Archive for October, 2010

Rough Draft: Gellner and National Navels

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

Gellner, Ernest. “Nationalism and Modernity.” In Nations and Nationalism: A Reader, edited by Philip Spence and Howard Wollman, 40-47. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2005.

Ernest Gellner has written an interesting and concise essay on the arguments within nationalist thought as well as the connections between nationalism and modern society. He divides his work into two sections, “Do Nations Have Navels?” and “Industrial and Industrialising World.”
Gellner comically poses the question of nationalism’s origin in terms of whether nations have navels. Although his question seems absurd in its phrasing, he strikes at the heart of a major issue for those studying nationalism, the historical period in which it emerged. He notes that a central question is the nature of the past. When he discusses the differences between creationism and evolution, he believes that nations, like the creation story, has a past built into its origins (41). Regardless of how young the nation truly is, its citizens try to point to antiquity for self validation, yet in Gellner’s view they simply create or imagine this past. He attempts to demonstrate both sides of the argument concerning nationalism, yet I believe his attempt is largely ineffective as he simultaneously creates and tears down the argument of primordialists, those who oppose the modernist viewpoint. He does nevertheless clearly outline the issues that are central to nationalism, continuity and culture. Cultures “persist and change” (42), and their persistence could indicate that some nations have always existed, which essentially is a conflation of ethnic groups and nations. Gellner believes that anthropology’s vogue concepts of culture distracts from the real question of organizational issues that shape nationalism. He states the problem as “the exclusive culturalism or hermeneuticism or interpretivism…makes it hard or impossible even to ask the most important question” (43). To Gellner, that question is the organizational make up of nations and factors creating it, not the supposed cultural origins. He essentially divides the issue between a cultural argument and an organizational one. From the modernist standpoint, nationalism is a matter of political groupings and institutions. At the end of his section on arguments within nationalism, Gellner makes general observations of factors in the emergence of nations and the types of “navels” nations may or may not have.
Gellner’s essay contains a second section entitled “The Industrial and Industrialising World.” He details the mechanics of a modern society and its necessary components. As he has already linked nationalism to institutions and political systems, he continues his argument by showing how institutions work within a modern society. He does not state the direct connection of modern society and nationalism, but the link between these two concepts is implicit when he writes, “One of the industrial world’s two main principles of political legitimacy-of the assessment of the acceptability of regimes-is indeed economics growth. (The other principle is nationalism, which is our theme.)” (44). Gellner’s equating of modern society and industrialism with nationalism has produced two questions in nationalist debates: does the emergence of nationalism require industrialization and is nationalist theory only written from a Western perspective? Partha Chatterjee works heavily with these two issues in his work, Nationalism and the Colonial World: a Derivative Discourse?.
While Gellner states that his view “does not prevent [his work], one hopes, from presenting the issues in a clear and unprejudicial manner” (40), he seemingly works to convince the reader that the primordialist argument cannot withstand the rational approach of modernists. Still, the reader will find that Ernest Gellner summarizes the main points of contention between modernists and primordialists and modern society’s makeup with great clarity.

Moving Beyond Gathering

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

With the Fall season upon us, I can’t help but think about the idea of harvesting, gathering up the crops…and somehow connect it all back to my own research projects. In such a way the fields of grains become transformed into field of ideas, waiting to be taken up and used.

Harvest Time.

While other students have reaped the benefits of well-sown thoughts and research, I am still waiting with sickle in hand. The fact is, the harvest does not just happen if you are sitting down and looking at the potential for your crops. It takes one going out into the fields and collecting what has already grown so bountifully. I link this idea more to concepts and thoughts than I do to building a bibliography or even writing out the paper. Ideas, unlike bibliographies, grow naturally and freely. They do not require but a little bit of care.
Wheat head above field

However we don’t have a usable product, it takes some manipulation and energy to convert the wheat into flour, the flour into bread. We act on it as creators ourselves and build something more. Yet, notice that although the products we create are truly amazing, they do not touch the natural beauty of ideas in their purest forms.

The fine, usable product at the end of the road does not come easily. As I have looked out on my field of ideas, I have forgotten just why I could fail, looking at the field is not enough.Like in the very first picture, I need to go down and collect the ideas and then begin the process of grinding them down and digging deeper.
Best Grinding Machine in the World ;)

It takes force, effort, and strength to make the project happen. Doing the work can require meticulous effort. I spent tonight building spreadsheets of my readings and realized that I need to do such long ago. I not only started the harvest late, but now my production is late too. As I built the spreadsheet and saw just how much I had to do, I was baffled at the workload but relieved that now I could see the field of ideas shifting to actions, readings, notes, papers. The ideas have done their part and grown strong, won’t I at the very least get out of my seat and do something?  I am not relying on the grocery store to feed me, I am a lone man on these fields, and as such I need to bear the burden and see the seeds I planted to their full fruition. From farm to plate I must give a full effort–everyday, little by little.

The Bread Pt 1: Le Panier, Macrina, Dahlia Bakery

Getting on the Right Track

Monday, October 4th, 2010

Over this semester, I have faced the challenge of fending off multiple projects and keeping up with all of my readings. To think that grad school, if I even manage to get in, will be all this times ten is a little disheartening, but I think an issue I am having here is more how I am managing my time. Further, I have the “Oh if only…” syndrome. I am reminded of Eats, Shoots and Leaves when the author discusses a school teacher who complains about not understanding punctuation but has no interest in fixing her problem. I go on and on about not sleeping well, having tons of readings and feeling lost in my projects. What am I doing about it? Have I devised a scheme to handle the workload? No, I have complained. With all of the work I have it is important to come up with some sort of schedule and slowly work away at my readings.

This is a big reversal from my shotgun approach at homework. Sure, I am a hard worker, but I tend to just do what I can, when I can. One night at the library a fellow student suggested I start micro-managing my time by setting up a set amount of hours I am willing to work on something. It’s odd because I don’t like to just work on a project here and there, I do it until I am done. Ha! You caught the problem with that idea. When you have four projects you can’t just do things with a scatter-shot method, and big projects require a lot of hours for completion. On top of the projects I already have, I also have a few books that need to be read per week. The bottom line is, I don’t have time to do a whole lot at once.

I started writing a research journal in a ratty old composition notebook that I never used. Dan Cohen had tweeted an article about a man who kept project journals in notebooks for years, which I am all about the hard copy, but I have wondered if having a research journal that everyone can see, with set deadlines, would hold me more accountable to the day-to-day research. The head instructor of CET in Harbin noted that language development (insert projects) are not about cramming right before you need it, but rather they require every day doing a concerted effort, busy but not nearly as frantic.

I want to write great (not necessarily perfect) material. Maybe a good place to start is scheduling dedicated time blocks for certain projects. Hmm…

If anyone has any project suggestions, please feel free to leave a comment!