Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Nationalism and its Proliferation

From revolutions in Vietnam, Kampuchea, and China to the emancipatory struggles against colonial powers, Anderson illustrates several historical transformations that gave rise to nationalism in the modern era. I am interested in the ways that nationalism, once shaped by discrete historical forces, can proliferate and become modular, capable of being transplanted across regional, socio-cultural, and institutional contexts to a number of social terrains that Anderson outlined in his book. I am wrestling with the idea of nationalism as modular, and whether its modularity reveals a certain nature (e.g. a pathological persistence, a virulence) about the systems of production and reproduction that underlie imagined communities and the circulation of nationalist discourses/symbols/sentiments that make these imagined communities possible.

Nationalist imaginings can rise to national consciousness through the interplay of capitalist relations and the spread of communications through print/digital technology. By this very mechanism, can nationalism be thought of as a commodity that is produced, sold, and consumed, traversing millions of people through the dissemination of media? And if nationalist discourse is like a commodity, it seems that this commodity, including all texts, speeches, materials, institutions, ways of acting etc., can be understood as capital itself, which is first produced and then reproduced through the media as a superstructure that informs the base. But if this is true, how can nationalism, as a cultural artifact and as capital, command such ‘profound emotional legitimacy’ if its accumulation is determined by commoditized forces? 

Anderson seems to suggest that the creative power of nationalism lies in the minds of individuals, i.e. their imaginings. These imaginings have such affective valence that individuals will “willingly die for such limited imaginings.” But does nationalism emerge through individual or collective consciousness, or both? There seems to be some tension here between the individual and the collective, since nationalism must be understood not in relation to self-consciously held political ideology, but through the large cultural systems that preceded it. The (re)-production of nationalism and nationalist affect necessitate the consumption of media; and media controls the way we imagine our nation. Nevertheless, I am intrigued in the primacy of culture that Anderson alludes to and how this historical force can shape individuals outside of the traditional base/superstructure dynamic. Is the creative imagery of nationalist discourse subject to the same systematic forces of production and social relations, or must we map out the role of affect in the way nationalism is exchanged, experienced, and modularized in imagined communities?

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