Question of the Month

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H-Nationalism’s Question of the Month series offers a forum for discussing the big questions surrounding research, pedagogy, and practice in the field of nationalism studies and the history of nationalism. Use the reply feature to join the conversation! Email Simon Purdue (purdue.s@husky.neu.edu) of Northeastern University if you’d like to propose a question of you own. If you need technical assistance with logging in and posting comments, please contact H-Net’s Help Desk (help@mail.h-net.org). You can also find H-Nationalism on Twitter at @HNationalism, and Simon Purdue at @simonp_92.

 

Dear Subscribers,

 

It is my pleasure to put to you, our community of scholars, H-Nationalism’s inaugural ‘Question of the Month’. For our first post, we are examining the field itself and asking:

 

What are the most important emerging research trends in the study of nations and nationalism? How do these trends promise to shape the field?

 

We look forward to reading your responses, and we welcome feedback as we seek to grow this new segment!

 

Regards,

Simon Purdue

Categories: Forum

Dear Simon,

Happy to see that you raise the first question! For me an emerging field is the connections between the concepts, and therefore the studies, of nationalism and populism. A debate is burgeoning over whether populism and nationalism are interdependent or independent fields and which overlaps occur between the two areas (Rydgren, 2004; Kitching, 2012; Brubaker, 2019).

In this, Rogers Brubaker has just recently published his latest article and explained why the two fields intersect in certain ways. His work (Brubaker, 2019) approaches the use of 'people' in two fields, since nationalist and populist discourses particularly refer to people in an attempt to attract popular support for their ultimate causes. In populist discourse, appeals to people mainly involve vertical and horizontal uses. The first, vertical one is between elites and the people, or the 'silent majority' as the populists call, and the horizontal one stands for the typical in-group and out-group categories. Yet the literature mostly discusses the former use to be a primary element of both populist and nationalist discourses. Therefore the act of making identity-based binaries between 'self' and 'other' constitutes a critical intersection between nationalism and populism studies. More comparisons between these two fields will shape the emerging literature.

Gavin Kitching, Development and Underdevelopment in Historical Perspective (London: Routledge, 2010).
Jens Rydgren, The Populist Challenge: Political Protest and Ethno-nationalist Mobilization in France (New York: Berghahn Books, 2004).
Rogers Brubaker, 'Populism and Nationalism', Nations and Nationalism (2019): 1-23, doi: 10.1111/nana.12522.

Dear Simon and all, 

I'd be interested to hear what scholars think of the now well-established field of sensory studies and sensory history and whether these have or will have much impact on how we study the social construction of national identities and the process of othering. My impression from the scholarship on colonial North America and the United States is that sensory history has become more closely associated with the study of racial ideologies. There is, for example, a well-documented record of American white supremacists claiming that Africans and African Americans had a distinctive odor. I wonder if such sensory stereotypes have a broader history that scholars of nationalism have addressed or should address.  

Kind Regards, 

David Prior
Board Member, H-Nationalism
Assistant Professor of History, UNM

It seems to me that the ongoing trend in the study of nationalism is to find narratives that transcend national boundaries. Scholars have grown weary and suspicious of the "birth of nationalism / rise of nationalism / national awakening" template. There used to be a lot of studies that could be summarized as "origins of Ruthenian nationalism." Today, scholars want to study cosmopolitanism, multi-culturalism, loyalty to a particular city or region, "borderlands," mixed loyalties, the persistence of religious loyalty, socialism / communism, national indifference ... anything other than the rise of a particular form of nationalism. Several of these studies are excellent, and indeed shed a lot of light, including light on the particular questions of nationalism theory.

At some point, however, I think scholars should, after digesting the insights of all this work, return to the study of particular national movements. Given what we know about cosmopolitanism, regionalism, mixed loyalties, national indifference, etc., what are the origins of Ruthenian nationalism? I suspect that contingency will play an important role. Perhaps an emphasis on contingency can rehabilitate the "origins of nationalism / national awakening" narrative structure from its current unfashionability.

Thank you for the great responses so far and I hope the discussion continues to highlight the fascinating trends and ideas in the field of nationalism. Something that stands out for me, and which builds off Andrew’s point, is the general globalization of nationalism studies. It seems that nationalism is, both in practice and in scholarly work, being viewed in a much more global sense than it ever has before. Nationalism is now being seen as an inherently global phenomenon, which on the surface seems to be antithetical to its ideological values. However transnational nationalist solidarity and the construction of a network of co-operative, almost interdependent nationalisms seems to be a recent phenomenon that complicates our understanding of what nationalism is and can be. This seems to most often be built on ideas of racial solidarity and supremacy, and the global nature of modern white supremacism (so ingrained in nationalist politics in Europe, the United States, and Australia in particular) demonstrates the supranationalist elements of modern nationalist thought. The movement for solidarity with white South Africa in the late and post- apartheid years stands out as perhaps the best example of this. I’d be curious to hear opinions on this.

As a nationalism researcher who became a populism researcher I am struck by several patterns.
1. Globalisation, seen by cosmopolitan intellectuals, as the end of nationalism has in fact been a major cause of the revival of nationalism.
2. Many general political scientists often write about populism without any knowledge of its multiple characteristics, beyond people vs elites.
3. Neo-liberalism, or the reaction against it, arguably the other fundamental cause of the revival of nationalism and the emergence of populism is often missing from writings about populism and nationalism.

I totally subscribe to Caner Tekin's and Alexander Maxwell's points. To me the two most important recent trends in the literature have been precisely that triggered by the recent rise of the populist and radical right on the relationship between nationalism and populism, on the one hand, and, in a more historical perspective, the call to move away from methodological nationalism and adopt more global, cosmopolitan and transnational approaches, as well as to explore the idea of 'national indifference', on the other. With regard to the last point, I'd only add a few references to what has already been said above, notably Frederick Cooper's Citizenship between Empire and Nation (2014, Princeton University Press), Pieter Judson's Guardians of the Nation (2007, Harvard University Press) and Tara Zahara's Kidnapped Souls (2008, Cornell University Press). At the same time, on the limits of the global turn in the studies of nationalism, I'd recommend reading Marc Mazower's recent review of Patrick Boucheron's France in the World, A Global History appeared on the Financial Times under the title 'Gilets jaunes and the fight for French identity'.

Finally, in a European context, and judging more from debates with colleagues and participation in conferences rather than on a clear stream of publications, a trend that might intensify in the following years is that about 'unionist nationalism' in multinational democracies.

 I really agree with Simon's comments about the transnational nature of nationalism. Martin Durham and I co-edited a book, New Perspectives on the Transnational Right, that deals with the historical and contemporary realities of the Right's transnationalism.1

However, it's not just the Right that is transnational, so is the Left. Think of the twentieth-century anti-colonial movements in Africa, for example, that simultaneously fought their respective colonial ruler, worked to support other colonies fighting for independence, and built international solidarity movements.

I'd also like to thank Emmanuel for the great reading suggestions.

 

1) Martin Durham and Margaret Power (eds), New Perspectives on the Transnational Right, Palgrave Macmillan, 2010