After using the Guest textbook Cultural Anthropology: A Toolkit for a Global Age to discuss Ethnicity in Cultural Anthropology 2020, we turned to the idea of Nationalism.

Related material on Nationalism

See my Intro-to-Anthropology 2017 lecture on Is Nationalism Bad? For content more specifically from Latin America and the Caribbean, see Nation-Building.

Nationalism Rough Transcript

I just had to take a drive up toward the Utica area. Those of you who are familiar with that little road that goes up there . . . Once you get outside of Oneonta things start to get really pretty, but really funky too. I drove up there and drove back. Got a Big Mac Bundle for lunch. I am feeling nationalism. I am feeling flags. I’m feeling elections. I’m feeling McDonalds. I’m ready for nationalism. Full up on nationalism. Much more than I wanted to get this morning. Anyway, interesting roads.

I want to start off with this quote . . . It’s like trying to apply the concepts of Guest to a historical situation, that you may not have been understanding completely, but I think once we understand what this . . . Italian politician was saying at the time. If we can understand that, we can understand something that I think is crucial to how we got this sense of belonging to a nation. This was 1861. When we think about Italy, we often think about Rome, and the Roman Empire, and all the way back. But in the 1850s-1860s, around the time of the US Civil War, Italy was not politically unified. There were a number of principalities, a number of regions, a number of villages. It wasn’t really linguistically unified. [For example,] my grandfather was speaking what he called “dialect,” that wasn’t really like Italian at all. It wasn’t linguistically unified; it wasn’t politically unified. There was a lot of allegiance to the Catholic church. Catholicism functioned as basically a governmental structure. There were various ways in which it was connected to other parts of Europe as well. It wasn’t one continuous national field. This politician and others wanted to make it a nation. What he said was: “We have made Italy.” In the sense that hey had achieved, after various armed conflicts, political unification. They had set up a centralized government. Then, he said “Now we must make Italians. This is a strange thing to say: it’s like, we’ve made this thing called Italy as a political unit, but now we need to start making Italians.

How do you make Italians?

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A lot of people modeled their nation-making on what people thought the French were able to do in a similar way to what happened in Italy at the time of what we call, “the French revolution they were in what is now the territory of France their what we call, “French was a minority language. In some ways, it was only after the French revolution the establishment of a different national state that they began to try to make people into French people one of the crucial ways that we become national is through schooling through education it is in our schools that we have as a Guest puts it we had language standardization. That whatever you were speaking in your little town or your little community whether you want to call it an accent or a dialect or some version of something else or maybe not even the national language you would standardize it around one in this case the dialect that they spoke around the area of Paris in the Italian case it was I believe a dialect that they spoke around the area of Tuscany. You’d you’d standardize the language. That would be the way in which everyone would be graded and have to learn. If you spoke anything else you’d be in trouble also give us a shared sense of history that we all have these basic ideas or basic facts that we know that we come from the our own if we think about our own schooling we learn about the territory of the United States learn about national independence learn about all those documents those kinds of things it also importantly create literacy I think we didn’t discuss this very much when we’re talking about language, but everyone has language as in spoken language, but literacy or being able to read and write is variable among populations. A lot of people don’t are perfectly fine without having literacy, but what schools do is it enables it spreads literacy more widely in the population and what this does. This is something that in Benedict Anderson’s book, which I gave you an image from imagine communities he describes as crucial is it makes possible the reading of a newspaper and with a newspaper becomes like the shared sense of history a shared sense of facts. That this is weird because. I don’t know how many of you get newspapers at your house anymore. But in the old days, and especially in the 19th century it was an innovation that every day you’d get this sheet of paper it would show up at your door. It would be the same for everyone. It had all these kinds of facts or events put together as if we should all be concerned about these facts. I mean for those of you who are looking at the news these days this is something that people lament that in some ways television broadcasts or radio broadcasts started to take on that role of newspapers, but now often times our news comes to us through our own feeds or our own Facebook feed or twitter feeder what’s that other one anyway when the news alerts pop up. That you’re getting not a shared sense of facts, but a curated sense of facts based on your position. So, getting back to this point though that this is one way in which people start to feel or imagine that they share a community with others in places where they may not have even met them before

other ways to build nations goes on there the schools was the first thing you mentioned, but then he talks about creating roads and railways. things that integrate the country. You can. You can drive or travel and feel like you’re in you’re in the same place together that’s why my trip to Utica made me feel. So, nationalist because I can drive along a road it’s maintained people are in the same time zone I can talk to them it all makes sense when you have railways you have a shared sense of time you need to coordinate your clocks and your schedules. It brings together what is called a “national economy. That your roads and railways are centered on your own nation

uh one of the going to mention a couple other things that Guest doesn’t talk about a lot, but a lot of nations, especially there are some interesting stuff that happens in say Mexico where the nation’s the sense of nation was fostered through an idea of food and this national cookbook. That you’re cooking things from maybe not from your own group, but are seen as national dishes as things that everyone should be able to do and aspire to. That the good the good housewife. As we’ll talk about nation is always gendered, as the good mother or housewife would be able to cook these kinds of national foods

uh things like having composing a national anthem having festivals that we share together celebrations of independence or thanksgiving or victory over your rivals music and in general things that are composed with a sense of that you might hear again being able to share things over say a radio transmission . I think that I remember when I was doing fieldwork in Colombia I’d be walking along and everyone had the same there was only one very powerful radio station and everyone had the same radio station on. You could almost walk down the road and you’d keep hearing the same song you’d never miss a beat because there was it was with you the whole time creating the sense that we’re all in this together no matter if we meet each other or not now I think it’s always extremely important to ask well who is going to be included in these songs in these cookbooks what kinds of things get elevated to the level of belonging to the nation and who might get excluded or left out or seen as being not part of the standard not part of the dialect not worthy of integration into the national infrastructure get substandard schooling. That’s something we always want to keep our eye on when it comes to nation building. I think as I was reading stuff it reminded me of one of an anthropologist who’s been has been was just brilliant and hugely influential and has now I’m having difficulty even finding a good picture of her Brackette Williams in 1989 wrote an article called a “class act anthropology. The race to nation across ethnic terrain brilliant stuff I still don’t understand it myself, but I think one of the huge she had a great sense for titles right. One of her huge point was that almost always your idea of nation the idea of who’s included and not is going to be tied to, especially in the Americas it’s going to be tied to race and also to class to social class and to ethnicities. Some things that we’ve talked about. Like I said, a great great title there a class act anthropology in the race to nation across ethnic terrain he’s really influential article truly brilliant anthropologist unfortunately it’s not published as much as I want her to, but there she is. As I was saying we talked about ideas nation being tied to race class ethnicity what you didn’t talk about, but we’ll be talking about next week more is gender and sexuality and those are also important in terms of whether the nation is considered as a fatherland or a motherland who’s supposed to be cooking for the nation and who’s supposed to be fighting for the nation etc those are often going to be tied to gender and also to ideas about who is who’s included and what even in terms of laws and sexuality and ideas about that we’ll be doing that next week. So, fun times

now one of the things that I think could be one of the best nation builders a very good thing to build your nation that didn’t really get discussed by guests a little bit here. There one of you brought it up in the comments. That is the military. A lot of countries promoted compulsory military service. That all the boys all the 18 year old boys would have to do a year or two of military service some countries even made it gender neutral. So, men and women would have to do military service compulsory and whether or not there was a necessarily a conflict involved it has an interesting effect is that you would you would take people from different parts of the country and you’d put them together. . This is something that almost everyone who’s who sees a military installation or has served in the military or is I think it’s just always very it’s very impressive to people. That I mean. If you think about people’s experience during world war ii putting people together from the south and north and having them fight alongside each other. If you think about what happened in Italy. In Italy there was a huge division still is to a certain extent between the southern Italians. The northern Italians. But in terms of the military they’d send the southerners north. The northern earth south. It tends to integrate people that may not have seen each other before even if you’re not actively fighting anybody. However, if you are actively fighting somebody it can be even more helpful because it turns your focus away from internal divisions or internal issues that you might have and you say we’re all in this together. We need to fight off the Peruvians or the. We all become Ecuadorians because all of a sudden Peru is threatening our national borders. It helps in some ways because you already have this amalgamated identity. Then, you’re able to focus that on external enemies now it gives the example of Eritrea. I think that militarization can be very effective it can also it can also backfire too if you end up in a highly militarized society it can lead to other forms of confrontation and protest not all young people like compulsory military service. I remember there are some very famous examples of these singers in Argentina who wrote a very famous folk song about being made to do this compulsory military service it was meant to cause national unity, but it backfires if there’s protest against it in the case of Eritrea people leaving the country feeling. They had to leave and forming this identity outside the country. This is like I said it can be a very effective thing. But there’s also some ways in which it can it can backfire

i want to focus a little bit on

the nation nations and nationalism and nation building always are they always make me um

how to say I think there are some difference between the ideal or what could be and what often happens in reality I want to focus on what I think is the traditional notion of nation building, which still holds sway it’s not gone, but things have changed somewhat and taking Brackette Williams phrase across ethnic terrain here because she wasn’t really saying that this was the instantiation of one ethnicity, but it was something that happened across this ethnic terrain. I mean when I think about how national identities are formed there are times that it really instantiates a specific identity. So, other groups might get really pissed off if your ethnic group is in charge of the nation or if your ethnic group is the one whose language is trying to be standardized across the nation. It can happen, but a lot of times when we think about a nation and national identity it’s more how to say it’s more diffuse it’s more blended or they take things from different places. Let’s say a cookbook we’ll take dishes from different parts of the country and put them together and mix them up. You’ll get this idea of regional regionalism, but that we’re all in this together there are some regional identities, but they get they get blended into the larger nation. For me I think it’s more it’s not necessarily that it creates an ethnicity, but it creates something that’s it’s this idea that Benedict Anderson has of an imagined community. It’s the idea that even though I don’t know people from . . . California . . . I imagine that I could share things from all that way far away. . . . It’s like an ethnic group, but it’s a little more free floating than that.

I think that the at least when you think about what happens to people who continue to be who don’t join the nation then they stay in their ethnic group. Then, the nation considers them to be ethnic minorities that they haven’t joined the nation enough and like I said this is your the traditional idea. I think it still holds sway in many countries. If you think about in some ways what the Chinese state does with so-called ethnic minorities is probably a very traditional idea that some people are not are not doing enough to join the nation. They’re left in the ethnic minority category

so I would say that I’ve been struggling with this because I mean I do like guests definition of nationalism. A lot of you quoted it national nationalism emerges when a sense of ethnic community combines with a desire to create and maintain a nation’s state. when I say quibbles that sounds extremely old-fashioned I’m not entirely disagreeing I’m just a little bit puzzled at some of the language use there okay. I’ll say that sometimes this works I mean. If you think about the Kurds, for example, the Kurds that guests discuss a little bit that are spread across some of the nation states in Iraq in Syria in Turkey you may have heard on the news when was it last year I mean these have been allies of the United States that we pulled out of northern Syria. Then, turkey wanted to go in because the Kurds are seen as this I mean definitely an ethnic group that has at various times wanted its own state or its own at least autonomous zone in a place where they’ve never really had a Kurdish state. This certainly works for some peoples of the world in which you have this ethnic community already and you desire to create your own nation-state in a certain place. As some of you noted nationalism can also be a potent anti-colonial force. If you’re under colonial rule stirring up this sense of nation if you’re being ruled by somebody from the outside can be a very potent force in order to overthrow a colonial power or some oppressive force

my again my problem with the phrasing of this is that. I think that nationalism is not it’s that ethnic community part. I think that it’s a like I said. I think that when I feel. I don’t know about you when I feel American it’s not very tightly linked to the same kinds of things that I think about with ethnicity. When I think about powerful national identities they are I would just say they seem more free-floating I get they get revved up in like sporting events and certain kinds of food and certain kinds of television programs you might say, but it’s much more I feel like it’s more blended or diffuse and I would say that along with that um

nationalism can be very often embraced by people who are not part of the dominant structure. I mean I don’t think since we’ve been through the racism chapter I think it’s fair to say that in the United States whiteness has been the unmarked category in which people basically were thought to have to enter in to be nationals and to be national citizens, but there are a lot of people who do not who do not fit the dominant category who have very much embraced nationalism and I don’t want to say that though the people who do that are somehow deluded or don’t or being dupes, because in can be a genuine embrace and have some genuinely interesting effects. When people who are not necessarily part of the dominant category are embracing flags going to war doing nationalism things I mean it’s an interesting phenomenon probably has to do with the idea of hegemony, which we’ve talked about, which is accepting the conditions of even though you’re not necessarily benefiting from them, but it’s certainly a possibility for something that happens in the world

and then again it’s more I’m not sure. If it’s like I said it’s a quibble with guests, but my what I was trying to say is that the sense of ethnic community or the sense that you belong to a nation at least historically often emerges after this consolidation of a political unit or the consolidation of a state. So, yes in the case of the Kurds it’s they have never they are trying to form in some cases in independent or autonomous government. But in most cases the government has preceded the autonomous government has preceded that creating that sense of ethnic community. Going back to the very first quote we have made Italy now we must make Italians. I’m not entirely sure I’m going to argue against guests, but I just want to bring out some possible differences in how we might see nationalism. Now, like I said that the idea of nationalism as creating one unitary ethnic identity comes to us as a traditional idea from the 1990s around the 1990s I would say lots of different nations, especially in Latin America. But in other places as well started to embrace something that we talked about in the last class, which is a more the idea of multiculturalism or people used to say. They were pluri plury meaning many. They were a nation formed of many different cultures and at least I have I put in the caveat that at least in their official proclamations this doesn’t mean that they all of a sudden had a had a big love for all the multicultural people, but they were officially saying that they weren’t trying to necessarily assimilate everyone. A lot of people adopted, for example, language policies where they taught in an Indigenous language in the schools, Quichua in Ecuador for example. They would do bilingual education instead of trying to make everyone speak necessarily the same language. In some cases. I think can I’m thinking maybe about Bolivia and to a certain extent Ecuador even to a certain extent Canada although that sounds weird they would see themselves or officially declare themselves to be pluri national or multinational. When I say Canada I’m thinking about some of the Indigenous peoples there instead of saying that their Native Americans would say they were First Nations. This is the idea. They were nations before there was a Canada. If you want to talk about if their relationship to the Canadian nation state well then they need to negotiate with the First Nations. Like I said, this is not necessarily something that everybody embraced or got excited about, but some people really did think of themselves officially as that you could have a state, which was multicultural or even multi or plury national I don’t think they would say multinational because that means something else

i would say from about 2010 on roughly and probably the backlash was already with the backlash was came about as soon, as the multiculturalism came about as we learned in the last class and guests told us. These things are these tensions are always bubbling around. The moment somebody says multicultural somebody gets upset, but certainly in the last 10 years or. There’s been a very definite backlash not just here. But in other places to the idea that a country could or should be multicultural that it could or should be plurinational that it could or should welcome people from other places and certainly we talked about this in the last class. But there’s been a surge of the idea of ethnonationalism and what this does is when I was talking about that diffuse sensor amalgamated nationalism there was a combination of things and was probably was probably very much in line with whatever was the dominant or the majority view. That would be an unmarked nationalism. As we talked about the United States that whiteness was an unmarked category nobody talked about it because it was just seen as the default or the majority category. That nationalism in the United States was also unmarked as it was just the default categories what you’re supposed to do. Like I said, that didn’t mean that the non-dominant groups couldn’t embrace it many have do and did and still do, but it was still assumed that you were on the road to being something different than what you might have been if you were part of an ethnic minority or something or something that was in the non-dominant group. When we have ethnonationalism it’s when you take whatever that was and you just all of a sudden you call attention to it and you say oh we are white nationalists. It’s like oh hi yes you are good welcome. So, an ethno-nationalism is when you explicitly link up an idea of race or of ethnicity and you say, “well, this is the way we’re supposed to be nationalists in any other form of nationalism or other unless you’re embracing our form of nationalism you’re not part of the nation

guest ends this chapter with his “Thinking like an anthropologist” section for this one I’ve added a question mark to it. As he often does he tells us at the end of this chapter you should be better prepared with the anthropological tools to understand the ways ethnicity and nationalism work and I hope that is true and I hope that and a number of you were going back and forth about this a little bit in the comments as is nationalism good maybe nationalism is good or well I always thought nationalism was bad. Some people were siding with the good. Some people with the bad and I would say well it’s not there’s not really a moral valence it. It’s not really in and of itself good or bad both ethnicity and nationalism can be there are powerful forms of identity and self-identification and how we identify with others

they don’t have to be necessarily good or bad, but certainly they can be they certainly can be linked to a very strange set of ideas, which has had, which has had some pretty harsh effects on others in the world. I want to change Guest’s thing a little bit that you should be ready instead of just understanding to diffuse the powder keg of ethnicity and nationalism to say these are right now and probably for the last 20 or 30 years these are some pretty dangerous ideas to wade into as many of those of you who drive the road to Utica it’s become an interesting time. One of the things I hope that we can hopefully do in anthropology is just learn how to de-escalate a little bit people are getting into these ideas a little too much maybe doing a little too much something with them you want to not only understand how you work they work, but maybe understand how they were historically created. That. You can gently diffuse them, which I know is hard to do. If you if you figure out a way to do it I’d like to do it too my own thinking on this is Guest talks about we’re giving you an anthropological toolkit, but you don’t want to reach in and find a grenade in there and launch that out into the world or use I used to assign a chapter in this class about clearing land mines in Rwanda and thinking about how it’s you know a lot of the land mines and anthropology that you sometimes have to clear were the land mines that anthropologists put there before. You have to watch out that you don’t trip the land mine that some other anthropologist put out for you since I don’t read about land mines now I’ll call them grenades you just need to watch out because some of the things. These things like I said, especially ethnicity anthropologists have been involved in promoting at various points. You have to watch out you don’t you don’t blow anything up when you pull that out of your out of your tool box

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