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Imagined Communities. by Benedict Anderson, 1983. Ch 1: Introduction. Nation, Nationality, and Nationalism are innovative, recent concepts, artifacts created in late 18 th century due to historical circumstance, but easily transplanted to the rest of the world

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imagined communities

Imagined Communities

by Benedict Anderson, 1983

ch 1 introduction
Ch 1: Introduction
  • Nation, Nationality, and Nationalism
    • are innovative, recent concepts, artifacts created in late 18th century due to historical circumstance, but easily transplanted to the rest of the world
    • lack definitions and defy analysis, arouse deep attachments
three paradoxes of nationalism
Three paradoxes of Nationalism
  • 1) Objective modernity of nations vs. their subjective antiquity
  • 2) Formal universality of nationality as a socio-cultural concept vs. irremediable particularity of concrete manifestations of nationality
  • 3) Political power of nationalisms vs. their philosophical poverty and incoherence
definition of nation
Definition of nation
  • An imagined political community that is both limited and sovereign
  • Imagined because members cannot all know each other
  • Limited because no nation encompasses all of mankind, nor even aspires to
  • Sovereign because nations came into being during Enlightenment and strive for freedom
  • Community because a nation is conceived of as a horizontal comradeship of equals
  • Why is it that these limited imaginings of fraternity, which have existed for only two centuries, have inspired millions of people to be willing kill and die for them?
  • The answers lie in the cultural roots of nationalism.
ch2 cultural roots
Ch2: Cultural Roots
  • What was happening in Europe in 18th c?
    • Religious modes of thought were declining
    • Enlightenment and rationalist secularism were prevailing
    • The idea of a nation gave a new sense of continuity to the cycle of life and death
    • Nations imagine themselves as an expression of a glorious past headed toward a limitless future
cultural systems
Cultural Systems
  • Prior to the advent of nationality, the primary cultural systems were:

Dynastic realms

Religious communities


religious community
Religious community:
  • linked by a sacred language/text which was “superior” to vernaculars
  • potentially encompass all humanity via conversion
  • suggested a unique hierarchy, unique access to truth
  • ultimately eroded by world exploration/discovery of other “great” religions and vernacularization
dynastic realm
Dynastic realm:
  • Kingdoms focused on centers, not borders
  • Ruled over heterogeneous populations
  • Sexual politics of dynastic marriage
  • Population is subjects, not citizens, part of a divine hierarchy
  • Principle of automatic legitimacy withered away and dynasties gradually took on nationalist features
apprehensions of time
Apprehensions of time
  • Religious world view based on concept of time where there is a simultaneity of past and future in an instantaneous present
  • Innovation of novel and newspaper create a new concept of “homogeneous empty time” and a new concept of simultaneity
  • A nation can move calendrically through this new time
ch3 the origins of national consciousness
CH3: The Origins of National Consciousness
  • Development of print as a commodity makes it possible for a community that is “horizontal-secular, transverse-time” to exist
  • Capitalism helped to make the concept of nation popular
print capitalism
  • Printing begins in 15th c, aimed at Latin readers, but this market was saturated after 150 years, and focus shifted to vernaculars
  • Even earlier, use of administrative vernaculars began spreading in Europe
  • Print gave language a new fixity, helped create standards and build an image of antiquity
ch5 old languages new models
Ch5: Old Languages, New Models
  • Between 1820 & 1920 national print-languages were of central ideological and political importance in Europe
  • The concept of “nation”, once invented, became widely available for pirating, and was imported to a diverse array of situations and ideologies
europe s sense of self and other
Europe’s sense of self and other
  • 16th c Europe discovered other civilizations, and that it was only one among many civilizations, and not necessarily the Chosen or the best
  • 18th c Comparative linguistics and investigation of proto-languages changes concepts of history, 19th c linguistic development of vernaculars
  • Languages belonged no longer to God, but to their speakers, and dictionaries and grammars treat all languages as equals
bourgeoisie and literacy expand
Bourgeoisie and Literacy expand
  • 19th c Europe major expansion of state bureaucracies and middle classes
  • Cohesion of bourgeoisie facilitated by literacy
  • Vernacular languages of state assumed greater power, first displacing Latin and then minority languages
equality of compatriots
Equality of compatriots
  • “The new middle-class intelligentsia of nationalism had to invite the masses into history” Nairn
  • “If ‘Hungarians’ deserved a national state, then that meant Hungarians, all of them; it meant a state in which the ultimate locus of sovereignty had to be the collectivity of Hungarian-speakers and readers; and, in due course, the liquidation of serfdom, the promotion of popular education, the expansion of suffrage, and so on.” Anderson
ch8 patriotism racism
Many today find nationalism to be pathological, with affinities to racism, hatred of the Other, but…

Nations inspire self-sacrificing love, shown in poetry, prose, music, arts.

Ch8: Patriotism & Racism
the political love of nationalism
The political love of nationalism
  • This love is expressed in terms of kinship or home, ties that are “natural” and unchosen, like skin-color and parentage
  • Because these ties are unchosen, “they have about them a halo of disinterestedness” and can require sacrifice
love death
Love & death
  • The fated link to a nation, because it is disinterested, has a purity that sanctions the idea of an ultimate sacrifice
  • The 20th c is unprecedented in the number of people who lay down their lives for their nations
  • Death serves also to symbolize eternal continuity for a nation
just for comparison
Just for comparison…
  • Dying for something like
    • The Democratic Party
    • The American Medical Association
    • Amnesty International
  • These would not have the same cachet because they are bodies we can join or leave
more on death
More on death…
  • War monuments, holidays commemorating battles, holocausts, genocides, and even fraternal (civil) wars serve to bond a nation to a history
  • Tombs for the Unknown Soldier are particularly powerful, for they also reinforce the image of equality
  • A language is a powerful means to root a nation to a past because a language looms up from the past without any birthdate of its own, and suggests a community between a contemporary society and its dead ancestors
  • Poetry and songs, as national anthems create a simultaneous community of selfless voices
imagined objects of affection
Imagined objects of affection
  • “…the objects of…these attachments are ‘imagined’ -- anonymous, faceless fellow-Tagalogs, exterminated tribes, Mother Russia…But amor patriae does not differ in this respect from the other affections, in which there is always an element of fond imagining…What the eye is to the lover…language…is to the patriot. Through that language, encountered at mother’s knee and parted with only at the grave, pasts are restored, fellowships are imagined, and futures are dreamed.”
ch10 census map museum
Ch10: Census, Map, Museum
  • These three institutions shaped the way in which states imagined their dominion: the nature of the human beings they ruled, the geography of their domain, and the legitimacy of their ancestry
a census
A census
  • Reifies identities into singular, mutually-exclusive categories
  • Suggests a quantity of identical units
a map
A map
  • Focuses on borders rather than on centers
  • Views each as a country from above, filling the space of the planet
  • The shape of a country becomes a logo that penetrates national imagination as an emblem of the country
a museum
A museum
  • Suggests a political inheritance of historical connections and restored monuments that serve as regalia for the modern state
the census map and museum
The census, map, and museum
  • Served as a “totalizing classificatory grid, which could be applied…to anything under the state’s real or contemplated control…”
  • Assumed that the world was made up of replicable plurals, that everything had a serial number
ch11 memory and forgetting
Ch11: Memory and Forgetting
  • The naming of towns such as New York, Nueva Leon, Nouvelle Orleans, Nova Lisboa, Nieuw Amsterdam -- suggest that it was possible to imagine a vast parallelism of simultaneous states, inspiring revolutions and nationalism in the Americas
new nationalisms in europe
New nationalisms in Europe
  • Imagine themselves as awakening from sleep
  • This “awakening” “opened up an immense antiquity behind the epochal sleep”
  • Awakening also “provided a crucial metaphorical link between the new European nationalisms and language”
awakening to language
Awakening to language…
  • “Sleep” “permitted those intelligentsias and bourgeoisies who were becoming conscious of themselves as Czechs, Hungarians or Finns to figure their study of Czech, Magyar, or Finnish languages, folklores, and musics as ‘rediscovering’ something deep-down and always known”
  • Despite the fact that the vanguard was often people unaccustomed to using the vernaculars, and that previously no one had thought of languages as belonging to territorially defined groups…