23 Aralık 2010 Perşembe

Anthony D. Smith’s “The Nation in History: Historiographical Debates about Ethnicity and Nationalism”

Chapter 3: Social Construction and Ethnic Genealogy

A - The Constructivist Approach

The gist of the constructivist approach to Nation and Nationalism;

1 – Nationalism produces nations, rather than the vice versa.

2 – Nations are the product of modernity. Nation is a recent and novel phenomenon.

3 – Nations are social constructs and cultural artifacts engineered by elites.

4 – Nationalists “invent” and “imagine” nations by means of cultural and social constructs.

5 – Social invention and imagination is possible only under the conditions of modernity.

6 – The age of nations is being surpassed or destined to be surpassed in a globalizing world.

How do invented traditions and imagined communities come about?

Invented traditions “are sociopolitical constructs forged, even fabricated, by cultural engineers, who design symbols, mythologies, rituals, and histories specifically to meet modern mass needs” (p.53).


Greek Megale Idea, inspiration to and glorification of the Byzantine civilization and imperial tradition for political purposes, was put forward by the historian Paparrigopoulos and it was not known by the Greeks at all before the 1850s.

Zionist enterprise is another example of invented traditions by which it was aimed by Jewish intelligentsia to unify the Jewish people and settle them in the occupied lands.

The term Imagined Communities is put forward to denote that nations are the products of the imaginations of the intelligentsia and the state elites by use of the manipulation of myths, symbols, and traditions and so on.

The constructivist idea is that “the contemporary scene is essentially fragmented and cosmopolitan; it has no place for communities of devotion and purpose, for the moral community or the sacred communion of the nation” (p. 60).

The Critique of Social Constructivism

1 – The constructivists were arguing that nation is a constructed unit and that it is an unreal community. Once it is deconstructed, it will lose its binding significance. But despite there have been many attempts by constructivists in this direction, the idea of nation is still attractive and mobilizing numerous people in the world.

2 – The elitist attributions to the nation invention process by constructivists imply that the idea of nation has no popular basis and that only the elit layer – politicians, bureaucrats, officers, aristocrats, intellectuals – can influence the population. But there are many instances where the opposite is observed.

3 – Constructivists are unable to understand and credit the emotional depth of loyalties to historical nations and nationalisms. People refer to nationalism because it answers their changing needs and interests in a secular world.

4 – Contrary to the constructivist argument that the past is shaped according to present interests and needs, it is argued that the past also has the power to shape the present by defining the parameters and traditions for present understandings, needs, and interests.

B - Ethnosymbolic Approach to Nations and Nationalism

The gist of the ethnosymbolic approach is that the roots of the modern nations and nationalisms go back to earlier collective cultural identities and sentiments. These earlier social assets are studies under the topics of la langue duree; ethnie and nation; ethnic myths, memories and symbols; ethnic bases of nations; routes of nation formation; the role of nationalism; and persistence and change of nations.

La langue duree

Past influences the national present in three ways: Recurrence (some modern nations were conforming with the definition of nation in their older forms, such as Armenians and Jews), continuity (institutionalized elements and processes of some nations can be traced back through the generations) and appropriation (the rediscovery, authentication and appropriation of the ethnic past by later generations).

Ethnie and Nation

Nations may be an outgrowth or specialized political development of ethnies. In the premodern times, although there were not proper nation formations, there were ethnies which form the basis of nations.

Ethnic Myths, Memories and Symbols

The myth of being ancestrally related, the idea of being selected, memories of communal experiences, religion and its institutions, and common cultural symbols created upon these things can generate a powerful sense of belonging.

Routes of Nation Formation

The assumption of the ethnosymbolic approach is that the rise of the nations must be analyzed in terms of antecedent ethnic ties and popular formation, as well as the elements of conscious agency – elite choices, popular responses, and ideological motivations (nationalism). This makes Smith’s argument being called as the Third Way.

The basic tenets of nationalist ideology are;

1 – The world is divided into different nations with different character, history and destiny.

2 – Political power resides only in nation, and loyalty to it overrides all other loyalties.

3 – Identification with a nations is the thing that brings freedom.

4 – To be authentic, nations must have maximum autonomy.

5 – World peace and justice can be built only on a society of autonomous nations.

The gist of the argument in the words of the author:

“The upshot of the examination of histories of nation has been to show that we can best grasp the character, role and persistence of the nation in history if we relate it to the symbolic components and ethnic models of earlier collective cultural identities” (p. 77).

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