p.p1 nation: ” it is an imagined political community

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The global decolonization movement and the emergence of nation-states after the Second World War constituted the historical conditions for Anderson’s innovative nationalism theory.  As a representative of modernist national theory school, Anderson’s innovative theory of nationalism is derived largely from the critique of the defects of Primordialism’s national theory which “is an umbrella term used to describe the belief that nationality is a natural part of human beings, as natural as speech, sight or smell, and that nations have existed from time immemorial” (Umut Ozkirimli, 2017:51)and emphasizes the primitiveness and naturalness of nation.  “Imagined communites” explores a new approach to research, it reveals the origins and spread progress of nationalism in a multidimensional perspective.  Anderson elaborates the origins of nationalism from the viewpoint of industrialization and modernization and analyzes the spread of modern nationalism. However, its novel argument has some limitations on the interpretation of global nationalism. As the origins of nation in some nation states (China and Arabia) are not applicable. This  essay will briefly explain the definition of imagined communities given by Anderson, focus on Anderson’s theory about dialect, capitalism and printing techniques, then analyze three limitations of Anderson’s theory.

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Based on the decline of religious communities, the disintegration of dynastic nations and the essential shift in the way people understand the world, Anderson proposes the definition of nation: ” it is an imagined political community – and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign”(Anderson, 2006:6).  this definition contains four layers of  meaning: first and foremost, the nation is imagined because ” 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”(ibid:6).  Secondly, The nation is imagined as limited, which means nation, as an imagination , has boundaries; since “No nation imagines itself coterminous with mankind”(ibid: 7).  Thirdly, “It is imagined as sovereign because the concept was born in the age of Enlightenment and Revolution, in the wake of the decline of religion and dynasty ,…nations dream of being free, and, if under God, directly so. The gage and emblem of this freedom is the sovereign state”(ibid:7).  Ultimately, it is imagined as a community, though it is imagined, Anderson does not consider it as a fabrication (as Gellner(1964) argues, ” Nationalism is not the awakening of nations to self-consciousness: it invents nations where they do not exist.”), he believes that different communities are distinguished depending on the way they are imagined.  As a typical modernist, Anderson emphasizes that it is nationalism that creates nation. Nonetheless, “Ethno-symbolism” national theory school represented by Anthony D. Smith proposes fierce criticism.  According to Smith’s statement, ” Nations can be found from earliest antiquity, from the beginnings of records in ancient Sumer and Egypt, and they have dominated political life in every era since that time”(Smith, 2013: 35).  Meanwhile, he emphasize that nationalism, as a ideology, can influence and accelerate the formation of the nation. However, it can not create the nation.  At most nationalism is a factor in the processs of the formation of nation.

 In imagined communities, Anderson holds that the emergence of nation is an inevitable result since the process of industrialization and modernization.  Under the impact of industrialization and modernization, capitalism and new type of printing media appeared.  Anderson(2016) thinks that “in a positive sense, made the new communities imaginable was a half-fortuitous, but explosive, interaction between a system of production and productive relations (capitalism), a technology of communications (print), and the fatality of human linguistic diversity.”  Briefly speaking, the coincidence of capitalism, printing technology and the diversity of human linguistic fate, make a new form of imagined communities possible.  The range that these communities can extend is essentially limited, simultaneously,   the relationship between the possible extend range and political boundaries is completely fortuitous(Anderson, 2016: 46).  Here, obviously, Anderson notices the role of language an presswork in the process of forming nations.  The former one delimits national boundary, the latter enables the transverse event  to transcend “homogeneous, empty time”.  According to Anderson, the imagination of nation is not a sheer fabrication.  Before print-capitalism, though people shared something common in religious belief, language and features of appearance, the inability of people understanding each other owing to dialects is insignificant. However, after the 
emergence of print-capitalism, those traits were in effect and became the foundation of imagined communities.  In other words, the existence of nation does not lie in the number of culture elements it possessing, it is that members of a certain community can identify themselves as compatriots and realize the separation from other groups. From this point of view, Anderson’s national theory is a modern theory. Nevertheless, Anderson’s viewpoint is somewhat different from Gellner’s: above all, Anderson defines nations as imagined communities, holds that “nationality, nation-ness, as well as nationalism, are cultural artefacts of a particular kind”(Anderson,2016:4).  This highlights that Anderson thinks nation is artificial, however, he emphasizes that it is different from Gellner’s theory which determines that nationalism “invents” nations.  Anderson  deems that Gellner assimilates ‘invention’ to ‘fabrication’ and ‘falsity’, rather than to ‘imagining’ and ‘creation’. Even so, both of their theories are essentially constructed artificially. In the next place,  though they agree that the vicissitude of community economy and culture since modern times is the profound social origin engendered by nation and nationalism.  Anderson underlines the role of print-capitalism, while Gellner lays particular emphasis on the transformation from traditional society to industrial society. In other words, Anderson’s theory is a bottom-up process, yet Gellner’s is more like a top-down process. 

Inescapably, “imagined communities” has its limitations. To begin with, Anderson tried to avoid euro-central opinion, however, he intentionally or unintentionally ignored China and Arab when he chose cases.   Anderson regards religious community’s existence and decline as a significant basis of the origin of national consciousness.  Religion has always occupied great proportion of Arabian people’s life, which is reflected not only in government’s decision-making but also in Arabian language and religious ritual. However, was ignored. When it comes to China, Anderson seems to consider confucianism as a religion, yet it is controversial whether confucianism can be seen as religion.  Furthermore, in China, the domination of religion has never reached the height of European religion.  Following this, Anderson neglects the significance of politics to nationalism.  Kedourie(1993) seen nationalism as “a new style of politics” and it is a political means to consolidate the state’s legal right in the form of its national autonomy. Nevertheless, Anderson  separates his theory from the discussion of politics and ideology, making the analysis of nationalism questions become simpler. Last but not least, Anderson excessively idealizes print-capitalism’s effect on shaping national imagination, he focuses on the influence of the innovation of printing technology and the spread of science and technology, while ignores the people who accepts the media. According to Roland Barthes(n.d.), “the birth of the reader must be ransomed by the death of the Author”. Though authors perform the action of writing, the text is in an open and unfinished state. On the basis of different perspective, expectations and understanding, readers from different times inject the text with different connotation; meanwhile, the text may also has different impacts on them.

In conclusion, even though there are some limitations, Anderson  chose the interaction among capitalism, printing technology and dialect and then closely linked nation with modernization and capitalism.  Meanwhile, like Anderson,  Hobsbawm also thinks that nation is a product of a specified time(the late 18th and early 19th).  Hobsbawm(1992) states that nationalism was established earlier than nation.  It is not nation that created state and nationalism, but the state and nationalism that created nation.  Both of them believe that states create nations through nationalism, which somewhat does not agree with their own theories.  They admit that states exist before nations, but at the same time advocate that the foundation of state is nation. Then there comes a paradox : whether the national identity is the understructure of state, or it is the state that set up the national identity through nationalism.