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Sociology. Anderson’s Imagined Communities Essay

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Updated: Dec 16th, 2021

The argument of the Introduction in Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities

An idea of nationalism as identification of social identity with identity of state or nation appeared long ago and was studied as well described by many historians and sociologists, including those of USSA and Great Britain, where attitude to this phenomenon has particular meaning. The “Introduction” of the work Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson is dedicated to this very phenomenon that is shown as rather debatable one and to the phenomenon of nature. The author opens nationalism as “artifact of a particular kind” and nation like “an imagined political community” (Anderson, 1991, 4)

Anderson gave a new definition of nation; he defines it like “an imagined political community imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign” (Anderson, 1991, 6). This community differs much from a factual one as it is based, not on regular face-to-face interaction of the members of this community. However, the members hold some mental image of affinity in minds — for instance, people feel the nationhood with the other members of nation participating in a large event of a separate “imagined community” (Anderson, 1991, 6). A nation from the Anderson’s point of view is imagined as its members will never know major part of their fellow-members, hear of them or meet them, however each of them recognize belonging to their community. These communities can be considered imagined “as both limited and sovereign”, they are limited by “boundaries, beyond which lie other nations” (Anderson, 1991, 6). And they are sovereign because nobody is able to claim authority over this community”.

Nationalism as a historical phenomenon

A nation can be called an imagined community as “regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship… that makes it possible, for … people… to die for such limited imaginings” (Anderson, 1991, 7).

Anderson opens such phenomenon like nationalism as historical and constructed and, but not natural. He claimed it as created spontaneously by distillation of some historical forces. “And nation-ness, as well as nationalism are artifacts of a particular kind.” But as Marx tells that nationalism was produced originally being then reproduced under the influence of a set of conditions.

Anderson supposes that nation as well as nationalism is a product made like mean to economic and political end. This opinion was not just Anderson’s one, Eric Hobsbawm whose citation he uses (“Marxist movements and states have tended to become national not only in form but in substance, i.e., nationalist. There is nothing to suggest that this trend will not to continue”) has the same point of view (Anderson, 1991, 2). But opinion, concerning historical appearance of nation having ever existed, claims that nations as well as nationalism appeared at time of early human history.

Anderson understands that nationalism include an utopian element. And according to his work about imagined communities, it is disputable from the very beginning. There is no any exact definition of nationalism. Mentioning that “the theory of nationalism represents Marxism’s great historical failure” (Anderson, 1991, 3), he examines nationalism on experience of a single nation but not the whole historical background.

Anthony Smith, answered Imagined Communities by B. Anderson states that even if a nation is the modernity product, it is always possible to find some ethnic elements survived in modern nations. Nations are known as the result of a revolution that starts with the capitalism development and leads to a cultural and bureaucratic centralization and a loss of the Catholic Church power (Smith, 1998).

Critique to the argument

The author mentions that “the reality is quite plain: the “end of the era of nationalism,” so long prophesied, is not remotely in sight. Indeed, nation-ness is the most universally legitimate value in the political life of our time” (Anderson, 1991, 3). Here is seen his attitude to nationalism as to hand-made, but he forgets hat there was no aim of its creating and the aim of Marx and Engels was to create a socialism but not nationalism.

References

Anderson, B., (1991) Introduction, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, London, Verso, 1991, 1-7.

Smith, A., (1998), Nationalism and Modernism: A Critical Survey of Recent Theories of Nations and Nationalism. London and New York, Routledge, 461.

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