Table of Contents
Us and them
Us and them
ANTH 2700: Key debates in anthropology
Social Sciences Building 410 (A02)
Week of April 25, 2022 (Week 9)
Slides available at http://anthro.rschram.org/2700/2022/9
Main reading: Malkki (1992)
No, where are you real-l-l-y from?
Have you ever been asked “Where are you from?” and told you gave the wrong answer?
The question feels like it is multiple choice:
Where are you from? Is it:
d) Denmark …
and on and on…
We believe we live in a mass society and each of us is an individual face in the crowd. In fact, many different forces are at work that seek to put everyone in different kinds of classificatory schemata.
Strangers in a strange land
An example of a very powerful classificatory schema is the nation.
In a very general sense, it is possible that every society ever has had some sense of nationalism, of ethnos as ancient Greeks might say.
All people make some kind of distinction between Us and Them.
- Every society is ethnocentric. It is common among many different societies for its name for itself to be people or human (Lévi-Strauss 1952, 12).
- A community may have no special name for itself, and may be called by others by a randomly chosen word (e.g. “Oro” means “Hello” in Orokaiva; see Bashkow 2006, 31).
- Motu people had a very general and derogatory name for other people living in the interior. Their exonym for these people became the official name used by the colonial government, even after the government learned many of the endonyms people used to name themselves (Murray 1925, 184).
A nationality has a specific meaning. Ideally your nationality is an endonym that also happens to be everyone else’s exonym for you.
The state of the nation
National identity is one among many ways that people have historically been classified, and it has several specific features. Members of a nation are assumed to
- Have a single way of life.
- Have a common language.
- Share the same emotional connection to a common set of national symbols, e.g. history or homeland.
- Be fundamentally the same as other members of the nation.
Nationalities in this sense are not natural or eternal. They emerge in history, and are usually associated with the centralization of state power.
Does nationalism actually require a Weberian state?
As we discussed in Week 8, one major debate in anthropology and other social sciences is over the nature of state power, and whether it is in fact centralized. We will take up this debate again in Week 10; here I am simply making the point that nationalism is often associated with the belief in a central authority.
Many theories of the nation assume that Weber’s theory of the state is correct, and that power is in fact centralized.
They argue that the formation of a national identity grows out of the rationalization of other areas of life, especially education and the economy.
A national policy of monolingualism is for instance a good way to administer a public education system for a mass population.
France, the exemplary nation-state
French language standardization concides with the formation of a French nation-state and supports the emerging egalitarian sense of French identity.
Does the French language have a single essence? As a matter of history, the answer is no.
- The French language is a single dialect chosen from among many, many other varieties.
- It was made into the standard, and as a result, all other dialects became seen as inferior versions of real French.
- One French dialect was taught in schools, and was expected to be shared by all.
Finland, late to nationhood
A quick history of Finland
- ca. 1200–1809: Part of the Kingdom of Sweden, which had more or less a policy of cultural domination and assimilation. People of Finnish regions are considered to be remote, backward subjects of Sweden.
- 1809–1917: Finland is part of Imperial Russia, who have a more liberal policy toward cultural and linguistic diversity, allowing a Finnish literary and language movement to form, advocating for Finnish as a national language in place of Swedish.
- 1917: Finland attains independence as a nation-state, a national state for the Finnish people
The Swedish question
Who are “the Finnish people”? Many people of independent Finland speak only Swedish and live in communities where only Swedish is spoken (and many Swedish-speaking people have a lot of economic power).
Solution: dual national language policy. Both Finnish and Swedish have equal status as national languages.
- A citizen may use either Finnish or Swedish in public life, i.e. all road signs are bilingual
- Children have a right to education in either Swedish or Finnish.
- Every Finnish-speaking student must take one year of Swedish to graduate (pakkoruotsi, mandatory Swedish).
- Every Swedish-speaking student must take one year of Finnish (tvångsfinska)
Finland is the exception that proves the rule: It has two languages but each only exists in relation to the other, uniformly, throughout all of Finland.
The nation as an imagined community
Benedict Anderson argues that nationalism is defined by its newness and its break with past identities.
- Nationalism is enabled by the spread of “print capitalism” (Anderson  2006, 44).
- Reading the news makes one feel that one is simultaneously witnessing the present day with many others, all strangers (Anderson  2006, 24).
- The nation exists in a uniform time, much like a published train schedule. Time for you is the same for everyone else.
- Nationalism is an “imagined community” (as opposed to a real community). One participates in the community solely within one’s own imagination, as an autonomous individual (Anderson  2006, 25).
- European states did not create nationalism. Andersonian nationalism in the sense of an imagined community emerges on colonial frontiers.
- Creole (or mestizo) populations of European colonial territories developed their own sense of themselves as national “imagined communities” (Anderson  2006, 58–59).
The limits of the imagined-community thesis
- One limitation of Anderson’s explanation is that he seems unconsciously to think that a national imagined community is a form of progress toward individual liberation.
- Nationalism in his sense is doubly modern. People break with their traditional past, and they also break with the present in which they are subject to colonial power.
- Anderson fetishizes modernity. He wants people to realize themselves as individuals, and sees his sense of national identity as a step toward individual freedom.
- Another limitation, following from the first, is that he assumes that national identity will be more successful than it actually is.
- Any actual nation state is made up of many people, and thus some people will always be excluded to some degree from the imagined community of the nation.
- National community is experienced one way at the center, but looks a lot less secure at the borders, where people have multiple identities. Consider
- Bougainville, PNG–Solomon Islands (“Take Border Issue Seriously” 2022)
- Bengalis in Assam, northeastern India (Choudhury 2021)
- San Diego–Tijuana (“50 Years Of Friendship Park” 2021)
There are many imagined communities in one nation state
- Neither print capitalism nor bureaucratic rationalization are the only ways to divide the world up into different national puzzle pieces.
- People create symbolic categories for space through their relationships and collective existence.
- Imagined communities are enabled by many different kinds of media, and different kinds of experience can create the same feeling of simultaneity, although in distinct virtual communities.
- Diasporas of migration
References and further reading
“50 Years Of Friendship Park.” 2021. Port of Entry. KPBS Public Media. https://www.kpbs.org/podcasts/port-of-entry/50-years-friendship-park.
Anderson, Benedict Richard O’Gorman. (1983) 2006. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso.
Bashkow, Ira. 2006. The Meaning of Whitemen: Race and Modernity in the Orokaiva Cultural World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Choudhury, Samrat. 2021. “Borders Shift and People Move. So Who Are ‘Illegal Immigrants,’ Really?” The Wire, October 4, 2021. https://thewire.in/rights/assam-border-bangladesh-illegal-immigrants.
Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1952. Race and History. Paris: UNESCO. https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000002896.
Malkki, Liisa. 1992. “National Geographic: The Rooting of Peoples and the Territorialization of National Identity Among Scholars and Refugees.” Cultural Anthropology 7 (1): 24–44. https://doi.org/10.1525/can.1992.7.1.02a00030.
Murray, Hubert. 1925. Papua of to-day: Or an Australian colony in the making. London: P. S. King & Son. http://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.170275.
“Take Border Issue Seriously.” 2022. Post Courier. February 15, 2022. https://postcourier.com.pg/take-border-issue-seriously/.