, such as The Central Office of the State Justice Administrations for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes (1958).


  1. Debating, apologizing and understanding the 1933-1945 history from later 1960s.

One of the typical events that shows the attitude of German government was the Warschauer Kniefall in 1970. Willy Brandt, the chancellor of West Germany, knelt down in Warsaw to show his apology to victims in Poland. A few years later, with the releasing of an American TV series, the Holocaust (1978, directed by Marvin J. Chomsky and created by Gerald Green), the public began to debate that the role of common people in Nazi era and to what extent they should be responsible for the crimes. In the 1980s, the German public agreed that the whole German nation should take responsibility for crimes in WWII, although many were also victims of Nazi regime. Declaring the Nazi’s offenses is the duty of German nation and this is the best way to remember the history and restoring the honor of nation. President Weizsäcker’s famous speech for the 40th anniversary of the end of the WWII (1985) showed this attitude: ‘the 8th of May was a day of liberation. It liberated all of us from the inhumanity and tyranny of the National-Socialist regime.’

Movies and novels after German reunification also inherited the tradition of rethinking and examining Germany’s past. ‘The Downfall’, or ‘Der Untergang’ (2004, by Oliver Hirschbiegel) described the last days of Nazi Germany and ‘The Stalingrad’ (1993, by Joseph Vilsmaier) showed the ‘true’ daily life of German soldiers in eastern front. The ‘Die Welle’ (2008, by Dennis Gansel) seems to be the peak of such introspective movies. It sought to reveal the ‘magic power’ of Nazi ideology by having the blind obedience of young students closely mirror what German public did in Hitler’s era.


  1. RAF Bomber Command


The controversy around the construction of the Royal Air Force (RAF) Bomber Command Memorial is arguably rooted in the World War II tactics of the Air Force. German civilians were a prime target of Allied bombing, but at the time, these attacks were considered justifiable under the Just War Tradition as it was in retaliation to German attacks on British soil (Lammers, 1991). However, the controversy around the memorial generally centers around later bombings, when it was becoming clear that the war was won and the bombings could no longer be justifiable as retaliatory. Attacks on German cities, such as Dresden in 1945, are considered by some as war crimes, and Pacifist organisations had demonstrated against a memorial in Lincoln Cathedral in 2006, well before the unveiling of the 2012 Memorial in Green Park (Smith, 2006).


The larger issues surrounding the memorial are not only the allegations of ‘war crimes’, but also debates about who is considered the victim and who is the aggressor. This is not only linked to the British memory of WWII, but also to the German one. Sebald (2002) wrote that “(t)he darkest aspects of the final act of destruction, as experienced by the great majority of the German population, remained under a kind of taboo like a shameful family secret.” Even though the British had committed acts of horrible suffering on the Germans, they do not consider themselves to be the aggressor, even if today’s critics would argue that the later bombings were unjustifiable. Britain, with its war memorial, has chosen to remember bomber command pilots as heroes: pilots who lost their lives during the war. But there has been little mention of such things as the bombing of Hamburg in 1943 which killed forty thousand German civilians (Childers, 2005).


The delaying of the construction of the Bomber Command Memorial until 2012 shows how controversial RAF bombing tactics had been at the time of the conflict, and still continue to be for decades after the war. Douglas Hudson, a veteran pilot of WWII, had been told after his service to take the Bomber Command off his CV, as it would “harm his job prospects” (Smith, 2006). Moreover, the bombing of Germany might not even have been justifiable even after the Blitzkrieg, as it success in Great Britain was not overwhelmingly achieved (Werrell, 1986). Even Winston Churchill, who had praised the use of bombers during the war, failed (allegedly on purpose) to mention their service when the war was won (Harrison, 2012), even though most discussions about the bombings endorsed them during the war (Lammers, 1991).


The British (and certainly not only the British) remember WWII not for episodes of unjust aggression on German civilians, but as a war to end Nazi aggression and Hitler’s dictatorial terror and domination; a Just War against aggression. Meanwhile, the Green Park memorial has created a site that revives debates about silencing and forgetting, remembering and memorialisation, particularly concerning violence is perpetrated in the name of the nation is remembered and made part of collective memory.



Anderson, B. (1991). Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (Verso).


Blackburn, K., and Lim, E. (1999). ‘The Japanese War Memorials of Singapore: Monuments of Commemoration and Symbols of Japanese Imperial Ideology’ in South East Asia Research Vol. 7 No. 3, pp. 321-340.


Calhoun, C. (1993). ‘Nationalism and Ethnicity’ in Annual Review of Sociology Vol. 19 pp. 211-239.


Childers, T. (2005). ‘”Facilis descensus averni est”: The Allied Bombing of Germany and the Issue of German Suffering’ in Central European History, Vol. 38, No. 1, pp. 75-105.


Fallows, J. (2014). ‘Stop talking about Yasukuni: the real problem is Yushukan’ in The Atlantic [online]. Available from: http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/01/stop-talking-about-yasukuni-the-real-problem-is-y-sh-kan/282757/ [Accessed 23/02/2016].


Freidman, M.P., and Kenney, P. (2005). History is Politics’ in ‘Partisan Histories: The Past in Contemporary Global Politics’ eds. Max Paul Freidman and Padraic Kenney. (Palgrave Macmillan). pp.1-14.


Gödl, Doris. (2007). ‘Challenging the Past: Serbian and Croation Aggressor–Victim Narratives’ in International Journal of Sociology Vol. 37 No. 1 pp. 43-57.


Harrison, P. (2012). War Dead From Bomber Command Honoured [online]. Available from: http://news.sky.com/story/953481/war-dead-from-bomber-command-honoured [Accessed 23/02/2016].


Hearn, Jonathan. (2006). Nationalism: A Critical Introduction (Palgrave Macmillan).

Irwin-Zarecka. Iwona. 2008. ‘Frames of Remembrance: The Dynamics of Collective Memory’. (Transaction Publishers).


Lammers, S.E. (1991) ‘William Temple and the Bombing of Germany: An Exploration in the Just War Tradition’ in The Journal of Religious Ethics, Vol. 19, No. 1, pp. 71-92.


O’Dwyer, S. (2010). ‘The Yasukuni Shrine and the Competing Patriotic Pasts of East Asia’ in History and Memory Vol. 22 No. 2 pp. 147-177.


Seaton, P.A. (2007). Japan’s Contested War Memories (Routledge).


Sebald, W.G (2002). A Natural History of Destruction. The New Yorker, pp. 66-77.

Smith, D. (2006). ‘RAF tribute stirs up ‘war crime’ storm’ [online]. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2006/aug/20/secondworldwar.warcrimes [Accessed 23/02/2016].


Tamamoto, M. (2001). ‘A Land without Patriots: The Yasukuni Controversy and Japanese Nationalism’ in World Policy Journal Vol. 18 No. 3 pp. 33-40.


Werrel, K.P. (1986). ‘The Strategic Bombing of Germany in World War II: Costs and Accomplishments’ in The Journal of American History, Vol. 73, No. 3, pp. 702-713.


Yasukuni Shrine (2008). ‘History’ [online]. Available from: http://www.yasukuni.or.jp/english/about/index.html [Accessed 23/02/2016].






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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 Imagined Communities Cover
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).

Benedict Anderson 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 [1983]. 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 [1983]. 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)

Shakespeare Word CloudHow 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 wattpad logothe 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 Nation Crest 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.

Key Point

The Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations both have print capitalism, defined boundaries, and political structures. A question, however, exists to the issue of sovereignty. Oklahoma Statistical Area MapRegarding 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.


  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. 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? 





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Education and Cultural Homogenization

Ernest Gellner’s theory of nationalism is linked to his view that the human societies have moved through pre-agrarian, agrarian, and industrial stages. Specifically, he saw nationalism as intimately connected and arising from the social conditions brought about in industrial society (Gellner 1973, 1997, pp.10-11). It has been argued that in Gellner’s theory of social change, the pressures placed upon social order by the shift from agrarian society to industrial society makes socialization a distinctly political problem (Malešević and Haugaard 2007, p.95).

If socialization is a political problem, how one tries to mediate it is also inherently political, and potentially just as problematic. Mass education, a vehicle of exo-socialization, remains a contested area of politics to this day, and is often linked with ideas of nationhood, national identity, and citizenship.

As an elaborate, mobile, and more egalitarian division of labour emerges, a need for abstract communication arises too. Gellner sees mass education provided by the state as playing a pivotal role here, namely in the training of the ‘modern industrial worker’ and acting as a form of cultural homogenization within a state. Nationalism enters the picture when a member of industrial society values their education as an investment giving them access to an abstract group via a shared literate high culture, as opposed to agrarian low culture propagated amongst kinship groups (1994, pp.36-37, p.41).

For instance, the UK government’s discourse surrounding the 2014 announcement of plans to ensure the promotion of ‘British Values’ in English schools could be viewed through the lens of Gellner’s theory. Education is seen as serving a homogenizing function with the aim of uniting people[1]. Despite haziness on what these values actually are, Prime Minister David Cameron also insisted that teaching English would help people understand these values and integrate into society more smoothly (Prime Minister’s Office 2014). Such an initiative shows that education remains a means of homogenization and promotion of a high culture, not just the training modern industrial workers. Many of the sentiments that ‘British values’ were intended to promote parallel Gellner’s claim that cohesion requires a ‘sense of loyalty and identification’ (1973, p.1).


-Do modern industrial states still need to be culturally standardized? Does Gellner account for the possibility of multicultural states, or does he dismiss this?

-What are the main drawbacks of Gellner’s reliance on industrialization when explaining nationalism? Is it functionalist?

Case Study: Turkey

In terms of language, Kemalism selected a radical approach to modernization. By introducing a new alphabet (an adapted Latin alphabet rather than Arabic), they not only managed to massively increase the literacy rates amongst population[2] but could also provide a new reference set without the influence of former Ottoman ones. This break from the past enabled the possibility of creating a common cultural and cognitive map amongst people. Two institutions were created, the Turkish Language Association and Turkish Historical Society, which developed two related theories that sought to centralize Turkey and place Turkey’s historical narrative in the Western context: 1. Sun Language Theory claimed that every other language in the world had was derived from Turkish. 2. the Turkish History Thesis (based on the anthropological works of Afet Inan) claimed that the Turks were actually a “Caucasian race”. Together these formed official doctrines and were imposed as high-culture via a top-down process, especially in education.


To create a sense of nationhood among the population, the creation of Halkevleri (Community Houses) as a state-sponsored enlightenment project (especially in its first period 1932-51) operated as an apparatus bringing westernized high culture to the rural masses. Attempts at direct imposition, however, were not only often unsuccessful but also increased tensions between elites and the masses. Gellner himself points out this situation, paraphrasing Stirling: “the Kemalist republic had transformed the upper levels of society, the state and the higher intellectual or ideological institutions, but left the much of the peasantry largely untouched” (1994: 83). Kemalism has left a strong legacy amongst the intelligentsia and the state, but failed to reach the masses despite its populist policies. The effects of Kemalism have been uneven, often failing to penetrate into rural and Kurdish-speaking areas. Indeed, a set of reactions related by remaining in a non-modernized stage have enabled the Kurdish speaking people to attempt for late-nationalization without their own state vis-à-vis the ‘modernizing’ Turkish nation. How do you think this case challenges Gellner’s framework?

For Gellner, the transformation into an industrial society demands a situation where the national and political unit is congruent. However within the case of Turkey, this project (in the form of Kemalist ‘Turkification’) was only partially successful through mass education. While it managed to promote an idea of Turkishness, especially through language, much of this was arguably achieved by another homogenisation process mentioned by Gellner: migration. In Turkey this was often a forced and incomplete process saw radical polarization of Turkishness and several ethnic and religious groups (Üngör 2011).


-By remaining in a non-modernized stage have enabled the Kurds to attempt late-nationalization without their own state, vis-à-vis the ‘modernizing’ Turkish nation. Does this case challenges Gellner’s framework?

-Are top down processes inevitable in terms of nation formation?

Case Study: Scotland


Scotland’s self image is linked to its education system. As well as medieval universities, the world’s first purpose-built teacher training college was found in 1830s followed in 1847 by the world’s first teaching union. Education policy in Scotland has been hallmarked by consensus and consultation between various stakeholders predating both the Industrial and French Revolution (Patterson 2000, Tomlinson 2008). With a long history of over 300 years of universal education accompanied by significantly older higher education, Scottish education has had the opportunity to mature and produce “distinct structural features” (McPherson and Raab, 1988). This predates the Gellnerian view of modern industrialisation and the push towards national uniformity in the UK. The Scottish case raises questions about how far back the processes of industrialisation and mass education stretch back, and whether the ordering of national-state intervention is as Gellner would expect. For Gellner, educational uniformity is primarily driven by industrialisation, paving the way for nationalism. If there is no logical development as per Gellner’s theory, then a number of other factors may be at play and we ought to consider other well-documented models of nation formation which that contradict his theory.


-Could nationalism be backdated to the Reformation?

-Is the Scottish education phenomenon outside Gellner’s model or, more alarmingly, could a “pre-modern culture” have shaped nationalism? (O’Leary 1998, p.44).

-How would Gellner’s analysis benefit if the concept of ‘consent’ was introduced into his discussion of cultural homogenization.

Gellner, Ernest. 1973. ‘Scale and Nation’ in Philosophy of the Social Sciences. Vol.3 No.1 pp.1-17.

Gellner, Ernest. 1983. Nations and Nationalism. (Basil Blackwell).

Gellner, Ernest. 1994. Encounters with Nationalism. (Blackwell Publishers).

Gellner, Ernest. 1997. Nationalism. (Weidenfeld and Nicolson).

Haugaard, Mark. 2007. ‘Power, Modernity, and Liberal Democracy’ in Ernest Gellner and Contemporary Social Thought eds. Siniša Malešević and Mark Haugaard. (Cambridge University Press). pp. 75-102.

Kisby, Ben. 2009. ‘Social Capital and Citizenship Lessons in England’ in Education, Citizenship and Social Justice. Vol.4 No.1 pp.41-62.

McPherson, A. and Raab, C. 1988. Governing Education. A Sociology of Policy since 1945. (Edinburgh University Press).

O’Leary, B. 1998. ‘A Critical Overview’ in The State of the Nation: Ernest Gellner and the Theory of Nationalism ed. John Hall. (Cambridge University Press). pp.40-87.

Patterson, L. 2000. Scottish Democracy and Scottish Utopias. The First Years of the Scottish Parliament’ in Scottish Affairs, Vol.33 pp.45-61.

Prime Minister’s Office. 2014. British Values: Article by David Cameron. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/british-values-article-by-david-cameron [first accessed 10th October 2015].

Tomlinson, S. 2008. Education in a Post-Welfare Society. (Open University Press).

Üngör, Ugur Ümit. 2011. The Making of Modern Turkey: Nation and State in Eastern Anatolia, 1913-1950. (Oxford University Press).


[1] The 2014 case of attempting to promote citizenship via education is by no means new (cf. Kisby 2009). For more on the recent promotion of British values see: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/380595/SMSC_Guidance_Maintained_Schools.pdf

[2] Turkish Ministry of Education figures are 1927, 10.4%; 1935, 20.4%; 1950, 33.6%. See: http://okuma-yazma.meb.gov.tr/sites/default/files/sites/default/files/dosyalar/1928-1959.pdf


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“National identity is dynamic, contested, multiple and fluid” (Edensor 2002:vi).

In this blog and our subsequent presentation we will focus on three different case studies which engage with this idea. The first case is Australia and the so called ANZAC legend. This example demonstrates what we call grand-scale national symbols. The second case examines three different monuments in the United States of America. We consider these examples of mid-scale national symbols. Our final case looks to the the capital of Austria, Vienna. The example we discuss here could be an example for micro-scale national symbols.

1. Australians in World War I and Canberra, a monumental city

1.1 Gallipoli and the Australian foundational myth

The Gallipoli campaign was a campaign during World War 1 that took place on the Gallipoli peninsula in the Ottoman Empire between 25 April 1915 and 9 January 1916. The peninsular was considered strategically important because it offered water-based access the Russian empire.

After the Western front had stagnated in 1915 the Dardenelles Strait, which Churchill described as the “soft underbelly of Europe”, was considered a sea lane to the Russians through the Black Sea. After victory here, the allies could use it is a foothold from which to attack the Central Powers and divert enemy attention from the Western Front.

The landing commenced on the 25th of April 1915 and was spearheaded by the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACs). All in all it was a fiasco, a bodged landing and military campaign. The Allies lost 56,707 in total with some 8,709 Australians and 2,721 New Zealanders among the dead.

However, the Gallipoli campaign has become the seminal moment in Australia’s national identity, both because of its temporal relationship to Australia’s “independence” and the legendary status it has come to acquire.

The dominant legend suggests that Australian soldiers possessed the shared characteristics of endurance, courage, ingenuity, good humour, larrikinism, and mateship. Romantic images of the Australian soldiers as innocent and fit, stoical and laconic, irreverent in the face of authority, naturally egalitarian and disdainful of British class differences are now prevalent themes in Australia’s national consciousness.

The Gallipoli Campaign is often described as the birth of Australian nationhood. John Howard, Australian prime minister from 1996 to 2007, describes the ANZAC spirit in the following way:

Participation in World War I was to both accelerate and sharpen Australia’s sense of separate national identity. The landing on Gallipoli which gave birth to the Anzac spirit became, in fullness of time, the most defining event in our history. Anzac Day remains more evocative of the Australian spirit than any other day in our calendar. The emotional pull of Anzac has grown and not diminished through time, especially amongst the young. Such is the ownership of the Anzac legend now, instinctively felt by young Australians that in their thousands they flock to Anzac Cove on the 25th of April seemingly as some patriotic rite of passage […] Australia seamlessly entered World War I as part of the British Empire. By November 1918 Australians might still see themselves as British but the furnace of war had decisively tilted the balance. Pride in battlefield successes, the magnitude of our losses, sometime dismay at British High Command decision making and some starkly different attitudes held by Australians and their British cousins in respect to class and discipline helped entrench a feeling of separate identity. That sense of separate identity led Billy Hughes to insist that Australia’s interests be represented independently from those of Great Britain at the Paris Peace Conference. “I speak for 60,000 Australian war dead” he declared. We had earned that separate voice (Howard 2003).

We should treat the assumption that mass (perhaps needless) loss of life constitutes the birth of nationhood circumspectly. However, the political effect of Gallipoli was almost immediately evident.

1.2 Canberra

In 1912 Walter Burley Griffin’s plan was selected as the winner of an international competition held by the Australian government to produce a design for Canberra, its new capital city. He famously stated:

I have planned a city that is not like any other in the world. I have planned it not in a way that I expected any government authorities in the world would accept. I have planned an ideal city – a city that meets my ideal of the city of the future.

The city’s design was influenced by the garden city movement and incorporates significant areas of natural vegetation that have since earned Canberra the title of the “bush capital”.

Lake Burley Griffin deliberately designed Canberra so that the orientation of the components was related to various topographical landmarks in Canberra. The lakes stretch from east to west and divided the city in two; a land axis perpendicular to the central basin stretches from Capital Hill (parliament house)—the eventual location of the new Parliament House on a mound on the southern side—north northeast across the central basin to the northern banks to the public house at the base of Mount Ainslie.

However, in the aftermath of the Great War some significant changes took place. In 1920, after Griffin’s city ideal parted ways with the Australian government’s new vision and Griffin’s contract was not renewed. It became evident Australia’s political landscape had shifted since WWI.

Charles Bean, Australia’s official World War I historian, first conceived a museum memorial to Australian soldiers while observing the 1916 battles in Europe. He began collecting historic resources and working towards the construction of a war memorial, which was completed in 1941 on the site originally intended for the casino/public house. The green Land Axis and the “playgrounds of the city” were transformed into a red marching axis constructed from red gravel to resonate with soldiers’ boots during ceremonial marches. After WW2 the market centre was transformed into a military complex at Russell, and after 9/11 and the insertion of the huge monolithic block of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation after 9/11.

The green Land Axis is now known as ANZAC Parade named in honour of the ANZACs. It stretches from near the north shore of Lake Burley Griffin to the foot of the Memorial proper. Whether from Parliament house or from the Memorial, the two are linked by sight and by symbolism. As the official historian, Charles Bean, put it:

During four years in which nearly the whole world was so tested, the people of Australia looked on…They saw their own men – those who had dwelt in the same street or been daily travellers in the same trains – flash across the world’s consciousness like a shooting star […] In the first straight rush up the Anzac hills in the dark; in the easy figures first seen on the ridges in the dawn sky; in the working parties stacking stores on the shelled beach without the turning of a head; in the stretcher bearers walking, pipes in mouths, down a bullet-swept slope to a comrade’s call, unconsciously setting a tradition that may work for centuries; in things seen daily from that first morning until the struggle ended, onlookers had recognised in these men qualities always vital to the human race […] Australians watched the name of their country rise high in the esteem of the world’s oldest and greatest nations. Every Australian bears that name proudly abroad today and by these daily doings, great and small…the Australian nation came to know itself.

Those young men died so we could have a nation. On 25 April each year ANZAC day is observed as a national holiday in Australia.

2. Monuments in the United States, 3 Cities

The monuments that the United States are known for put a high degree of importance on ideas that are believed to be those which shape our population. They are concepts of our country that we believe make the U.S. ‘unique’ and show what the populace values as core ideals. Although it is a relatively new country, we believe that these monuments give validation to the ideas of the founding fathers and give us a history that spans back to the beginning of our nation. They are taught as symbols of America in grade school and are synonymous with our understanding of what our culture strives to accomplish. But are these monuments an over-idealized perception of America? Are they simply generalized themes that we have plucked from the best of our forefathers while ignoring the negative aspects of American history? How do these monuments created the ‘imagined community’ and ‘imagined history’ of America, which accommodates so many different backgrounds and geographical regions?

2.1 Statue of Liberty

The statue of Liberty is commonly thought of as one of the most significant U.S. monuments and is commonly associated with immigration and the opportunities one can gain in the United States. Its location near Ellis Island has made it a symbol for bringing immigrants together to create one ‘melting pot’ of America. What about the negative aspects of immigrant life in the U.S., such as the discriminatory treatment of the Irish and Italians?Inline image 2

2.2 Liberty Bell

The Liberty Bell, located in the beautiful city of Philadelphia represents to many Americans the freedom that we are all given as part of our citizenship. It represents our separation from the British Empire and one of our first steps into a free nation. Inscribed on the bell is a line from Leviticus 25:10 “Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants thereof”, a line that is in reference to the Old Testament “Jubilee”. It is also a commemorative bell for William Penn’s 1701 Charter of Privileges. This statement claims to give liberty to all of the inhabitants of the United States, but this was really only true for a select few – white, male landholders.Inline image 3

2.3 Lincoln Memorial

The Lincoln Memorial, located in Washington D.C. is in memory of Abraham Lincoln, a man who rose from humble beginnings in rural Kentucky to become one of the most well-known American presidents. In many ways his massive memorial structure and statue shows that anyone from any background can achieve success with the ability to work hard, this structure also has obvious references to equality and the reunification of the states after the Civil War. But the U.S. also has a very large income gap that is harder to overcome than the ‘American dream’ makes it seem.Inline image 1

3. Karl Lueger – Reinterpreting a nation’s past through street names

Recently, there have been debates in Vienna to investigate the city’s street names and whether the persons that streets have been named after have an infamous historical past. An investigation report released in 2014, concluding there are about 160 street names that are somewhat dubious and should be discussed. In this case study, the focus will be on one street name, or rather the person behind the street name: Karl Lueger.

3.1 About Karl Lueger

Karl Lueger (*1844, +1910) was mayor of the city of Vienna from 1897-1910.

He was co-founder of the Christian Social Party, whichLudwig Grillich7.jpg is a predecessor of today’s Austrian People’s Party. He lobbied against a “Großdeutschland”, because he didn’t want to unite Catholic Austria with Protestant Germany. Also, he pursued the municipalisation of gas and electricity works, and he established public transportation. In short, “handsome Karl” (how they called him) was a very famous politician in Austria at the time. The interpretation of this part of his history earned him a great deal of memorial sites, such as a monument, an oak and a street named after him.

However, a great deal of his political rhetoric consisted of anti-Semitism. It was not ethnically but religiously motivated, and there are discussions about to what extent he really was an anti-Semite.

Nonetheless, he used popular anti-Semitism as a political tool and made it socially acceptable.

Adolf Hitler was originally opposed to Lueger; however, when he lived in Vienna for some time and got to know his work, he noted in Mein Kampf that “I today regard him as the greatest German mayor of all times”.

3.2 Debate over renaming the street
The Dr.-Karl-Lueger-Ring is part of the Ringstraße, a main boulevard in Vienna and a main tourist attraction. The University of Vienna’s main building is located at the Dr.-Karl-Lueger-Ring and demanded that the street be renamed, because they felt “inappropriate” having to use his name on their official documents, knowing he was an anti-Semite.

They argued that there would be a lot of attention in 2015 when all eyes are on the university during its 650th anniversary. The request was that the street should be renamed to avoid external criticism.

Additionally, Karl Lueger was also opposed to the University of Vienna, having called it a “breeding ground of anti-patriotism and religiouslessness”. The Karl-Lueger-Ring has been renamed to Universitätsring in 2012.

3.3 Reactions

enthuellt.5072216The Green Party, having supported the demand from the beginning, was satisfied with the outcome.

The Austrian People’s Party’s reaction can be summed up through a rhetorical question: “What’s the Social Democrats’ opinion on the Dr.-Karl-Renner-Ring?” [a Social Democrat and first President of Austria after WWII, also an alleged anti-Semite – he definitely was in favour of the “Anschluss” to Nazi Germany]. The Freedom Party, too, criticised the biased decision to only rename this particular street.

To be sure, there is still a monument named after Karl Lueger in Vienna. It was only about the University of Vienna’s international appearance as the motivational force behind this act.

4. Interpretation

“[W]e assume that there is – in an essentialist sense – no such thing as one national identity. We believe rather that different identities are discursively constructed according to audience, setting, topic and substantive content. National identities are therefore malleable, fragile and, frequently, ambivalent and diffuse.” (Wodak et al 20094:)

In our presentation, we will discuss in how far the ideas represented in the quotes by Wodak and Edensor apply to our case studies, where you can find similarities between these case studies and where you can find differences.

5. Bibliography

Abbott, Tony (2014) “Commemorative Address, 2014 Anzac Day National Ceremony, Australian War Memorial, Canberra”, https://www.awm.gov.au/commemorative-address-2014-anzac-day-national-ceremony/ (Accessed 11/02/2015).

Edensor, Tim. 2002. National Identity, Popular Culture and Everyday Life. Oxford: Berg

Fischer, Karl (2003) http://www.tu-cottbus.de/theoriederarchitektur/Wolke/eng/Subjects/032/Fischer/fischer.htm (Accessed 11/02/2015).

Howard, John (2003) “Prime Minister John Howard’s speech delivered at Australia House in London on November 10 at 6.30pm GMT” in The Sydney Morning Herald.

Stevens, Quentin (2014) “Masterplanning public memorials: an historical comparison of Washington, Ottawa and Canberra” in Planning Perspectives Vol. 30, Issue 1, pp. 39-66

Ruth Wodak, Rudolf de Cillia, Martin Reisigl and Karin Liebhart. 2009². The Discursive Construction of National Identity. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Sources without Known Authors











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Rachel Hutchins (http://idea-udl.org/members/hutchins/ ) will be presenting a seminar on 24th September co-sponsored by Sociology and Edinburgh NANI. Rachel does some very interesting work using historic school textbooks as a key resource in examining nation/state- building (see abstract below)

Rachel has also very kindly agreed to hold an informal PG/Staff workshop on the afternoon of the 24th (14.00, CMB seminar room 3 – on the ground floor) to which all interested PG students and staff are very cordially invited. It will prove a useful and interesting opportunity to think about HOW we go about studying nations and nationalism. It will also be an occasion to meet and welcome some of the new MSc/PhD students arriving in Edinburgh to study all things national.


24th September

RESEARCH SEMINAR: 11am, 6th Floor Common Room CMB, 15a George Square.

WORKSHOP: 2pm,  Seminar Room 3, Ground Floor, CMB, 15a George Square.


RACHEL HUTCHINS: Teaching the Nation: Nationalism and National Identity in History Education


History education provides an official view of national identity and, as such, frequently generates controversy well beyond the educational establishment. National identity is not – as nationalists often purport – fixed and eternal, but is continually redefined. This redefinition usually involves renegotiation between proponents of competing visions of who is part of the nation and which ideologies and values reflect the community’s spirit and best interest. History curricula and textbooks are a prime site of such renegotiations. Studying these educational materials and the debates surrounding them in different countries and over time allow insight into how and why conceptions of national identity change and how this process perpetuates national attachment.

This paper examines national history curricula and textbooks from France and the United States over the past 30 years. These countries have experienced comparable demographic and cultural shifts since the 1960s, resulting in intense public debate over national identity. In both cases, this paper shows, historical narratives have been expanded to include more women and ethnic minorities while reaffirming unity via a renewed emphasis on traditional national symbols and ideology.

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Dr Glassford will present a paper, followed by discussion, on:

George Orwell’s Shallow Nationalism

There has always been as many ‘Orwell’s’ as there are commentators on his thought. Orwell has been claimed as a hero of the anti-Stalinist left, an opponent of all totalitarianisms, as a staunch critic of capitalism, acute analyst of art-prop, as a peculiar proponent of English common sense socialism, of libertarian self-reliance, and there are even some who view Orwell as a hero of neo-conservatism; a defender of Western pluralism and toleration. In this paper I will eschew theories of nationalism and re-examine Orwell’s search for a political and cultural identity that was central to his sense of what he was against in texts such as The Lion and the Unicorn, and Down and Out in London and Paris, and I will attempt to demonstrate that Orwell never really successfully re- imagined a persuasive sense of Englishness.

Time: 4 July, 1:00-2:30

CMB, Meeting Room (Pod) 5

Hosted by: the Nationalism and National Identity (NANI) research group and Ethnicity, Nationalism and National Identity Network (ENNIN)

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Both Liah Greenfeld’s family history, and her own life are intertwined with the political violence and upheaval of the Soviet Union at the time. She was born and raised in Russia to a family of intellectuals. Her grandfather was a Bolshevik, spending time in prison in Siberia, eventually escaping to Italy where he knew Gramsci. All of her grandparents were devout socialists, although they were also political prisoners. Her grandmother spent 10 years in a prison camp.

Political persecution did not escape her parents, either, who were both interrogated by the KGB on several occasions. Greenfeld’s parents embraced their Jewish identity, especially her father who taught himself Hebrew and instilled in Greenfeld that her most fundamental and important identity was Jewish. Her father’s openness about his support of Israel led to further interrogation, and the constant threat of arrest. In 1972, at age 18, her family left Russia, and Greenfeld ended up attending university in Israel.

One can imagine that this family history has had a profound effect on her work on nationalism, identity, and power. When reflecting on her mother’s relationship to her Jewish identity, Greenfeld says, “I remember vividly how she blushed, when asked her nationality—a most common and devious question in the happy multinational family of the Soviet republics, in which, as it was believed in the West, all national animosities were forgotten” (p. 38).

Greenfeld gained her PhD in Sociology of Art from Hebrew University in 1982 and taught at University of Chicago and Harvard before becoming a professor at Boston University in 1994, where she remains.

Greenfeld, 1994, p. 9

Theoretical outline

For Greenfeld, nationalism is the modern culture. It is the underlying principle behind all modern institutions. Before going on to explaining her theory, it would be beneficial to outline Greenfeld’s approach. Greenfeld is of the veiw that human society is organised symbolically rather materially. This leads her to assert that the history of human society should be studied as a cultural process rather than as a history of biological evolution.

According to Greenfeld, nationalism is the ‘symbolic blueprint of modern reality’. It is our stand-point as well as the prism through which we see the modern world and construct its image in our minds.

For Greenfeld, ‘nationalism’ has three primary characteristics:

  1. It is based on the principle of egalitarianism which places sovereignty with the people    (popular sovereignty)
  2. It is humanistic at its core
  3. It is fundamentally secular

The explanations of the above points are inter-linked and no clear lines can be drawn between each of them. According to Greenfeld, the members of the new English aristocracy in early sixteenth century England were the ‘inventors’ of nationalism. Up till this point the word ‘nation‘ implied an elite. An elite who were, of course, at the top of social hierarchy but also the source of sovereignty of the state. Sometime in early sixteenth century, ‘nation‘ came to be used for the entire population, thereby elevating the entire population to the status of ‘elite‘ and thus the concept of popular sovereignty was born. Since everyone was now an ‘elite’, everyone was equal. Thus along with popular sovereignty, egalitarianism was also created.

According to Greenfeld, this notion of popular sovereignty is what led to democracy. Nationalism placed sovereignty with the people and the assumed  a fundamental equality amongst all of them. These turned out to foundations of democracy as well. For her, ‘nationalism is the form in which democracy appeared in the world, contained in the idea of the nation as a butterfly in a cocoon’.

It must be mentioned at this point that Greenfeld lays great emphasis on the ‘desire for status’ within human beings in her study of nationalisms. At one point, she writes that ‘national identity is, fundamentally, a matter of dignity. When sovereignty is placed with the people, everybody, in a sense, is an elite. And this sense of pride is brought by being a member of the nation.

As for being secular and humanistic, Greenfeld opines that nationalism, in being the modern culture, is the way humans experience and express modern consciousness. And the image thus expressed is secular, in so far as it is confined to ‘this’ world. It is humanistic since the most significant element of this world are humans.

But surely such a consciousness could have been constructed in other ways too . According to Greenfeld, it the members of new English aristocracy in England, through a conscious effort, substituted the traditional society where social mobility was non-existent with the concept of an ‘homogenously elite’ people. They could have might as well forged genealogies, which Greenfeld terms as ‘perfectly logical thing to do given the circusmtances’. She concedes, that had this happened, history would be different.

The stand-out feature of Greenfeld’s theory is its contrast with other modernists. While the ‘modernist’ view holds that nationalism was the product of industrialization and modernity, Greenfeld asserts that it was in fact the other way round. In her view, it was ‘nationalism’ which created the neccessary social ground for industrialisation and modernity; it is the ‘constitutive element for modernity’. For Greenfeld, industrialisation and modernity are not structural constituents of nationalism but its consequences.

Both industrial capitalism and the modern state could only come to be once nationalism had created an egalitarian society. With the onset of nationalism economic activities of the masses achieved an elevated status and in an egalitarian society, social mobility was finally possible. One was not ordained to an occupation for life but could dream about growth and hence a shift was bought about from subsistence model to a model of sustained growth. Greenfeld regards this as a direct consequence of nationalism.

In so far as the modern state is concerned, Greenfeld regards the concept of popular sovereignty as an effect of equality bought about by being a member of the nation. Since all modern states claim to derive their authority and legitimacy from popular sovereignty, Greenfeld opines that the modern state, too, follows nationalism and does not precede it.

Before concluding this section, it is important to know that the approach which Greenfeld adopts i.e. of regarding human societies as organised symbolically and assuming social reality to be intrinsically cultural, is an an approach that is characteristic of the Weberian school.

Case study > Russian transitions between nationalism and internationalism

Greenfeld claims that the rise of communism in Russia was due to the intelligentsia feeling inferiority towards the West. The explanation is not to be found in economics or class struggles. Contrastingly, there was a common feeling of shame amongst the Russian intelligentsia. The establishment of the Soviet Union implied the dissolving of a russian nation and becoming the representative for an international proletariat.  Thus, the establishment of the Soviet Union redefined reality of the intelligentsia and a possible triumph over the West. In other words, it was a change to internationalism.

Does this view of the transition from Tsarist Russia to Soviet Russia appear convincing?

The tables below show the distribution of answers to the question: “To which of these geographical groups would you say you belong first of all?”
The question was asked to a relatively large group of Russians in 1990 and 1995, accordingly:

Russia 1990


Do the distributions match the expectations of Greenfeld?  Do you think that Russia is moving towards nationalism today?

Case study > Venezuela

Nowadays, Venezuelan Nationalism could be understood as a civic-collectivist nationalism fostered from the state political structures. The political changes in Venezuela since 1998, based on a “XXI century socialism” project, needed a wide popular support to be applied. Therefore, the renovation of nationalism feelings was an essential political tool to reach the political and juridical modifications towards the application of this model.

The Venezuelan nationalism, as the other Latino-American nationalisms, was based on the resentment to Western, especially to Spain and USA due to the economical dependence and political influence they pursued in the region. However, since Chavez administration, the social resentment and sense of inferiority, former expressed as resentment to other nations, was replaced and leaded to high classes. This was evident in the political discourse of the government and the terms used in Chavez’ speech, as “oligarchy” and “aristocracy”, instead of “businessmen” or “entrepreneurs”, as in other Latin-American countries. The Venezuelan nationalism has been also focused on exalt historical heroes, as a form of legitimation of nowadays policies. This strategy implied the reinforcement of civic holydays, giving them a new meaning and contextualized them as a palpable sign of patriotism. Even the actual name of the country “Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela” makes reference to Simon Bolívar “the liberator of America”, an XIX century important politician, ideologist and military in South America.


The emotional element of Venezuelan nationalism has been a very interesting factor, developed along the Chavez’ administrations. The revolutionary discourse of Venezuelan regime with Chavez and now with Maduro’s regime use phrases recalling hard-core socialism ideology as “socialist nation or death”. The state has been able to create a new national identity in some sectors of the population based in the idea of the state as a social class, in communion and solidarity with “our America” (other Latin-American countries), expressed in the Venezuelan popular culture. An outstanding example of this emotional mixture was the Chavez death and funeral, with widespread demonstration of sorrow and condolences.

A link showing a video with the public reactions towards Chavez death


The construction of Venezuelan nationalism and renovated national identity from a very personalistic form of leading has been very obvious. This new identification of Chavez with the Bolivarian revolution transcend itself the idea of class, otherwise, the identification with chavism for a big portion of the population is almost comparable with the identification with Venezuela.

Given that this policy worked fine at internal level, the Venezuelan state tried to export it to other Latin-American countries with relative success. This provoked a change in foreign policy towards USA and Latin America, basically. This was mirrored in some international cooperation forums along Latin America, principally ALBA (The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas, AlianzaBolivariana para los Pueblos de NuestraAmérica in Spanish). This international organization is nowadays the most important mean of foreign policy for Venezuelan government in the region. Until today, ALBA count with the membership of Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Venezuela (with Suriname as “special guest”). Moreover, Venezuela has strong relations with Argentina, El Salvador Brasil and Uruguay. In this way, Venezuela has been expanding his influence along Latin-America and, thus, expanding his nationalism model, specifically to Nicaragua, Bolivia and Ecuador with relative success


According to Greenfeld. Nationalism often is an imported political movement imitation. In the case of Venezuela, it has his origin in Castro’s socialist Cuba. Moreover, in the same way that Cuba, the empowered classes in Venezuela are not the same classes that support widely the proposed political project, what coincide with Greenfeld’s idea of the usefulness of nationalism for some influential groups, especially regarding economic competence with other states. This idea is deepen explained in the following statement:

“Chavismis not a leapof nationalismto socialism, but abourgeois nationalist movement. The socialist speech is notnew.Manynationalistsinthe ’40smade ​​use ofsocialisticspeechesto win supportamong the masses, andthus blockthe developmentof a leftanchored inclass independence. It matters little whetherthe social baseof chavism is”commoner”. The baseof Peronismwas the working class. Butneither workersleadedPeronnor addressedcommonersmovements leadchavism.In bothcases, workersand poor peopleare usedas the basis fora bourgeois policy.” (Aguirre, 2013)

Key questions

¿Is the Venezuelan oil-based economy a key factor of empowerment of Venezuelan nationalism? ¿Could the class-based political project transcend to a national project in other Latino-American states with more developed and globalized economies, as Brasil, Mexico or Chile?

Sources & Further Reading


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     Eric Hobsbawm was born into a Jewish family in 1927 to an Austrian mother British Father. When he was born, they were living in Alexandria. Soon after, they moved to Austria. Following his parents’ death, he moved to Germany to live with his aunt who adopted him and his sister. When Hitler came into power in 1933, they moved to England. He experienced the rise of fascism in Vienna and Berlin. His political stance and historiography were likely affected by this cosmopolite background.

Hobsbawm graduated from the University of Cambridge and lectured in Italy, the U.S., England, and South America. He became a member of The Association of Socialist Pupils at the age of 14 and of the Communist Party when he was 19. During the Soviet Invasion of Hungary in 1956, most of its members left the British Communist Party, but Hobsbawm and a few colleagues did not. Yet he protested the Soviet invasion of Hungary and was in favour of the Prague Spring.

The main reason why he held on to the Bolshevik Revolution ideals so long and while all his colleagues were leaving the party is that he had experienced both anti-Semitism and fascism. In 1994 during an interview he claimed that if the Soviet Union had succeeded in creating a true communist society, it would have been worth the deaths of the twenty million people who perished under Stalin. Additionally, he never denied Stalin’s truculence and never criticized Stalin for being a nationalist. But it should be remembered that he never chose to become a Zionist either. On the other hand, during another interview in 2002 he said; “In Germany there wasn’t any alternative left. Liberalism was failing. If I’d been German and not a Jew, I could see I might have become a Nazi, a German nationalist. I could see how they’d become passionate about saving the nation. It was a time when you didn’t believe there was a future unless the world was fundamentally transformed.” Hobsbawm also paid dearly for his Marxism in terms of a reportedly decade-long stymied career trajectory.

Do you agree with him that one cannot be a good historian of the nation and a nationalist at the same time?


     So, in his view, what is a nation? Hobsbawm, while in essence re-hashing a Gellnarian view, ultimately refuses to settle on a single definition of the nation, arguing that objective definitions are doomed to fail because exceptions can always be found (Hobsbawm: 1990 5). This does not mean, however, that Hobsbawm has no tangible theory of nationalism (Hobsbawm: 1990 9-10);

  1.  Hobsbawm defines nationalism as the ideology that the political and national units should coincide.
  2. He views the nation as a changing, evolving, modern construct that is brought into being by nationalism, and not the other way around.
  3. He agrees that there are certain political, technical, administrative and economic conditions necessary for the emergence of the nation, such as the existence of administrative and educational infrastructure.
  4. Finally, Hobsbawm believes nationalism is constructed from above, although it needs to be studied from bellow as this is where it takes root and is most powerful and volatile.

Furthermore, there are three phases to the development of nationalism according to Hobsbawm (1990 12):

  1.  A preliminary phase in which the idea of the nation is purely cultural and/or folkloric;
  2.  A pioneering phase wherein political campaigners begin to try and raise awareness and mobilize the nation;
  3.  And finally, the stage at which nationalist movements acquire mass support, an occurrence which can come to pass before or after the birth of the state.

In his analysis, Hobsbawm’s primary concern is how and why some nations accomplish the transition from phase 2 to phase 3. In other words, why do certain nationalist movements gain mass support and not others? He proceeds to dissect the rise and evolution of various nationalist movements, largely in a European context. However, throughout his historical analysis, a conclusion can be reached: For a nationalism movement to be successful, the nation needs to be “imagined”, it needs to be of a certain size and – the real determining factor – it needs to have a national economy to drive it. Without the necessary economic factors, it would never succeed.

The imagining of the nation can involve three historical aspects

  1. Historic association with a state (which is driven by an economy)
  2. Long-established cultural elite (to create the culture and impose it from above)
  3. A capacity for conquest (less critical today)


     While the decidedly leftist Hobsbawm generally undertakes a fairly materialist review of history, he does leave surprising room for a constructivist case, albeit n elicits, or ‘top-down’ one:

“For this reason they are…constructed essentially from above, but which cannot be understood unless also analyzed from below, that is in terms of the assumptions, hopes, needs, longings and interests of ordinary people, which are not necessarily national and still less nationalist….That view from below, i.e. the nation as seen not by governments and the spokesmen and activists of nationalist (or non-nationalist) movements, but by the ordinary persons who are the objects of their action and propaganda, is exceedingly difficult to discover” (Nations and Nationalism Since 1780, emphasis mine).

Especially within the last 200 years, relatively new phenomenon such as the ‘nation’, ‘nation-state’, national symbols, national reflexes, and nationalism were formalized and were established through newly invented traditions. In The Invention of Tradition, he and Ranger offer a collection of essays about how and why different traditions are invented, what purposes these traditions have and continue to serve. As the concept relates to Nationalism, the construction of historical narratives is widely recognized as a common means of strengthening the legitimacy of a claim to a geographical region, self-autonomy, or even  solidifying a sense of group identity to serve a nationalist agenda. It represents a somewhat cynical view of nationalistic phenomena, but it is a theme which Hobsbawm shares with many more contemporary theorists in the field. Hobsbawm distinguished between three types of invented tradition (Hobsbawm 1983: 9):

  1. Those establishing or symbolising social cohesion and collective identities
  2. Those establishing or legitimatising institutions and social hierarchies
  3. Those socialising people into particular social contexts

Moreover, he stresses that studies of the distant past can prove especially crucial in modern political contexts such as the negotiations of national and ethnic identities. For example, is it any coincidence that the Scottish referendum is occurring in 2014, the 700th anniversary of one of Scotland’s most famous battles (Bannockburn) against the “would-be English overlords”?

Here is an interesting little blurb on how this has potentially manifested in Scottish Highland culture: http://www.history.utoronto.ca/material_culture/rmclean/html/trad.htm


      Hobsbawm’s views on what drives nationalist movements may be extremely useful in explaining why repeated attempts to develop a unified Afghanistan have ostensibly failed. It is arguably a better fit to analyze rival ideas of the nation held by the country’s different ethnic groups than some “hypothetical all-embracing Afghan nationalism”. Nevertheless, the process of nation building under conditions of independence continues at the present time, with inter-ethnic relations fundamentally altered by the changes in power relations brought about during three decades of warfare (beginning in 1978 with the civil war). Indeed, some specific features of the development of nationalism in Afghanistan have contributed to its present crisis, compounded by the failure of rival leaders to create any stable form of government, and what fragile unity the country gained in the wake of the civil war under the Taliban-affiliated government was in turn steadily eroded, as the politics of Afghanistan have been heavily influenced by NATO countries via their effort to “stabilise” and democratise the country. In 2004, the state’s new constitution was adopted and a president – Hamid Karzai – was (theoretically) democratically elected in 2004, winning a second five-year term in 2009, again on the surface suggesting a strengthening central state.

It has been argued (Hyman, 2002) that in modern Afghanistan, the national or patriotic idea remained very weak and undeveloped, “altogether lacking appeal or influence except in a small and unrepresentative educated urban, literate class whose members were often in important respects in culture cut off from the mass of the rural or tribal population” (p. 300). In short, nationalism cannot exert ideological appeal until the majority of Afghanistan’s population are integrated into the collective life of society. This, of course, would involve the creation of one over-arching, unifying “Afghan Tradition” a la Hobsbawm.

While before this narrative remained in essence one dominated by a tribal aristocracy, the Taliban focused on the role of Islam in Afghan society as legitimizer of authority (97% of Afghanistan’s population consider themselves Muslim). While Islam has been a unifying force against foreign and non-Muslim invaders (including in recent anti-NATO sentiment), it has however never been enough in itself to unite all the ethnies of Afghanistan in the past.

The Taliban movement, which began in 1994 among Pashtuns of Kandahar, is engaged on a mission to create a pure Islamic state in Afghanistan. Afghan nationalism as such is not an important element in the Taliban worldview, yet the Taliban had and have as a basic goal to reunite the entire territory of Afghanistan. Moreover, the xenophobic isolationist stance of Afghan nationalism under the Taliban continues to exploit popular Afghan suspicions of Western plots and interference to that end.

On the surface, it may have at times seemed that Afghanistan would disintegrate under into its constituent ethnic components or a plethora of new mini-states emerging out of the wreck of war, but it has not. During the war, there grew and remained popular autonomous sentiment demanding the withdrawal of NATO troops, culminating with the June 2013 security handover from NATO to Afghan forces. Clearly, there can be little sense of a pan-afghan ethnically or linguistically-based nationalism, so why does it remain increasingly content in its new democratic form? Again, perhaps Hobsbawm has the answer.


     Perhaps the increasingly viable, growing economy of the state encourages nationalist rhetoric on the part of the new state government, as Hobsbawm might suggest? The economy of Afghanistan has significantly improved of late due to the infusion of billions of dollars in international assistance and investments,as well as notable improvements in agricultural production. Most interestingly, the new government claims that the country holds up to $3 trillion in untapped mineral and oil deposits, one of the richest mining regions on earth. However, due to the conflicts, it remains one of the least developed countries in the world, ranking just 175th on the United Nations’ Human Development Index.

In Afghanistan, as elsewhere, the writing and rewriting of history has been intimately linked to currents and fashions in national politics. State-promoted historical writing for journals or special publications has tended “slavishly to follow official policy” (Hyman, 2002). This supports Hobsbawm’s theory that constructed societal meanings and narratives (i.e. invented traditions) are a tool of national unification employed by would-be state powers in order to propagate their own legitimacy:

We should expect it to occur more frequently when a rapid transformation of society weakens or destroys the social patterns for which ‘old’ traditions had been designed, producing new ones to which they were not applicable, or when such old traditions and their institutional carriers and promulgators no longer prove sufficiently adaptable and flexible, or are otherwise eliminated; in short, when there are sufficiently large and rapid changes on the demand or the supply side (1983, 4-5).

This is certainly the case in Afghanistan. However, Afghanistan remains under the influence of competing narratives and traditions which, coupled with the as-of-yet sub-par economy, might explain why Afghan nationalism is not yet fully developed as a unifying popular force.

Sources & Further Reading:



     The Kachin people, living mainly in northeastern Myanmar with a population of 1.5 million people, are traditionally hill dwellers. They see themselves as largely Kachin and not at all Burmese, even though the state of Kachin belongs to Myanmar (and previously Burma). Nationalistic feelings in Kachin are high because they long for their own national sovereignty and do not want to be ruled by the government of Myanmar.

The Kachin people are dissatisfied with the central government. They see any forms of initiatives carried out in the state of Kachin as ‘Burmanization’, which they have been trying to resist throughout the years. For instance, the government has been attempting to build Buddhist pagodas in the Kachin state. While Buddhism is the state religion of, the majority of the Kachin people are Christian. The Kachin people have their own language, own religion and own distinct culture. In addition, their territory (homeland) is rich in jade and timber that they did not want the central government to exploit what they see as theirs. The Kachin state produces quality jade, which is currently being controlled by the central government.

As a result, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) was formed. It is one of the largest resistance organization in Myanmar against the central government. Under KIO, it has an armed wing called the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). There are several accounts of clashes between the KIA and the Burmese army as the Kachin people attempt to fight for their own independence via force. Even though the KIA signed a ceasefire agreement with the Burmese government in 1994, they did not disarm or surrender and they continue to recruit, train and mobilize soldiers.


     In Hobsbawm’s theory of nationalism, he believes that political and economic reasons are the drivers of nationalist sentiment. He did not place emphasis on cultural and ethnic elements and he sees them as secondary factors for nationalism. In fact, he claims, “if the nation had anything in common from the popular-revolutionary point of view, it was not, in any fundamental sense, ethnicity, language, and the like, though these could be indications of collective belonging” (Hobsbawm, 1990, p.20)

Discussion Questions: Are cultural and ethnic factors the main driving force of nationalism in this case? Or is it that the KIO is playing the ethnic card in order to garner more support for political and economic reasons, as Hobsbawm might suggest?

Sources & Further Reading:
Kachin state on Map of Myanmar: http://www.freekachin.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/map.gif



     Québecois nationalism is a clear example of a nationalist movement that just fell short of reaching Hobsbawm’s third phase of nationalist development (1990: 12), the phase in which a movement goes from being an elite construct to having mass appeal. Based on the result of the 1995 referendum, Québec was teetering on the edge of attaining critical mass, but failed to do so. As a result, the movement lost steam and has, for the most part, been benched.

How can the failure of this movement be explained? Québec certainly has the necessary size, sitting today at just over 8 million. With its comprehensive education and mass media, it also had the technical and administrative conditions necessary. Consider Hobsbawm’s two main themes and determine if Quebecois Nationalism includes them: a robust “imagined community” and the national economy to drive it.

If anything, Québec is good example for the power of the invention of tradition. Consider the name used to represent the nation. Today most nationalists within La Belle Province consider themselves Québecois. Very few, if any, would associate with the term Canadiens. Yet, this is the banner that the early French Canadians used to distinguish themselves from the British. The very notion of Québecois is a manufactured one that has little connection with the original French settlers of the country. Indeed, even the widely celebrated national holiday, St-Jean Baptiste Day, was only celebrated with regularity at the very end of the 19th century and today bears little resemblance to the original holiday with its religious character.

This leaves economic factors to blame for the failure of movement. This is clearly a complex issue since many attribute Canada’s poor economic situation in the early 80s and 90s to the rise of Québecois nationalism in the first place. That said, the failure of the movement to gain enough traction could still be attributed to economy of the province. Québec is a resource-driven economy that, for the most part, is centered on the extraction and export of its many natural resources, making it reliant on foreign import markets. It is also the Canadian province with the most comprehensive social welfare system in place, one which costs the province billions every year. Many believe that the maintenance of these social programs would be impossible without the support of the Canadian government which casts doubt on the viability of Québec as an independent state. These economic factors could explain the failure of Québecois nationalism.

Discussion Question: While I have approached Québec as a case of failed nationalism, is it? Could the rise of the PQ, the provincial nationalist party, be a re-emergence of the movement?


     In addition to his historical analysis of the development of nationalism, Hobsbawm also has a strong normative vision of nationalism. Hobsbawm’s opinion of nationalism is a negative one. While Gellner acknowledged the dangers of nationalism, notably that attempts to create a homogenous state can lead to persecution and even genocide, Hobsbawm fully embraces the view that nationalism is bad, referring to nationalist movements as the instigators of “difficulties and cruelties” (1977: 4). When examining the causes of nationalism, he describes the “anguish and disorientation” (1990: 177) as the “symptoms of the sickness” (1990: 177) which drive nationalism. This is hardly the noble portrayal of the patriotic spirit of a nation.

The normative question that Hobsbawm is trying to answer through his work, which he views as the central problem of our age, is how to organize the coexistence of multiple ethnic/religious/linguistic groups. As described in the article by Beiner on the Nairn-Hobsbawm debate, while Nairn views the proliferation of states as beneficial, Hobsbawm, as analysed by Beiner (1989: 175), objects to this idea for a number of reasons:

  1. Smaller states are more vulnerable to the dictates of capital.
  2. Due to their limited scope, nationalist movements are often blind to pressing moral global issues, like global social justice or the environment.
  3. The world cannot actually be divided into monocultural units, since even tiny political units will face issues of heterogeneity. Indeed, multinational states that institutionalize pluralism would be safer for cultural minorities than smaller “nation-states” attempting to homogenize their populations.
  4. The desire for ever-smaller states is not politically coherent. Given that nations are not real, but constructed to begin with, there would be no limit to the number of states that would need to be created for each nation to have their own.

In fact, Hobsbawm is a proponent of larger, more stable, multinational states. While he does not seem to have an answer to this own question, he remains optimistic that as long as there are functional multinational states around such as Britain, there is hope (Beiner 1989: 174).

Discussion question:  Are multinational states viable? Can multiple nations peacefully coexist in the current political system? Are their countries we could cite as success stories? Would Britain even qualify as one of these given the Scottish referendum on the horizon?

Post authored by Killashandra,  Madison, Min, & Özge

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