Comparative Analysis of the Theories on Nationalism, Focusing on the Theories of Benedict Anderson and Paul Brass.

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A COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS OF THE THEORIES ON NATIONALISM, FOCUSING ON THE THEORIES OF BENEDICT ANDERSON AND PAUL BRASS.

Submitted by: A. B.Tekkethil M.A Sociology- III Semester.

Human beings, in any given interaction with each other, attach to themselves and others various identities. This way, based on the situation, one can attach multiple identities to oneself, ranging from gender, religion, caste, class etc. In a survey of this kind today, one will find that the nationality of a person is one of the most vital of them. It is vital, because generally, possessing a nationality becomes the one way to endorse the existence of a person today. Further, this identity, represented in various documents like passports etc. determines the movement of people from one point on the globe to another. Thus, it is necessary today to have a nationality. Nationality has also become ways to arrange interaction at a world level as well, whether it be in fields like sports (e.g.: the Olympics) or politics (e.g.: The United Nations Organization.).

As much as this identity is so vital in our interactions today, pinning down its concrete existence or manifestation has been a theoretical problem for scholars for over two centuries now. How does one identify it? When did it come into existence, and how is it sustained? These are only a few of the questions that have plagued scholars and students of nationalism. This essay aims to trace the ideas of three important scholars in this fieldnamely, Benedict Anderson, Paul Brass and Anthony. D. Smith.

To begin with, the one notion that most scholars agree with today, is that nationalism and nations were not a phenomena that existed from time immemorial. They occurred at specific times in history, and they are modern concepts, which gained a firm footing with events like the French and American Revolutions and colonialism. The argument put forth by Hobsbawm is useful to illustrate the above point. He states, “Most [of this] literature has turned on the question: What is a (or the) nation? For the chief characteristics of this way of classifying groups of human beings is that, in spite of the claims of those who belong to it that it is in some ways primary and fundamental for the social existence, or even the individual identification, of its members, no satisfactory criterion can be discovered for deciding which of the many human collectivities should be labelled in this way. That is not in itself surprising, for if we regard ‘the nation’ as a very recent newcomer in human history, and the product of particular, and inevitably localized or regional, historical conjunctures, we could expect it to occur, initially as it

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were, in a few colonies of settlement rather than in a population generally distributed over the world’s territory.”1

The three scholars above take very different approaches to the problem at hand. Benedict Anderson approaches the issue with an “anthropological spirit” to use his words. Paul Brass studies nationalism, in the backdrop of the various ethnic groups and their struggle to build themselves into a ‘nation’. And in Anthony Smith one can see elements of bothhe also turns to the study of ethnic groups and argues that one needs to turn to more “permanent cultural attributes of memory, value, myth and symbolism.2”

I first turn to review the ideas of Benedict Anderson. In his influential work, “Imagined Communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of Nationalism”, Anderson reviews briefly Marxist and other theories previously propounded on nationalism. He argues that the terms nation, nationality and nationalism- all have been problematic to define and that nationality, nation-ness and nationalism are “cultural artefacts of a particular kind.3” He also states that “the creation of these artefacts towards the end of the eighteenth century was the spontaneous distillation of a complex ‘crossing’ of discrete historical forces; but that, once created, they...
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