18 Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson Summary
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Redouane AMEZOIROU Communication in Contexts MA, S7 Year: 2011 - 2012 Moulay Ismail University Course: Cultural Studies
Summary of Benedict Andersons article Imagined Communities Nationalism¶s cultural roots
From the title of his article, Benedict Anderson tends to approach the concept of nationalism from a cultural stand. But he has brought a new concept on which nationalism is based. There is what he would name µimagined communities¶ which may have a relation with imagination and imagining of a peopled community. In fact, the article is part of his well-known book published in 1983 under the same name µImagined Communities¶. Thus, he is deemed to be the first one author to coin this concept of communities which are only i magined. magined. He starts by shedding some light on some historical notions about nationalism and how wars and conflicts did arouse some consciousness among people and their belonging to a nation. Then he moves to argue that the concept of nationalism, though it is factually clear, it remains a long-standing dispute. He feels that there has not been any serious, well-spoken and worthy of trust theory about nationalism and its i mplications. mplications.
His whole book on imagined communities (1983) has set an aim to provide a satisfactory interpretation of what he calls µthe anomaly of nationalism¶. He has asked different crucial questions that seem to him important in coming to grips with the problem of nationalism. But why does he call it µanomaly¶? In answering this question, Benedict Anderson would attempt to show that Marxist and liberal theory have become etiolated in a late Ptolemaic effort to µsave the phenomena¶ and that a reorientation of perspective in a Copernican spirit is urgently required. This means that Benedict Anderson wants to dig deeper in understanding the processes of nationalism.
The terms coined taking roots from µnation¶ like nationality, nation-ness, nationalism etc. are all µcultural artifacts of a particular kind¶ for Benedict Anderson. He argues that we as part of the community or the nation are urged to look at these concepts from a historical background; and how they have come into historical being; in what ways their meanings have changed over time and why these days they command such profound emotional legitimacy.
Concepts and definitions related to µnation¶ are provided to pave the way first for readers to get a clear idea from which the author would like to start with. He found that theorists of nationalism have been 1
very involved in three paradoxes: first, by the objective modernity of nations to the historian¶s eye vs. their subjective antiquity in the eyes of nationalists. Second, these theorists are also perplexed by the formal universality of nationality as a socio-cultural concept vs. the irremediable particularity of its concrete manifestations and by the political power of nationalisms vs. their philosophical poverty and incoherence as a third paradox. The first holds that historians see a nation as an objective modernity but nationalists tend to consider it as a subjective antiquity. The second is more concerned with the two notions universality vs. particularity which are affected by external forces and powers. The third opposes the political to the philosophical; one is characterized by power and the other one is poor and incoherent.
Benedict Anderson would consciously make us conscious of the unconscious use of the concept Nationalism with capital N and thinks that we, after that consideration, classify it as an ideology. He departs from the study of anthropology to define µnation¶, the source of the problem; he says µin an anthropological spirit, then, I propose the following definition of the nation: it is an imagined political community ± imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign¶. From this quote, I can say that he is referring to his main idea of his book. And to clarify his statement he continues to say that µit is imagined 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¶. These are clear statements about his position towards the meaning of a nation and how it is only imagined in the minds of the people.
The author contends that nationalism is to be seen from its cultural roots. The role of print languages has helped a lot in making the nation so popular. That seems possible because of the primacy of capitalism. He even calls it print-capitalism which means that power nations were dominating the field of knowledge and print; it might change the appearance of the whole world. Thus the main causes of nationalism and the emergence of an imagined community are t o reduce the privileged access to some languages by some elitist groups within the nation.
One of the most important elements that have affected nations and nationalities is the language and more importantly print-languages. According to Benedict Anderson, these print-languages laid t he bases for national consciousnesses in three distinct ways. We may notice here that he has used consciousness in plural form to show the particular aspect of a nation and its people; each one has his/her own consciousness of a certain owned object like language. First, these print-languages have created unified fields of exchange and communication. Second, Anderson claims that print-capitalism has given a new fixity to language which helped to build that image of antiquity so central to the subjective idea of the nation and the last aspect is that print-capitalism has created languages of power of a kind different from the older administrative vernaculars. These ways are unselfconscious processes resulting from the explosive interaction between capitalism, technology and human linguistic di versity. 2