"Imagined communities" is a concept coined by Benedict Anderson. He believes that a nation is a community socially constructed, imagined by the people who perceive themselves as part of that group. Anderson's book, Imagined Communities, in which he explains the concept in depth, was published in 1983.
The whole idea of the nation is that it survives with other nations. It’s impossible to have only one nation in the world, so that the idea of only one nation is something odd. I think there are better things like sport contests, cultural exhibitions, which on the one hand, one could say, “Look what we can do,” and at the same time say, “Well, we’re going to show it to the world and we expect to see what the world has to say,” but on the condition that it means we also accept visits.
Benedict Anderson famously described the nation as an "imagined community" but he is also quick to point out that such imagining is strictly delimited. This delimitation describes the boundaries of the nation- who is in, who is out- but in doing so it also signals a limitation of what the nation as imagined community can contain. So the nation operates through a process of exclusion, not only of those who are outside it, but also of those aspects of its members that cannot be readily encompassed by description in terms of national identity. Anderson's definition of the nation is always vulnerable to Partha Chatterjee's question, "whose imagined communty?"
Such a position views the nation as a cultural artifact, and nationalism as an entirely modern principle which holds that the political and the national unit should be congruent. According to this logic, nation and nationalism are dual phenomena, constructed essentially from above by political and cultural elites. Besides chronology and causality, Beyond Imagined Communities also takes issue with other aspects of Anderson's approach, mainly its excessive reliance on printed materials, its lack of attention to sexual and racial dynamics, as well as its failure to acknowledge the highly controversial nature of Latin American identity politics.
Another reason for the early development of national consciousness in the New World is the rising popularity of the newspaper, as mentioned before. Reporting both provincial and world news, these New World newspapers further encouraged and fortify the imagination of nation-ness. By reading about events both local and around the world, these New Worlders were able to develop a consciousness about the existence of other nations, a sense of "us," versus "them" (62-63).
Anderson defines Creole states (new world colonies) as communities that were formed and led by people who shared a common language and common descent with those against whom they fought (47). He affirms that "Creole states" were among the earliest to develop conceptions of nation-ness, way before the notion of nationalism blossomed in Europe (50). Drawing on the examples of North American colonies and South American republics, Anderson provides several possible explanations: stricter Spanish control and the increase of power in the administrative units in the new South American republics created much conflict. The republics resented the tighter regulations and boundaries that were imposed by Spain
These print-languages laid the bases for national consciousness in three distinct ways... they created unified fields of exchange and communication below Latin and above the spoken vernaculars. Speakers of the huge variety of Frenches, Englishes, or Spanishes, who might find it difficult or even impossible to understand one another in conversation, became capable of comprehending one another via print and paper. In teh process, they gradually became aware of the hundreds of thousands, even millions of people in their particular language-field, and at the same time that only those hundreds of thousands, or millions, so belonged.
Print-capitalism created languages-of-power of a kind different from the older administrative vernaculars. Certain dialects inevitably were 'closer' to each print-language and dominated their final forms. Their disadvantaged cousins, still assimilable to the emerging print-language, lost caste, above all because they were unsuccessful (or only relatively successful) in insisting on their own print-form.
Viewing the modern nation primarily as an anthropological rather than political category, one that has less inherently to do with ideologies than with kinship, gender, and religion, Anderson argues in Imagined Communities for the irreducibility of material-cultural practices (what he memorably termed "print-capitalism") in creating and sustaining the "imagined community" of a nation whose citizens maintain "deep attachments" to each other in the absence of face-to-face contact: "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"
According to Anderson, the national community supplants earlier forms of large-scale community based on royal, dynastic rights, religion and kinship. Nationalism is thus at its base more similar to religion than to the rationalist institutions of democracy and bureaucracy, which legitimize it.
In his famous work Imagined Communities: reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism, Anderson argued that nations, as well any community in which face-to-face contact among all members would be impossible to achieve, are social constructs, existing only in the minds of those in the community. They are imagined ‘‘because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion’’
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