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Benedict Anderson was a historian and political scientist who is best known for his book “imagined community” published in 1983, he used this concept to explain and analyse nationalism. Nationalism refers to “the territorial expression of an identity”, this shared national identity promotes the belonging to a country or nation state with a shared political system (Mountz 2009: 277). According to Anderson nationalism is a form of “imagined community” which depicts nation as a socially and culturally constructed community because “the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion’ (Anderson, 2006, p.6). This essay will explore to what extent nationalism is imagined while drawing upon case studies of Europe’s midlevel cities, black African Americans as well as communities within a multicultural British society to discuss in detail if nationalism is really a form of “imagined community”.
The nation one belongs to for most people brings about the ways in which they identify. One of the first theories of national identify is primordialism; which argues that national identity is innately natural and explained through things such as languages, cultural practices and is something one is born into meaning it is rigid and not changeable (Shields 1975). However, in recent years modernism critiques this notion arguing that nationalism due to modern phenomenon’s such as industrialisation, capitalism and democracy which have in tern led to advancements technology and the media; more specifically Anderson called it ‘print nationalism’, meaning that he believed national media was the main cause of an ‘imagined community’. Anderson (1991) argued that newspapers promoted continuous stories with various different character in which others belonging to the community have also read that story, therefore encouraging a shared cultural code. Print capitalism in his opinion is a commodity for the generations now and in the future; especially as capitalism encouraged the printing of newspapers in major languages to ensure a greater field of circulation. This was done in search of new markets which will ensure that a nation imagines itself as “a coherent, meaningful and homogenous community” (Higson, 1998, p.355) while it keeps expanding.
This notion however places too much emphasises on the role that modernity and print nationalism plays in creating imagined communities for nations. A great example that depicts how Anderson neglects the exclusionary elements of ‘print nationalism’ can be found during the era of the civil rights movement in America during 1954-1986. Although media such as Televisions and radio were prevalent in America at this time, this shared sense of nationality and imagined community that the white Americans had was never extended to black Americans therefore leading to them being excluded from the nation by the nation. Marx (2002 p.106), attributed this to the fact that “collective sentiments may often have been encouraged by states and state ruling elites”; this is evident through government laws that enforced the physical separation of black and white people when it came to the toilets, water fountains, and other facilities such as public transport. In this case nationalism was exclusive to race as these discriminatory laws were being institutionalised by the state against African Americans, hindering their ability to form a national identity.
Similarly, the imperialism of the Nazi revolution followed similar patterns. For Anderson nationalism is imagined however that does not makes it any less real. Throughout the medieval ages the church had an incredibly powerful influence on all aspects of life in Europe at this time. People were categorised by their religious beliefs therefore forming its own distinct community world and, but this is flawed because religion is shared by many people around to the world and those even in the same household may hold differing religious beliefs. Making it impossible for each religion to try and occupy a specific geographical territory; therefore, nations are inherently imagined as sovereign as it promotes freedom from a higher power This prompted Andersons inference that nationalism wasn’t the sole cause of the decline in religion but is similar in the sense that nationalism serves some of the social and cultural needs that region served. (Anderson 1991).
The nation is imagined to be sovereign because it was a means of breaking away from higher powers such as institutions like the church earlier described.
To conclude, it is fair to say that Andersons work have been of great contributions in the areas of explaining why nationalism can be seen as ‘imagined’ by those who occupy a specific territory because essentially people are not simply born French German or English, instead these identities are socially constructed in regards to their religions, history and culture by their a sovereign state. Further, his work proves to be useful when it comes to helping one understand why people commune together based on their territorial boundaries and are even likely to go as far as willing putting their lives on the line for their nations in wars. However, Anderson’s theory is cannot be generalised over time, as even though nationalism is a form of imagined community. It fails to explain why in modern day although we have strong sovereignty through our monarchy which places strong emphasises of values shared
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