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Benedict Anderson – Imagined Communities

Benedict Anderson – Imagined Communities
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Abdullah Muhsin Yıldız – Marmara University
In the modern era, population census quantificates people; map turned the political space into a logo; museum brings all religions together in secular genealogy. According to Anderson, both nations and nationalism is “a special cultural artefact”[1] of the modern era, especially it was created towards the end of 18th century spontaneously similar to the processes indicated above. Once it was created, the latter it proliferated different societal geographies within different degree of consciousness and different political and ideological senses. Therefore, Anderson claims that the nation is an imagined political community[2], because it was proliferated to other societies and fictionalized incompatible within them instead of former considerations and perceptions. Furthermore, nation was a special cultural artefact which had unique characteristics in each society. Moreover the political community have a significant role that is providing sovereignty and a limit itself. The sovereignty sphere and the limited area are created by imagined political community. Anderson also seeks the answer of source of self-sacrifices in recent history and the answer again lies behind the cultural roots of nationalism.

Anderson examines cultural roots of the nation in the first part of the book. Those are anonymous soldier monuments, eternal pasts and two cultural systems which were religious communities and dynastical powers. They were placed themselves in the centre of cosmos due to relations which were conducted with a political power beyond the world through a religion. The central position of mankind was justified by religion (holy language) and ethereal power, but nation (or national language) superseded religion and history with its myths and heroes take the role of ethereal power and both have solidified the role of the central standing of mankind.

The demise of religious communities resulted decay of religious language which was Latin and local languages were replaced instead of it. The decline of dynastical powers ended the legitimacy of royalty which was supplied by divinity and the nation superseded its position. How a societal imagination was created by time imaginations, i.e. novels and newspapers, is also discussed in this part. Novels created an imagined society with a perception of living in the same time and space; newspapers represented the morning prayer of this society.

In the second part which is about the roots of national consciousness, Anderson analyzes print-capitalism which was an outcome of cash scarceness in 1500s. Publishers preferred to cheap retailing print in folk languages and standardized local languages had been produced since then. Anderson also mentions Protestantism in the proliferation of printing press.

Creole communities in Spanish America presents to initial example of nationalism according to Anderson. They were born in colony, so they were distained by people living in Spain. They had a common fate in Americas and they became aware of who were real Spanish when they went to pilgrimage to Spain. Moreover San Martin declared in 1821 Peru’s children and Peru’s citizens rather than local people or red Indians for the future of those territories. Madrid’s increasing tough control of the region and Enlightenment ideas in 18th century were prominent reasons of emerging national communities in Americas.

In the next part, Old Languages and New Models, the author refers to studies on grammar books, lexicography and origins of languages. Anderson analyses Alexander III’s Russification in Romanov dynasty, Victoria’s imperialism, Japonization since 1870s and Magyarization in Hungary since 1875 in the following chapter in the name of official nationalism. In the Last Wave, he mentions to developments in the transportation and increase of companies and officials. Moreover modern education system and its role of producing national leaders are determined especially in Indonesia, Western Africa and Indochina. Anderson asserts that languages create imagined communities and it is the publication language that constructs nationalism.

One of the main questions about the book is where author mentions his analysis on creole community. Anderson called for creoles founders of nationalism, but their common fate does not create the nation or nationalism in Americas. It was only one aspect of emergence of the nation in there. I think nationalism is more than that it is about rise of mass politics and establishment of modern state. The other problem that can be observed is too much emphasis on the transformation that religious decline was followed by rise of nationalism. To broaden it, religious institutions and monarchies based on divinity were lost their legitimacy, so nations and nationalism arose. It is claimed that indicated process was more related to secularization rather than establishment of smaller nation-states instead of bigger communities. On the other hand, Romanov’s discovery of being Russian or Hohenzollern’s detection being German is not a single and sudden event. I think it is beyond education system, it is about social and political processes such as transition from feudal to industrial society and absolute monarchy to founding of modern state in which bourgeoisie held the power against nobility.

The strong part of the book is emphasis on language and print-capitalism. The claim that proliferation of publications standardized languages is very influential. The increase of literacy rates, creation of bureaucratic class and modern education was successive paths to creation of a nation. The elimination of weak dialects in time and novel writing with journalist publishing everyday generate people who are spoken the same language.  In that sense, addressing of the book on culture and society is authoritative.


Abdullah Muhsin Yıldız, Marmara University, Political Science and International Relations Master Program, March 2012

Imagined Communities, Reflection on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism, Benedict Anderson, Verso, 1991, 2nd edition, translated by İskender Savaşır, Metis Publications, Istanbul, 2009, 5th edition, 227 pages, 16TL, ISBN-13:978-975-342-026-6



[1] Anderson, Benedict, Hayali Cemaatler, p.18

[2] Ibid, p.20

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