Nationalism and the Concept of Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson

Benedict Anderson, while writing his Imagined Communities, mainly placed an argument that a nation is a modern phenomenon. The political powers that controlled and moulded the nations previously were themselves shaped by monarchy, the dynastic superiority, spirituality, cosmology and historic significance which in turn was based on the cosmic theories that were popular back then. The rational faculties of the human mind resulted in the development of the perception of “homogenous empty time” aiding the individuals to consider the material conditions and View themselves as parts of the “imagined community”.

Here comes the requirement of defining an imagined community. An imagined community, as perceived by Anderson, is one that does not allow its individual members to receive information about all of their fellow members. In addition to this, such a community is characterised by a finite structure and limited boundaries, exhibiting a fraternity and sovereign power (O’Neill, 2016, p.85). The concept of imagined community emerged from the increased explosion in the fields of mass media, both print and electronic, the literary exposures being enjoyed by the individuals and the increased number of literary sources available in vernacular languages.

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All of these factors encouraged the individuals to think and connect to the other individuals of the community, even without any personal acquaintance, giving rise to the concept of “imagined community”. Anderson provides a second tier of argument in his work Imagined Communities which is based on the historical foundations of nations and the models of nationalism followed by those nations.

He confidently impedes the previous convention that the nation can be categorised both essentially and on the basis of its European origins, On the contrary, Anderson puts forward his argument that the earliest of the nationalist movements of the world had its roots in the “Creole Communities” which constituted the white descendents of the European settlers who settled in the North and South Americas.

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The model found from these creole communities offer the foundations of the nationalist movements that occurred later in history across the nations of the world. The second of the rest three models regarding nationalism finds its origin in the late 18th century, with the philologists, linguistic nationalists and scientists who are responsible for the segregation and reconstruction of the evolutionary history of languages (Anderson‘s, 2006, p.49). Next comes the third model of nationalism which, as Anderson observes, is sourced from the official nationalist movements against imperialism emerging in the countries of Russia, Thailand, Japan, England and Hungary. It can be mentioned further in this line that this third model of nationalism is defensive in nature Furthermore, Anderson goes on to provide a third model of nationalist movement which evolves from the educational and bureaucratic institutions. In addition to this, the author mentions Asia and Africa to be the identifying the educated, administrative and bilingual communities as the colonial powers excluding themselves from the intrinsic nationalist model. Thus the educated administrative community successfully created an imagined community of their own by drawing benefits from the educational privileges accessible to them. However, in the later revised editions of the book, Anderson stresses on the significance of the roles played by census, maps and museum on the context of colonialism. Here he states that the basis of nationalism lies in quantifying the people of the community, symbolically demarcating the political boundaries and conceptualising the genealogical aspects that can be evaluated from past heritages (Brentin and Cooley, 2016, p3). The book in discussion, first published in 1983, changed the course of the social constructions, altered the conventional concepts of nationalism and nationalist movements and offered a refined view of patriotism in this regard. The various concepts and arguments that are portrayed in the book remains a significant matter of discussion in this review essay Apart from the four models of nationalism, Anderson also conceptualises the randomness of nationalist movements.

The dependence of nationality on social divisions like ethnicity is responsible for this randomness. As nationalism springs from the different tiers of the society, it is an irreversible process. Moreover, the it provides the people with a sense of solidarity, justice and generosity that is capable of mobilising patriotism and can even spread to the extent of reducing or eradicating racism in some cases. Since the work of Anderson is based on the historical origin of nationalism as a social phenomena, it underlines the fundamental theories that pertain to the issue. In evaluating the factors operating behind the nationalist consciousness of the nations, the author has come up with two basic concepts: the modern concepts of “time“ and “print-capitalism“ (Buckler, 2017, p,15), The author, in this regard, sought the assistance of renowned Marxist writer, Walter Benjamin and differentiated between the medieval and the modern concepts of time These were the “messianic time” and the “homogenous empty time” respectively The medieval ages failed to identify any clear demarcation between the past, present or the future aspects of time as they were under the impression that time was always nearing its end (the time of Christ’s reincarnation). In contradiction to this messianic concept of time, time in modern terms, is not perceived by any particular occurrence like the reincarnation of Christ, rather it is understood and defined by the homogenous scales of the clock or the calendar. Thus, the existence of well—defined pasts, presents and futures become inevitable. This is where Anderson relates the conceptualisation of “imagined communities“, The realisation of a definite tense resulted in the imagination that there must be some more than one individual simultaneously involved in similar activities within the same time frame even though they do not identify each other personallyi This imagination of other’s activities forms the idea of imagined communities and is the basic requirement to initiate and carry forward any nationalist movement.

For example, if a German needs to get an idea of what the other Germans are doing regarding the nationalist movements in the country in order to function as a singular body even if it is impossible to know all German individuals personally (Calhoun, 2017, p39) Next in line is the concept of print-capitalism which boomed in 16th century Europe and constituted as a precursor to make imagined communities a national phenomena, The explosion in the print media, especially in vernacular languages meant more people could connect and relate to those issues which remained obscure due to difficulties in communication Information on any particular issue were now being shared within territories which otherwise failed in mutual interaction due to language barriers. In addition to this, the print media helped in the development of a sense of unity and fraternity among the individuals, thus, facilitating the imagination within the community members. Also, the news that was rarely related to each other, began to be constructed in a manner that was relatable to every individual of the nation and this continued with course of history. Therefore, an imagined community is always free from the cultural, linguistic, ethnic, class and other diversities though they are very much present in any real community, In theorising the concepts of imagined communities as the basis of nationalism. Anderson rejects the Marxist theories of nationalism by exemplifying his argument with the Cambodian-Vietnamese War of 1978, The war portrayed how one Marxist regime waged war against another and the outcomes could not be justified in terms of any of the Marxist theories The author insists in this context that any universally applicable theory as Marxism should be validated by first identifying the resilience offered by the nation. Any bourgeois individual or organisation can always be abandoned in a systematic way but as long as it continues to be present, it holds the potential to be examined in terms of Anderson’s model (Friedland, 2016, p.930). It can be said after critically reviewing Anderson’s Imagined Communities that the society which he attempts to portray in the book, at times seems utopian.

At some places, it even seems to be a resemblance of Marxism only devoid of the happy conclusion The dangers of raising stupid notions to the level of great emotional expressions become clear when Anderson argues that the “cosmopolitan individuals” however tries to seek equations between nationalism and bigotry or racism, nations worldwide successfully instill love in the hearts of individuals- a love that is unconditional in all aspects (Lufkin, 2016, p.546). Moreover, the twenty-first century context of Anderson’s nationalist models seems to be outdated as the twentieth century European immigrants indicate the emergence of permanent settlements in a new country. While the earlier nations witnessed immigrants as refugees and exiles, the modern day immigrants are so because of their own choices. They decide to settle in a foreign country due to the availability of opportunities and reduction in transportation costs. In addition [0 this, the print media has been highly invaded by the cyber media thus rendering the “print capitalism” concept almost futile (Kavoura and Borges, 2016, p.260). In analysing the historical evolution of nationalism, Anderson has successfully presented the illusion that nationalism sometimes offers. However, the book fails to communicate any means by which the present communities can learn from the past and rectify their shortcomings. In many cases it has been observed that passionate nationalism has inhibited the concern towards more relevant social issues, like economic exploitation. Therefore, to prevent the imagined community to overrule the oppressions of the real society, a less vague and a more scientific observation regarding the subject is required.

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Nationalism and the Concept of Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson. (2022, Jul 19). Retrieved from

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