Updated Draft: Anderson

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. 3d ed. New York: Verso, 2006.

Benedict Anderson argues that language is the crux for fostering the idea of nationalism. Through an analysis of the rise of nations and “print-capitalism”, he defines nationalism as an imagined community, a large group which shares a common language and connections that is shared through printed material. He covers the entire history of nationalism, which he conceives as a modern phenomena of the past two hundred years. His theory of nationalism is both ground breaking and persuasive in its wide scope of analysis yet has two weaknesses: divergence towards nationalism’s effects and the use of foreign language sources without translation.

Although divided into chapters, his work has three distinct sections. The first section (chapters 1-3) deals with nationalism’s birth, first through the fall of universal religions claiming imperial status (e.g. the Holy Roman Empire) and then deterioration of dynastic reign; he details the rise of newspapers and print-capitalism as a major stimulus for nationalism. In the second section (4-7), he traces 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 nationalism for themselves. In this section, he demonstrates how nationalism is inherently flexible, deriving its flexibility from print-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. This final section seems oddly divorced from his focus on print language as a nation builder. Although the effects of nationalism is an important aspect, his expounding of such did not add anything of significance to his argument.

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