Early Draft Review : Imagined Communities

Benedict Anderson uses language as the crux for fostering the idea of nationalism. Through an analysis of nationalism and “print-capitalism” Anderson questions Marxism’s inability to define nationalism. In Anderson’s work, he defines nationalism as an imagined community, a large community which shares a common language commonly shared through printed material. While his theory of nationalism is ground breaking, Imagined Communities has two weakness in terms of structuring his argument and the use of foreign language sources in his text.

While only divided into chapters, his work can actually be grouped together to make three sections. The first section consists of chapters one through three and deal with the nature of nationalism’s birth, first through the fall of universal religions claiming imperial status (e.g. the Holy Roman Empire) and then deterioration of the dynastic reign; he details the rise of newspapers and print-capitalism as a major stimulus for nationalism. In the second section, he describes four waves of nationalism from the early beginnings in the Americas and newspapers to the rethinking of languages and identity in Europe, the reformulating of empire to include nationalism, and finally the previously colonized areas modifying the West’s ideas of nationalism for themselves. In this section, he demonstrates how nationalism is an inherently flexible, deriving its flexibility from language. The third section focuses on the effects of nationalism. He answers questions of intense loyalty to one’s own imagined community, nationalism’s place in the past few hundred years of history, and issues of collective memory and forgetfulness in a nation.

Anderson argues very persuasively, backing his argument with a wide range of examples from nearly every corner of the globe. He covers the entire history of nationalism, which he conceives as modern and discusses in terms of the last two hundred or so years. Although his examples have excellent breadth, his discussion of each locality lacks depth. Anderson also weaves other aspects of nationalism’s development into his theory. For instance he includes matters such as economics and racism involved in selecting a language of the state.

Anderson’s two problems include a heavy use of foreign documents that lack translation in the form of footnotes or an appendix and a only tangential related final section. His final section on nationalism seems oddly divorced from his focus on print language as a nation builder. Although the effects of nationalism is an important aspect, his addition of such did not add anything of significance to his argument.

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