Nationalism, Sociology of Veljko Vujacic, Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH, USA Ó 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Abstract The sociology of nationalism is a fairly new ﬁeld. Even so, several theoretical approaches to the study of nationalism have emerged: functionalism, modernization theory, neo-Marxism, comparative–historical sociology, social constructionist theories, and rational choice theory. Despite theoretical disagreements about the origins and evolution of nationalism, a degree of consensus has developed: the rise of the nation was intertwined with the emergence of the absolutist state, the idea of popular sovereignty, industrialization, the expansion of cultural communication, and uneven development. The intimate relation between modernity and nationalism contradicts liberal and Marxist expectations of a uniﬁed world.
The study of nationalism is a fairly recent development in sociology, a discipline which took for granted the nationstate as the territorial framework of its main subject of investigation – modern societies. Nevertheless, several sociological approaches to the study of nationalism can be distinguished: structural functionalism, modernization theory, neo-Marxism, rational choice theory, and a variety of comparative–historical and social constructionist approaches. One recurrent theme in sociological debates about nationalism concerns the nature of the relation (historical and conceptual) among several interrelated phenomena: ethnic group, nation, and nationalism. Each one of these phenomena has been seen either as an historical antecedent of the others or somehow accorded priority. Thus, while one of the most inﬂuential theorists argues that ‘nationalism created nations’ (Gellner), another sees nationalism as a ‘subjective reﬂection’ of the group reality of the nation on the level of social consciousness (Hroch). In addition, whereas some emphasize the ‘ethnic origins of nations’ (Smith), others argue that ‘ethnic nationalism’ is a later-day ideological development (Greenfeld). A second line of sociological debate has separated modernization theorists and neo-Marxists who explain the emergence of nationalism by reference to economic factors or the functional requirements of industrial society, and historical sociologists who question this view on a variety of grounds. An important obstacle to sociology in this ﬁeld is imposed by the subject itself: as the most salient form of particularism in the modern world, nationalism deﬁes easy generalization.
Nationalism and Classical Sociology Nationalism was not a central concern in classical sociology. This curious lacuna must be understood in light of the history of a new discipline preoccupied with demarcating its own ﬁeld of study – society as a reality sui generis (Durkheim). A second reason might be sought in the intellectual bias of sociology itself: political phenomena were seen as derivative of more fundamental social realities. Finally, sociological interest was consumed by the dramatic transformations caused by industrialism and capitalism. As a result, concentration on the problems of industrial society overshadowed the concern with its overall territorial framework – the modern nation-state. The
rise of imperialism and mass politics at the turn of the century changed this equation.
Max Weber Weber’s views on the nation must be understood in this historical context (Weber, 1978). For him, the unprecedented fusion of culture and politics in the modern world offers the main clue for understanding the nation: its differentia speciﬁca as a social group lies in the striving for territorial political power on the basis of a shared culture. This symbiosis of culture and power in the nation-state resulted from a twofold dependency: if the state’s legitimacy increasingly depended on nationalist appeals in the age of mass politics, the nation needed the state for the protection of its unique culture. By combining the status concerns of intellectual strata as the bearers of national culture with the Realpolitik ambitions of political elites, nationalism provided the state with a new source of legitimacy, greatly increasing its mobilization potential. The sacralization of the state as the guardian of cultural values, in turn, inevitably transformed national conﬂicts, both within and between states, into ‘a struggle of life and death.’ Second, Weber attempted to explain national solidarity. In contrast to ethnic groups whose members must share a ‘subjective belief in common descent,’ national solidarity does not depend on a myth of common origin (Switzerland) or objective markers of status differentiation (race, religion, language). Thus, the loyalty of German-speaking Alsatians to France was derived from the historical experience of a revolutionary regime that abolished feudalism. Conversely, the ethnic and linguistic afﬁnity of Serbs and Croats did not obliterate their national differences. Consequently, Weber argued that common historical experiences and shared memories play a decisive role in forging the nation as a community of ‘political destiny.’ Weber’s third point concerns the mass appeal of nationalism: as the only source of status superiority available to the masses in a secularized world (ethnic or national honor), nationalism cuts across class lines in deﬁance of socialist expectations. An additional reason for nationalism’s appeal to the lower strata has to do with status compensation: In many instances, the denigration of ‘inferior’ ethnic or racial groups by the lower classes of the dominant group (such as the
International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, 2nd edition, Volume 16
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emancipated black Americans by the poor whites in the Southern United States) is the very precondition of the latter’s status superiority. These observations do not amount to a theory of nationalism; however, Weber’s main intuition – that the fusion of culture and power constituted the differentia speciﬁca of the nation as a new type of sociological community – became a cornerstone of all later theories of nationalism.
Emile Durkheim and Marcel Mauss In The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, Durkheim notes the similarity between the collective effervescence of religious rituals and revolutionary-patriotic festivals: in the Jacobin phase of the French Revolution, the secular values of Fatherland, Liberty, and Reason became the core values of a revolutionary-patriotic religion whose object of worship was society itself (Durkheim, 1995). For Durkheim, this self-worship of society was another conﬁrmation of his theory of religion. The connection with nationalism as a ‘secular faith’ remained unexplored in his work. On the other hand, as a committed advocate of secular schools in the Third Republic, Durkheim envisaged an important role for civic patriotism in moral education. During World War 1, Durkheim favorably contrasted this ideal of civic patriotism to expansionist German nationalism, whose excesses he interpreted as a sign of collective anomie. A Durkheimian view of the nation was elaborated further by Mauss (1920). Mauss saw nationalism as a modern phenomenon originating in the doctrine of popular sovereignty espoused by the American and French revolutionaries. Sociologically, nationalism’s success as a movement was predicated on the presence of three general factors: (1) a strong central power that successfully broke down traditional afﬁliations of tribe, clan, and estate; (2) a morally integrated society consisting of citizens who identiﬁed with the state and its laws; and (3) economic unity. On the other hand, the belief in a unique racial or civilizational heritage was a retrospective elaboration of nationalists: its importance lay in cementing an already existing social bond on the level of consciousness. For Durkheim and Mauss, the nation was ﬁrst and foremost a community of citizens; their understanding of ethnic nationalism was limited.
Structural Functionalism A new sociological interest in nationalism developed as a result of the proliferation of independent states after World War 2. The dominant sociological school of the postwar decades – structural functionalism – viewed nationalism as a byproduct of the structural strains caused by industrialization. Thus, Smelser saw nationalism as a response to the state of collective anomie induced by structural differentiation (division of labor, role specialization, etc.). As a secular ideology of industrialization, nationalism overcomes the resistance of traditional structures, mobilizes new constituencies, and gives meaning to the sacriﬁces required for social change. Conversely, once differentiation proceeds apace, nationalism can take the form of a nativist reaction against the corroding inﬂuences of further modernization (Smelser, 1966). This logic was generalized by Shils, who built on Durkheim’s idea about secular nationalism as the functional equivalent of
religion: the transition from loosely integrated traditional societies to the modern nation-state is predicated on the gradual penetration of the various social and geographical peripheries (kinship, ethnic, religious, and regional) by the ‘charismatic center,’ seen as the embodiment of a society’s core values (Shils, 1975). By allowing the members of society to partake in the institutionalized charisma of a sacralized political center through the exercise of citizenship rights, the nation-state succeeds in breaking the power of tradition. This sacralization of the secular is of special signiﬁcance in transitional societies. By transposing the charisma of the tribe or religion onto the nation, the leaders of new states are able to attract mass support and legitimate social change. Functionalist explanations can be criticized on the following grounds: (1) there is no inevitable correlation between structural differentiation and nationalism; (2) teleology: the end-state is posited by the observer and used to explain the past; (3) the desirability of meeting select functional goals is subject to elite contest; and (4) nationalism is a secular ideology more similar to other modern ideologies than to religion.
Modernization Theory A signiﬁcantly modiﬁed functionalist modernization approach was developed by Karl Deutsch and Ernst Gellner. The formulations of these two theorists have remained inﬂuential to this day.
Karl Deutsch Deutsch (1966) begins with a distinction between society and culture. Society refers to the division of labor and social stratiﬁcation; culture, on the other hand, is a set of ‘stable, habitual preferences’ based on values inculcated through socialization. Societies ‘produce, select, and channel goods and services’; culture stores information about the past and recombines it in the present, enabling political authority to function. The technological changes and complex division of labor induced by the industrial revolution resulted in a growing need for expanding channels of cultural communication. Simultaneously, the breakdown of traditional status barriers and exposure to the insecurity of the market raised the aspirations of the socially mobilized masses, already agitated by democratic ideas. These developments favored the emergence of the nation as a horizontal functional group linked by complementary communication channels, typically language (e.g., Czechs versus Germans in Bohemia), but also shared memories or historical experiences (e.g., Switzerland). As the ideology of popular sovereignty, nationalism held a special attraction for the socially mobilized masses whose claims to status equality and upward social mobility it helped justify. Deutsch’s theory is empirical and predictive: the complementary character of communication channels can be assessed by social-psychological indicators; rates of social mobilization can be measured by urbanization, mass literacy, newspaper circulation, etc.; and assimilation depends on the extent and content of communication between in and out-groups. The theory runs counter to the standard predictions of Parsonian
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structural functionalism: the expansion of communication strengthens nationalism, not universalism.
Ernst Gellner Gellner (1983) starts with an ideal type of agrarian societies; their central feature is an ideologically buttressed functional division of labor that separates the ‘high culture’ of a hereditary administrative-military ruling class and universal clerisy from the ‘low cultures’ of socially isolated and illiterate peasant communities. This status segregation has a cognitive dimension as well: the world is experienced as culturally and ontologically heterogeneous. A profound change occurs with the modern cognitive revolution. The world is now seen as a coherent whole subject to universal laws expressed in a unitary linguistic idiom. The social correlate of this cognitive revolution is industrialism. If intellectual progress presupposes the perpetual exploration of reality, the idea of unlimited growth demands the constant redrawing of traditional social boundaries and roles in line with the functional requirements of the division of labor. These requirements can be met only by a common linguistic idiom transmitted through standardized education. Literacy in a shared language prepares individuals for new functional roles, increases their mobility prospects, and facilitates communication among strangers in an impersonal world. The emergence of a shared culture favors nationalism as a political principle which holds that the state must rest on the foundation of national culture; the state, in turn, acquires a new source of legitimacy (cf. Weber). Thus, industrialism is a necessary condition of nationalism. Ethnicity is secondary; it is nationalism that invents nations. Finally, nationalism disseminates through uneven development. In a typical imperial (e.g., Habsburg) situation, an ethnic division of labor is present; the carriers of high culture belong to one ethnic group (or groups), those of low culture to another (or others). The social exclusion of the aspiring intelligentsia of the subordinate group leads it to adopt ethnic nationalism as a strategy of collective mobility (e.g., Czech nationalism). In contrast, ‘diaspora nationalism’ develops among politically excluded high culture pariah groups (e.g., Jews). The ideal case is a mature industrial society in which elites and masses share a standardized idiom and consider themselves to be conationals in a common state. Gellner’s elegant theory has enjoyed enormous inﬂuence. It can be criticized on several grounds: (1) the theory does not specify a causal (group) agent, nationalism is seen as a byproduct of the impersonal process of industrialization; (2) nationalism can precede industrialization (e.g., Balkan nationalism); (3) nations can precede nationalism; and (4) nations are rooted in premodern, ethnic identities (see Section Comparative–Historical Sociology).
Neo-Marxism The classics of Marxism failed to develop a consistent sociological theory of the nation (Szporluk, 1988). Although partially ﬁlled by Austro-Marxism (Bauer, Renner) and the Bolshevik ideologists (Lenin, Stalin), this lacuna was addressed
seriously only after World War 2. A strong impetus to the Marxist sociology of nationalism was given by Immanuel Wallerstein’s world system theory: in the underdeveloped periphery of the world capitalist system, class struggle (indigenous proletariat and peasantry versus the comprador bourgeoisie) and national conﬂict (the exploited nation versus the world capitalist metropole) were superimposed upon each other.
Class and Peripheral Nationalism Hechter (1975) extended the metropole–periphery logic to ethnic conﬂict in the British Isles. In deﬁance of functionalist logic, the incorporation of the (Celtic) periphery by the (English) center did not result in the creation of a homogenous national society, but a dynamic of ‘internal colonialism’ instead. The subordination of the underdeveloped periphery was ensured by its economic dependence on a developed center and a rigid ethnic division of labor that enabled the English to monopolize power and status privileges. The persistence of ascriptive status identities and the superimposition of class and ethnic conﬂicts run counter to the expectations of modernization theory: instead of integration and consensus, uneven development leads to the resurgence of peripheral nationalism. Studying the same case, Nairn (1977) came to a different conclusion: peripheral ‘neonationalism’ could be caused by ‘relative overdevelopment’ as well. Thus, the resurgence of Scottish neonationalism was the result of the relative economic decline of the English center and new opportunities opened by oil exploitation in the North Sea. A newly awakened Scottish bourgeoisie in search of proﬁt appealed to nationalism in its struggle against a parasitic center. In larger historical perspective, nationalism was a product of the ideological reaction of the awakened intelligentsia of the semiperiphery to uneven development and imperialist exploitation of their countries (not yet nations) by the centers of world capitalism (England and France). The nationalism of the center, in turn, developed in ‘dialectical counter-mobilization’ against its semiperipheral counterparts.
Class and Nation: The Social Base of Nationalist Movements The relationship between class and nation is a central concern in Hroch’s (1985) study of the developmental phases and social base of nineteenth-century national movements in small European nations. For Hroch, the nation is an ‘objective social category’ rooted in the memory of a shared ethnic past, dense linguistic and sociocultural ties, and a conception of citizenship. National awareness and nationalism are only a ‘subjective reﬂection’ of this reality on the level of consciousness (contrast Gellner). Hroch distinguished three phases in the development of national movements: in phase A (ethnographic), linguists and folklorists rediscover a shared past; in phase B (agitation), intellectuals promote national awareness among the masses; ﬁnally, in phase C, a mass national movement arises. While the social base of nationalist movements varied, especially in phase B (teachers in Slovakia; petty bourgeoisie in Norway), the social mobilization of the bourgeoisie and peasantry was a necessary condition for success in phase C: an independent nation
Nationalism, Sociology of requires ‘a fully developed class structure.’ Another necessary condition of nationalist movements was the superimposition of ethnic and class conﬂicts: only when membership in a small nation appeared as a decisive disadvantage could ‘social contradictions’ be expressed in national terms. Hroch did not conﬂate class and nation; however, he did argue that a successful national movement must be based on distinct class interests. Neo-Marxist approaches can be criticized for (1) an unwarranted reduction of national to class conﬂicts; (2) limited generalizability (internal colonialism); and (3) an inability to explain the nationalism of the metropole of the world system (England, France).
Comparative–Historical Sociology Historical sociologists have questioned functionalist and Marxist explanations in two ways: (1) by emphasizing the ethnic or early modern roots of nationalism and (2) by demonstrating that nationalism predates industrialization.
Ethnic Groups and Nations The ﬁrst type of argument is developed by Smith (1986), who builds on the pioneering work of Armstrong (1982) on ‘nations before nationalism.’ Smith rejects the view that nations are based on primordial ties (e.g., race); however, they are rooted in premodern ethnie. Ethnie, in turn, are not based on ascriptive criteria, but on intergenerationally transmitted ‘constitutive myths’ (ethnic mythomoteurs). Typically, such constitutive myths include or imply a collective name, a myth of common descent, a shared historical narrative (legends, epics), belief in a unique culture, association with a territory, and solidarity vis-à-vis out-groups. The transformation from ethnie to nations occurred under the impact of the triple revolution of administrative centralization, capitalism, and ‘cultural coordination.’ Capitalism helped bind social classes into a uniﬁed economic community; political centralization, warfare, and cultural coordination (the rise of vernacular languages and mass culture) forged the link between state and nation. Whereas nation-building paths varied in accordance with historical timing, religious identiﬁcations, the character of the constitutive myth, and its elite carriers (aristocracy, bourgeoisie, intelligentsia), two broad trajectories emerged as a result of uneven development (1) the early Western path in which the nation was deﬁned as a territorial community of citizens bound by laws and (2) the late ‘German’ (EastEuropean) route in which ethnie served as the basis for statehood. However, Western nations also required a constitutive myth: premodern cultural identities were crucial everywhere, and industrialization was only one factor that helped transform ethnie into nations.
Nationalism as Ideology Another approach is exempliﬁed by Greenfeld (1992): nationalism is an antecedent of industrialization. Greenfeld traces the idea of the nation to a long process of semantic transformation: originally applied to groups of students in
medieval universities and the elite of a ‘community of opinion,’ in sixteenth-century England ‘the nation’ was extended to include the whole people. This momentous change from the medieval (people ¼ rabble) to the modern Weltanschauung (people ¼ elite) was caused by the structural crisis of feudal society. In the ﬁrst nation, England, the decimation of the aristocracy and the decline of the clergy (War of the Roses; separation from Rome) shattered traditional status barriers, opening channels of social mobility to gentry and educated commoners. The profound status inconsistency felt by members of the elite led them to discover the nation: the view that status inequality was secondary to membership in a community of citizens resolved their identity crisis and legitimized social mobility across status lines. English nationalism culminated in popular sovereignty and an individualistic and civic ideological self-deﬁnition: the nation was a composite of individuals, and membership was open to all citizens (likewise the United States). The diffusion of nationalism was a consequence of England’s hegemonic status. Thus, the eighteenth-century French nobility, squeezed between the absolute monarchy and wealthy commoners, imitated its English counterpart and competitor, ﬁnding in nationalism a solution for its own identity crisis. However, while membership in the French nation was open to all (as in civic nationalism), the nation came to be seen as expressing a single collective will (volonté générale); thus, French nationalism was collectivist and civic. A further semantic transformation occurred in Germany and Russia, where the term was associated with ethnicity – the unique character of a people; nationalism became both collectivist and ethnic. The motor force behind this change was ressentiment – the profound existential envy felt by the elites of follower societies toward the ‘superior’ West; hence the compensatory gloriﬁcation of the Volk with all its authoritarian implications. Subsequently, Greenfeld (2001) extended this theoretical framework to the relationship between nationalism and economic growth. Instead of Weber’s proverbial Protestant ethic, Greenfeld sees nationalism as the main cultural source of ‘the spirit of capitalism,’ i.e., the modern orientation to sustained economic growth. As an inherently egalitarian ideology, nationalism breaks down the status barriers of traditional societies, opens the doors to social mobility (careers open to talent), elevates ‘traditionally disparaged occupations’ (e.g., trade), and legitimizes proﬁt-making activity (Greenfeld, 2001: pp. 22–23). In the pioneering case of England and other civic-individualist nationalisms (e.g., the United States), economic achievement was deﬁned as a positive national value because it empowered individuals who constituted the nation. However, even in the case of England, the initial emphasis of economic nationalism was on the common good of the nation as a whole rather than on the relationship between the public good and private interests of constituent members. The idea of a ‘natural’ homo oeconomicus was a later development, predicated on the gradual emancipation of the economic sphere from religion, politics, and status considerations, and its reconstitution as an independently legitimate domain of social action. Subsequently, economic nationalism developed as a reaction to the contagious effect of the English model and in competition with it; in nations like Germany or Japan, economic growth was
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harnessed to the political emancipation of the nation from foreign domination and propelled by state action. Where economic achievement, however, was not seen as an important national value (e.g., Russia), nationalism was not conducive to economic growth. Greenfeld’s conclusions are original: (1) democracy emerged from individualist and civic nationalisms; (2) ethnic nationalism is a later ideological elaboration; (3) the historical carrier of nationalism is not the bourgeoisie, but aristocracy or intelligentsia (Germany); (4) both capitalism and democracy could ﬂourish only once the idea of the nation delegitimized traditional status barriers; and (5) nationalism is the main source of ‘the spirit of capitalism.’ Greenfeld’s theory avoids materialism and teleological functionalism; however, it can be criticized on both theoretical and empirical grounds: (1) the dichotomy between civic (Western: whether individualist or collectivist) and ethnic collectivist (Eastern) nationalisms is far from clear-cut, as Western nations were also based on an ethno-symbolic foundation (Smith, 2009), while cultural nationalism can cut across the civic–ethnic divide (Hutchinson, 1987); (2) early national consciousness should not be equated with a fully developed nationalism: English nationalism developed considerably later than the sixteenth century (Kumar, 2003); (3) cultural determinism: some nations (the United States, England, France) appear destined for democracy, while others seem doomed to authoritarianism (Germany, Russia); and (4) nationalist ideology may be a necessary precondition for legitimizing social mobility across status barriers and enabling capitalist development, but it can hardly explain economic growth.
Nationalism as Cultural Idiom The continued salience of civic versus ethnic national selfdeﬁnitions is documented by Brubaker (1992). In France, the republican tradition deﬁned the nation as a territorial ‘community of citizens’; membership was not tied to ethnicity. In Germany, a territorially divided nation was deﬁned as a ‘community of descent’: all (and only) Germans were members. The persistence of these cultural idioms (not instrumental interests) helps explain the difference in immigration policies: the French one became assimilationist and inclusive, the German one ethnic and exclusive.
Social Constructionist Approaches Nation as Invented Tradition The socially constructed character of all collective and, ipso facto, national identity is emphasized by a variety of contemporary authors. One inﬂuential version of the argument is developed by Hobsbawm and Ranger (1983): the nation is largely a product of ‘invented tradition.’ By ‘invented tradition’ is meant “a set of practices, normally governed by overtly or tacitly accepted rules and of a ritual or symbolic nature, which seek to inculcate certain values and norms of behavior by repetition, which automatically implies continuity with the past” (Hobsbawm and Ranger, 1983: p. 1). The modern nation is a particularly good example of invented tradition: although the nation-state with its welldemarcated territory and standardized national language is an
eminently modern phenomenon, nationalists typically claim it be a ‘natural community’ rooted in the ‘remotest antiquity.’ In actual fact, national symbols, ﬂags, languages, and histories are a product of nationalist social engineering, while the connection with the remote past is retrospectively established by nationalist imagination. It follows from this that the main task of the historian and sociologist is to study those symbolic and discursive practices that helped establish the particular nation’s idea of itself as a natural community in the ﬁrst place.
Nation as Imagined Community A related argument is developed by Anderson (1991) who sees the nation as a new type of limited and sovereign ‘imagined community.’ The nation is an imagined community because most of its members will never know each other; it is imagined as a limited community because it is externally bounded by other nations; and it is seen sovereign because it is historically rooted in the idea of internal and external freedom (popular rule and national independence). Finally, the nation is imagined as a community, because it is ‘always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship’ (Anderson, 1991: p. 7). The emotional resonance of the nation stems from the fact that it replaces kin and religion as the main locus of individual loyalty and self-sacriﬁce in the modern era. According to Anderson, the emergence of the nation as a new type of imagined community was predicated on the presence of certain deﬁnite cultural and material conditions: (1) linguistic diversity; (2) the increasing relevance of vernacular languages and literacy after the Protestant Reformation; and (3) “print capitalism” – the production of books, newspapers, and journals for mass cultural consumption. Once set in motion, print capitalism gave an unprecedented stimulus to the development of nationalist discourse, albeit under a variety of historical circumstances that require separate study. Social constructionists correctly attacked the fallacy of group realism. However, their views can be subjected to the following criticisms: (1) while the nation might be invented, this social construction must be based on a preexisting reality, be it the memory of historical statehood (e.g., Croatia, Poland), ethnicity (e.g., Germany), or a more complex combination of various factors (e.g., Austria); (2) in view of the above, modern national identity might be ‘invented’ but it is not ‘fabricated’; (3) political factors (warfare, state centralization) and elite (or class) interests played an equally important role in the emergence of nationalism as ‘print capitalism’; and (4) the notion of ‘imagined community’ applies to other kinds of communities besides the nation (e.g., class, religious denomination). Such objections provided an impetus for revisions of the social constructionist position.
Nationhood as Institutionalized Form, Practical Category, and Cognitive Scheme Brubaker (1996) challenged the fallacy of sociological “group realism” from the standpoint of the new sociological institutionalism: instead of treating the nation as a “substantial entity, collectivity, or community” that can be objectively deﬁned, sociologists should study ‘nationhood’ from the point of view of its political and cultural institutionalization, both within and
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among states. Thus, the dramatic collapse of the Soviet Union has to be understood as a consequence of the ethnoterritorial institutionalization of nationhood both on the group (ethnic federalism) and individual (personal identity document) levels. Such institutionalization turned ethnicity into an ‘organizing principle of social classiﬁcation,’ constituting the interests of social groups and individuals, serving as a basis for political action, and informing practical conduct in everyday life. Thus, nationalism is not so much ‘engendered by nations’ as it is induced by particular institutional arrangements. In a further elaboration, Brubaker (2006) argued that ethnic groups, races, or nations should not be thought of as objective entities but rather as ‘ways of perceiving, interpreting, and representing the social world,’ i.e., as ‘practical categories, situated actions, cultural idioms, cognitive schemes, discursive frames, organizational routines, institutional forms, political projects, and contingent events.’ This emphasis on ethnicity and nationhood as cognitive frame, social process, and relational category is designed to prevent sociologists from reifying ethnicity while simultaneously avoiding the reductionist pitfalls of methodological individualism. Cognitive approaches can help explain how ethnicity and nationhood are constructed through actions in everyday life, thus avoiding the traditional preoccupation in social constructionist approaches with elite manipulation of nationalist discourse and symbols.
Nationalism as Discourse, Narrative, and Event: Religion and Nationalism Gorski (2000) challenges the idea that secular nationalism is a functional substitute for traditional religion by arguing that Dutch national consciousness arose in the early modern era on the basis of a Calvinist-inspired ‘Hebraic nationalism.’ In the course of subsequent religious conﬂict and the Dutch revolt against Spain (1555–1609) a full-blown nationalism developed: a sense of the cultural uniqueness of the Netherlandish nation (religion, language, custom) blended with political revolt, social mobilization (vernacular literacy), and emerging ideas of popular sovereignty (the state should emanate from the ‘people/nation’). An analogous development took place in England, where the commemoration of Protestant martyrs was associated with the idea of England as an ‘elect nation.’ Both in England and in the Netherlands, however, ‘Hebraic nationalism’ competed with rival nationalist discourses (e.g., republican, monarchist). The distinction between early modern protonationalism and modern nationalism thus is not as sharp as modernist theorists posit. Consequently, historical sociology should focus on the various ‘threads’ (historically bound discourses) and ‘ﬁbers’ (nationalist narratives) from which the whole ‘fabric of nationalist discourse is composed.’ Nationalism is best deﬁned “as any set of discourses or practices that invoke the nation” (Gorski, 2000: p. 1461). This view is seconded by Zubrzycki (2006): the originally civic nationalism of Poland’s ‘republic of nobles’ was ethnicized as a result of the nation’s territorial dismemberment in the late eighteenth century. Religious subjection, shared language, and the appropriation of religious symbols by romantic nationalist intellectuals resulted in the identiﬁcation of Polish nationality with Catholicism (Poland as ‘the Christ of nations’). Religious self-identiﬁcation thus became integral to
national identity at a later date, and nationalism did not become fully secular as modernist theories posit. Once cemented by recurrent historical experiences (e.g., subjection under Soviet communism), nationalist ‘narrative structures’ and accompanying symbols (the cross; the Black Madonna of Czestochowa) came to constitute the nation as a ‘category of practice.’ Even so, the nation remains a ‘daily plebiscite’ (Renan): the salience, meaning, and use of nationalist discourse (including symbols and rituals) vary across time (political context), while contentious events play an important role in evoking ‘collective representations’ of the nation. This ‘eventful sociology’ deﬁnes the nation as a “discursive space constituted by a web of representations articulated by various communities of discourse around speciﬁc events, and constituted also through the practical uses of symbols commonly understood as ‘national’” (Zubrzycki, 2006: p. 216).
Rational Choice Theory Avoiding grand debates, rational choice theory attacks the fallacy of sociological group realism from the point of view of methodological individualism: how do nationalist movements overcome the free rider problem? A good illustration is Hechter’s (1987) analysis of nationalism in Quebec: regional managerial positions served as a selective incentive for the Francophone middle class. Once the spoils of ofﬁce were distributed, however, nationalist politics abated. Consequently, in addition to offering private goods, nationalist elites must prevent the defection of followers. From these two conditions (selective incentives, internal control), a series of predictive hypotheses emerges. Another illustration is offered by Laitin’s explanation of variations in the linguistic assimilation of Russian-speaking minorities in four different post-Soviet republics by the ‘linguistic calculus’ of individuals faced with the prospect of assimilation: economic returns, the status costs of defecting from the in-group, and the degree of out-group openness emerge as key predictors of the likelihood of assimilation. Thus, cultural choices are shaped by rational calculations about material rewards and social honor (Laitin, 1998). Rational choice theories of nationalism can be criticized on the following grounds: (1) collective ideologies like nationalism cannot be reduced to the aggregate actions of individuals; (2) value choices are not ‘mere’ preferences: the intergenerational transmission of myths, collective memories, and narratives shapes the outlook of members of the nation and constrains choice; and (3) nationalist appeals contain a powerful symbolic (irrational) dimension that is critical for explaining the intensity of national feelings and nationalist mobilization.
Conclusion Despite the fact that nationalism did not stand at the center of sociological interest, especially in the classical epoch of the discipline, sociologists have studied the topic from a variety of perspectives. Even so, a considerable area of agreement has emerged. For one, sociologists agree that the nation is not based on primordial ties; rather its emergence as a community of citizens was related to rise of the modern state (administrative
Nationalism, Sociology of
centralization), the novel idea of popular sovereignty, industrialization, and the expansion of cultural communications (vernacular languages, literacy). Uneven development was crucial for the dissemination of nationalism, whether on account of the ethnic division of labor, the reaction of the exploited periphery, or ressentiment. The salience of ethnicity (itself not an ascriptive, but subjective category) was greatest in areas where class and ethnic conﬂicts were superimposed (e.g., Habsburg empire), the putative nation lacked a state (e.g., Poland), and ideology conceptualized the nation as Volk (e.g., Germany). Conversely, ethnicity was secondary in established states (e.g., England), or where shared memories and experiences favored other identiﬁcations (e.g., Switzerland). The consolidation of national identity everywhere involved a considerable effort at the invention of tradition. However, the protean character of nationalism as an adaptable and malleable set of ideas, collective representations, symbols, and ‘cognitive frames’ ensures that the ‘making of nations’ is a continuous process, albeit one that takes place within the constraints imposed by dominant narratives. The intimate relation between modernity and nationalism deﬁes liberal and Marxist expectations of a uniﬁed world; this may well be the most provocative insight of the sociology of nationalism. These areas of agreement point to considerable progress in the sociology of nationalism. This progress is also manifested in the growing number of areas that sociologists have begun to investigate: religion and nationalism, nationalism and collective violence, nationalism and collective memory, nationalism and gender, the nationalist narrative, nationalism and everyday life, nationalist symbols and rituals, national identity and ideology, dominant and peripheral nationalism, diaspora and homeland nationalism, nationalism and immigration, and nationalism and globalization. Still, many sociologists seem reluctant to fully engage with nationalism; this is understandable, since to an extent all individual nationalisms tell their own stories, and this presents obstacles to generalization. Yet, as Max Weber demonstrated, the uniqueness of a phenomenon neither diminishes its importance nor precludes sociological investigation: a conceptually informed comparative–historical sociology can develop middle-range theories while taking into account the peculiarities of individual instances.
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