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Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism by [Anderson, Benedict]
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Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism Kindle Edition

3.8 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Length: 265 pages Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled Page Flip: Enabled

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Amazon Review

What makes people love and die for nations, as well as hate and kill in their name? In this important work, Benedict Anderson focuses a much-needed clear eye on nationalism as cultural artefact, created and transformed through historical processes--a fated and thus pure attachment experienced every day through the connections language forges with a living and dead community.

In selecting the genealogy of "thinking" the nation, Anderson chooses his trajectory well--thankfully reading not only from the social history of Europe, but also from the experiences of its colonies and other states across the globe (the armed conflicts of 1978--79 Indochina provided the immediate impetus for the original 1983 text). It is especially these states which Anderson's later revisions address, with his wise realisation that so-called "official nationalism" in colonised Asia and Africa was not transplanted without intervention from that of the dynastic states of 19th-century Europe. When dealing with such an emotive subject, Anderson thankfully avoids favouring rhetoric over grounded analysis. He thoroughly explains the role of print language in imagining community, particularly with the development of the novel set in a society to which the reader may or may not belong, but can recognise, and the newspaper, which, perhaps replacing morning prayers, is read every day by people who have a sense of their fellow readers' existence.

The power of Imagined Communities ultimately lies in its applied resonances. The force of the argument of an "imagined community" is not only invaluable to sociologists or political economists, but it implicates each of us in compelling notions of identity and belonging whether our imagined community is with a nation or with others who buy, listen to and watch the same cultural products as ourselves. Essential reading for anyone interested in a history of the present. --Fiona Buckland


'Anderson's knowlege of a vast range of relevant historical literature is most impressive; his presentation of the gist of it is both masterly and lucid.' --New Statesman

'Sparkling, readable, densely packed...' --Guardian

'A brilliant little book.' --Neal Ascherson, The Observer

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2098 KB
  • Print Length: 265 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1844670864
  • Publisher: Verso; Revised edition (17 Nov. 2006)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00G2DO172
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #167,572 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was looking forward to reading 'Imagined Communities' as it is often seen as something of a standard text on nationalism. I ended up disappointed. The key lies with the subtitle of the book - 'Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism'. I'll try to pinpoint why but first I'll deal with what I think is valuable about the work.

It's beautifully written with witty asides and is easily read. There are plenty of insights into the way that nationalism works and how nations are imagined - that concept is a great one - how history, maps, museums, censuses, literature all contribute to the collective imagining of something called a nation and how this imagining is relatively modern. This is illustrated with some fascinating examples. Anderson is also fairly good at explaining how nationalism spread and how it has now become universal.

So, 'Imagined Communities' strength is explaining how nationalism works and, to a lesser extent, how it spreads. The weakness is in explaining the origins of nationalism. Anderson locates this in the coincidence of the rise of capitalism, the technology of print and language. Anderson also locates the first nationalisms as being creole nationalisms in the Americas thereby ignoring the rise of the nation states in the Netherlands and England prior to this. One is left with a nagging feeling that the explanation being offered here is inadequate.

Anderson is right to point out the rise of state bureaucracy in the relation to the rise of nationalism but neglects the idea that the needs of business and the protection of markets could play a similar function. In short, Anderson fails to account for the fact that the rise of nationalism mirrors the rise and spread of capitalism per se and not just print capitalism.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Interesting take about the rise of nationalism in the Americas and the policy of exclusion which took place fostering resentment. The idea that communities were created through the adoption of the printing press is also useful for imagining how it was formed. However what he forgets is the role of war and the myths which arose from sacrifice. Nationalism is related to the stories told within families and is based on the idea of the underdog, resistance and overcoming feeding into the fantasy world, usually of small boys.

Imagined communities is akin to the Sorelian myth, the vision of the world to come, fed to young boys. Without this familial indoctrination, then the newspaper finds no fertile ground to bolster the vision. Elias for example in his book on Germany focuses upon these stories of sacrifice and the role of iron within the German myth making - the iron cross arose from the aristocracy sacrificing their jewels to fund the war against Napoleon. Iron became rooted in strength and ritual, the base metal of the industrial revolution took on a symbolic power of the average German. Each became united within this Sorelian vision.

This book however fails to deal with psychology and therefore loses a star. It takes a more pedestrian role based on Skinner psychology of stimulus and response. People read stories and then respond to the meanings - absent is how they create the myths from them to make sense of their everyday worlds. Also missing is Fromm's send of loneliness and community which is remade within a sense of national brotherhood. The individual is essentially lonely as he/she moves away from the family structure and develops their own perspective.
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Format: Paperback
In an age of academic specialization, there is a need for works of synthesis, proposing theories of general application. This need is shown by way that "Imagined Communities" and, for example, Edward Said's "Orientalism" are widely read and discussed. However, to be valid, generalisations should be based on a comprehensive and objective reading of all the evidence, not just a presentation of only what suits the author's particular view. Although Anderson's book is well written and presented, it fails to be either objective or comprehensive.

In his book, Anderson traces the origins of national consciousness back to 18th century Age of Enlightenment in Western Europe. He argues that the traditional and hierarchical social organisation associated with Christendom declined through economic factors and with the spread of national territory and citizenship. He particularly identifies a link between the rise of capitalism and the development of printing, which fostered national languages and identity. Anderson considered that nations were formed through invented traditions and symbols, not fixed racial differences. This approach is clearly a Marxist one, and is open to several objections.

Firstly, assuming "Christendom" declined in the 16th century, Anderson does not explain what happened between then and the Age of Enlightenment. Secondly, Anderson relies heavily on other Marxist writers like Eric Hobsbawm and Tom Nairn, largely ignoring other schools of thought. Thirdly, at the outset, Anderson defines several concepts in a way which limits discussion on them to his own agenda. He seems to follow Hobsbawm in arguing that nationalism didn't exist before the late 18th century, so that anything earlier is not nationalism, a circular argument.
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