Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism is a book by Benedict Anderson. It introduces a popular concept in political sciences and sociology, that of imagined communities named after it. It was first published in 1983, and reissued with additional chapters in 1991 and a further revised version in 2006.
Nationalism and imagined communities
According to Anderson's theory of imagined communities, the main causes of nationalism are the declining importance of privileged access to particular script languages (such as Latin) because of mass vernacular literacy; the movement to abolish the ideas of rule by divine right and hereditary monarchy; and the emergence of printing press capitalism ("the convergence of capitalism and print technology... standardization of national calendars, clocks and language was embodied in books and the publication of daily newspapers")—all phenomena occurring with the start of the Industrial Revolution.
Nation as an imagined community
According to Anderson, nations are socially constructed. For Anderson, the idea of the "nation" is relatively new and is a product of various socio-material forces. He defined a nation as "an imagined political community – and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign". As Anderson puts it, a nation "is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion". While members of the community probably will never know each of the other members face to face, they may have similar interests or identify as part of the same nation. Members hold in their minds a mental image of their affinity: for example, the nationhood felt with other members of your nation when your "imagined community" participates in a larger event such as the Olympic Games.
Nations are "limited" in that they have "finite, if elastic boundaries, beyond which lie other nations". They are "sovereign" since no dynastic monarchy can claim authority over them, in the modern period:
[T]he concept was born in an age in which Enlightenment and Revolution were destroying the legitimacy of the divinely-ordained, hierarchical dynastic realm. Coming to maturity at a stage of human history when even the most devout adherents of any universal religion were inescapably confronted with the living pluralism of such religions, and the allomorphism [incongruence, divide] between each faith's ontological claims and territorial stretch, nations dream of being free, and, if under God, directly so. The gauge and emblem of this freedom is the sovereign state.
Even though we may never see anyone in our imagined community, we still know they are there through communication.
Finally, a nation is a community because,
regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship. Ultimately it is this fraternity that makes it possible, over the past two centuries, for so many millions of people, not so much to kill, as willingly to die for such limited imaginings.
- "The Nationalism Project: Books by Author A-B". nationalismproject.org.
- "Benedict Anderson" (PDF).
- Anderson, Benedict R. O'G. (1991). Imagined communities: reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism (Revised and extended. ed.). London: Verso. pp. 6–7. ISBN 978-0-86091-546-1. Retrieved 5 September 2010.