Invented tradition

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"Ancient" Scottish clan tartans are an example of an invented tradition created in the 19th century.

Invented traditions are cultural practices that are presented or perceived as traditional, arising from the people starting in the distant past, but which in fact are relatively recent and often even consciously invented by identifiable historical actors. The concept was highlighted in the 1983 book The Invention of Tradition, edited by Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger.[1] Hobsbawm's introduction argues that many "traditions" which "appear or claim to be old are often quite recent in origin and sometimes invented."[2] This "invention" is distinguished from "starting" or "initiating" a tradition which does not then claim to be old. The phenomenon is particularly clear in the modern development of the nation and of nationalism, creating a national identity promoting national unity, and legitimising certain institutions or cultural practices.[3]

Application of the term and paradox[edit]

The concept and the term have been widely applied to cultural phenomena such as the martial arts of Japan,[4] the "highland myth" in Scotland,[5][6] and the traditions of major religions,[7][8] to mention only a few. The concept was influential on the use of related concepts, such as Benedict Anderson's imagined communities and the pizza effect.[9]

One implication of the term is that the sharp distinction between "tradition" and "modernity" is often itself invented. The concept is "highly relevant to that comparatively recent historical innovation, the 'nation', with its associated phenomena: nationalism, the nation-state, national symbols, histories, and the rest." Hobsbawm and Ranger remark on the "curious but understandable paradox: modern nations and all their impedimenta generally claim to be the opposite of novel, namely rooted in remotest antiquity, and the opposite of constructed, namely human communities so 'natural' as to require no definition other than self-assertion."[10] Another implication is that the concept of "authenticity" is also to be questioned.


One reviewer (Peter Burke) noted that the "'invention of tradition' is a splendidly subversive phrase", but it "hides serious ambiguities". Hobsbawm "contrasts invented traditions with what he calls 'the strength and adaptability of genuine traditions'. But where does his 'adaptability', or his colleague Ranger's 'flexibility' end, and invention begin? Given that all traditions change, is it possible or useful to attempt to discriminate the 'genuine' antiques from the fakes?"[11] Another also praised the high quality of the articles but had qualifications. "Such distinctions" (between invented and authentic traditions) "resolve themselves ultimately into one between the genuine and the spurious, a distinction that may be untenable because all traditions (like all symbolic phenomena) are humanly created ('spurious') rather than naturally given ('genuine')."[12] Pointing out that "invention entails assemblage, supplementation, and rearrangement of cultural practices so that in effect traditions can be preserved, invented, and reconstructed", Guy Beiner proposed that a more accurate term would be "reinvention of tradition", signifying "a creative process involving renewal, reinterpretation and revision".[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Eric Hobsbawm & Terence Ranger, ed. (1983). The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521246453.
  2. ^ Hobsbawm & Ranger (1983), p. 1.
  3. ^ The articles in the volume include Hugh Trevor-Roper's "The invention of tradition: the Highland tradition of Scotland," Prys Morgan's "From a death to a view: the hunt for the Welsh past in the romantic period," David Cannadine's "The context, performance and meaning of ritual: the British monarchy and the 'invention of tradition', c. 1820-1977," Bernard S. Cohen's "Representing authority in Victorian India," Terence Ranger's "The invention of tradition in colonial Africa," and Eric Hobsbawm's "Mass-producing traditions: Europe, 1870-1914."
  4. ^ Stephen Vlastos (ed.). Mirror of Modernity: Invented Traditions of Modern Japan. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.
  5. ^ M. Sievers (2007). The Highland Myth as an Invented Tradition of 18th and 19th Century and Its Significance for the Image of Scotland. GRIN Verlag. ISBN 3-638-81651-6. pp. 22–25.
  6. ^ Hutton, Ronald (November 3, 2008). "Modern Pagan Festivals: A Study in the Nature of Tradition". Folklore. Taylor Francis. 119 (3): 251–273. doi:10.1080/00155870802352178. S2CID 145003549.
  7. ^ Masuzawa, Tomoko (2005). The Invention of World Religions. Chicago University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-50989-1.
  8. ^ Nur Masalha (2007). The Bible and Zionism: Invented Traditions, Archaeology and Post-Colonialism in Palestine-Israel. London; New York: Zed Books. LCCN 2006-31826. ISBN 978-1-84277-761-9.
  9. ^ Anderson, Benedict. "The origins of national consciousness". Nationalism: Critical Concepts in Political Science 1 (2000): 316, p. 37.
  10. ^ Hobsbawm & Terence Ranger (1983), p. 13-14.
  11. ^ Peter Burke, "Review", The English Historical Review 101.398 (1986): 316–317.
  12. ^ Richard Handler, "Review", American Anthropologist 86.4 (1984): 1025–1026.
  13. ^ Beiner, Guy (2007). Remembering the Year of the French Irish Folk History and Social Memory. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press. p. 272. ISBN 978-0-299-21824-9.

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