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"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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TAMIL NATION LIBRARY: Nations & Nationalism

  • Ethnicity and Nationalism edited by Anthony D. Smith
    International Studies in Sociology and Social Anthropology, Volume LX
    published by E.J.Brill, Leiden, New York, Koln, 1992 [ISBN 90 04 09609 4]

From the Introduction by Anthony D.Smith:

"... What, I think, distinguishes the last twenty years from earlier periods in the study of nationalism is the growing convergence of two fields, which had been formerly treated as separate: the study of ethnicity and ethnic community, and the analysis of national identity and nationalism. The former had been largely the preserve of anthropologists and social psychologists, and had focused on small-scale communities, often in Third World areas. The latter had been the province of historians, for whom the ideology (and ethics) of nationalism was paramount. Nationalism was seen as a 'force', non-logical if not irrational, one which swept away traditional barriers and ushered in a new era of national conflicts and mass terror, a view reinforced by nationalism's alleged role in two World Wars.

The ethnic revival in the West, starting in the early 1960s, led to a reassessment of both 'ethnicity' and 'nationalism', and to the realisation that they were, both as empirical realities and fields of study, intimately related. The growth of support for Basque, Catalan, Breton, Flemish, Scots and Welsh ethnic autonomy, as well as that of a host of smaller ethnic communities, widened the concept of 'neo-nationalism' to include dimensions that had previously been taken for granted or treated as nationalist rhetoric.

It became clear that so-called 'nation-building' which centred on the construction of national institutions by state elites, favoured the integration and ultimate assimilation of ethnic minorities by the culture of the dominant ethnic majority in each Western state.

But, with the reaction against bureaucracy and its mechanical rationalism, and the rising tide of popular activism fuelled by a belief in authenticity and subjective participation, scholars soon came to realise that, in the words of Walker Connor, nation-building is also nation-destroying..

.... There is no way now to hold apart the earlier study of ethnic identities and intermarriage patterns which prevailed in several parts of the world, from an understanding of their political repercussions. Conversely, it is increasingly difficult to investigate the patterns of nationalist activities and secession movements without invoking underlying ethnic configurations....

A second trend which distinguishes the study of ethnicity and nationalism in the last twenty years is the much closer attention given to its social background and to the contribution of social groups and Classes...Of the social groups which were more consistently involved in nationalist movements, the intelligentsia have received particular attention.... Their key role is related to the continuing importance of cultural concerns and cultural nationalism in recent movements for ethnic autonomy and separatism....

A third development stems from some of the recent work in political science.... on the consociational systems found in the democracies of certain plural societies, such as Belgium, Holland and Canada.... Clearly, the question of how polyethnic states can survive the centrifugal pressures released by democratisation, while preserving their democratic gains, is one that raises pertinent questions about the relationships between ethnicity, democracy and nationalism....

....This raises the whole question of' the place of minorities (who may in fact constitute numerical majorities) in plural states which are striving to create or maintain a particular vision of' national identity...

....Finally, there is the recent trend in much of the scholarly work on nations and nationalism to emphasise, not just their wholly modern bases, but their peculiarly constructed and imagined quality...  the nation itself has been deconstructed and revealed as part of a nationalist discourse about 'imagined community', and as a series of' 'invented traditions' in an era of' rapid change and political mobilisation...

....The views expressed in this special issue represent several of the main lines of enquiry and positions adopted in the current study of ethnicity and nationalism...."



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