Question of the Month: May

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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).  

 

Dear Subscribers,

It is hard to believe that we launched our Question of the Month series a year ago. A lot has happened in the last twelve months, and we have had some great discussions that have dmeonstrated the health and relevance of our field. We started our series off last May with a question about the general trends and trajectories in the field of nationalism studies, and it seems pertinent to ask the same question again as a way of gauging the ways in which our field has evolved and changed in the last year. With that in mind we once again ask:

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 your insights on the current state of the field. Use this as an opportunity to offer your thoughts on current trends, future research, potential avenues for interdisciplinary work and any thoughts on nationalism studies more broadly. 

Best wishes,

Simon Purdue

Series Editor

 

Dear All, 

I've been pondering this issue over the last few days and would wager that, compared to last year, an interest in the global rise of populism and the far-right is just as if not more significant now. In the coming years, I think we'll likely see a number of fine-grained historical and sociological studies of far-right organizations, figures, and web forums. In the context of U.S. history, I could recommend as a model for this kind of work Kathleen Belew's Bring the War Home, which examines white supremacist groups in the United States in the shadow of the Vietname War. It does much to identify core texts, ideas, leaders, and collaborations in American white supremacy and the relationship of this ideology to national identity. 

Closer to my own area of expertise, the Civil War-era, I've found myself wondering whether the recent interest in Confederate nationalism hasn't wound down. There are classic studies on this subject that look at the active construction of a southern white / Confederate identity in the early and mid 19th century, including John McCardell's The Idea of a Southern Nation (1979) and Drew Faust's The Creation of Confederate Nationalism (1988). Along with these there is an even longer-running body of literature that asked whether the Confederacy lost the Civil War because its nationalism was somehow weak. In the 2000s and 2010s these threads were both revitalized, in ways, in works such as Anne Sarah Rubin's A Shattered Nation: The Rise and Fall of the Confederacy (2007), Paul Quigley's Shifting Grounds: Nationalism in the American South, 1848-1865 (2011), Michael Bernath's Confederate Minds: The Struggle for Intellectual Independence in the Civil War South (2013), and Stephanie McCurry's Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South (2012). Around this time there were many other excellent articles and books, too numerous to cite on the fly. I'll be curious to see if there are as many works in this vein in the coming years. I hope so, as there is no doubt still much to be said. 

No doubt there are many other approaches to this quesion. The field of nationalism studies is so expansive, and the influence of its scholarship so pervasive, that discerning where the field has been and where it is headed no doubt depends heavily on where one is standing. 

Best wishes, 

Dave Prior

This post focuses on two important emerging research trends in the study of nations and nationalism: 1) examinations of how the nation composes itself writ small; and 2) explorations of issues of nationalism and national identity in comics, namely comic strips and comic books/graphic novels.

While there has been much work on nationalism in Africa in the last hundred years, much of that work is tied to political movements such as struggles for independence during the decolonization period and nation-building campaigns in the early post-independence period. But in this later post-independence period, more and more work focuses on how the nation feels, walks, and looks and even musically hears (e.g., Plageman 2013, Moorman, 2008). As I wrote in an October 2019 post, this research looks at nations through the everyday behavior, conduct, and composure of its members. Such studies recognize the everyday behavior and bodily actions of women and men as more than personal matters; in keeping with feminist discourse, the personal is always political (Hanisch 1970). Many of these works are interdisciplinary as well, traversing diverse disciplinary boundaries including gender/feminist studies, political science, anthropology, media studies, cultural studies, and even sensory studies to fully bring to fruition nuanced understandings of nationalism and how it functions.  I reference here such works as African Dress: Fashion, Agency, Performance (2013), edited by Karen Tranberg Hansen and D. Soyini Madison; “The Modern Girl and Racial Respectability in 1930s South Africa” by Lynn Thomas (2006); Fashioning Africa: Power and the Politics of Dress (2004), edited by Jean Marie Allman; Guns and Guerilla Girls: Women in the Zimbabwean National Liberation Struggle by Tanya Lyons (2004); “Embodied Nationalism ‘Animation Politique’ (Political Dance) in Zaire: A Case Study of the Dimensionality and Agency of Dance as the Spirit of Individual, Community, and National Identity” (2005) by Joan Elayne Huckstep; and “‘Anti-Mini Militants Meet Modern Misses’: Urban Style, Gender, and the Politics of ‘National Culture’ in 1960s Dar es Salaam, Tanzania” (2002) by Andrew M. Ivaska.

New works that address issues of how the nation composes itself through everyday bodily actions and composure include Khartoum at Night: Fashion and Body Politics in Imperial Sudan by Marie Grace Brown (2017), Beauty Diplomacy: Embodying an Emerging Nation (2020) by Oluwakemi M. Balogun, Fashioning Postfeminism: Spectacular Femininity and Transnational Culture by Simidele Dosekun (2020) and my own recent book, Gender, Separatist Politics, and Embodied Nationalism in Cameroon (2019).

Even as a contributor to the first new trend I have outlined, the second is close to my heart, as I learned English reading U.S.-made comic books and graphic novels. I propose that the two trends are also related: visual art forms such as comics can tell us much about nations and nationalism in Africa. Comics, such as political cartoons, has been a part of African media since the early 1900s, and the comic book industry has exploded in Africa in the last decade. Emerging scholarly works on comics in Africa probe issues of colonialism, imperialism, race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality, illustrating the complexity of how nations, nationalism and/or national identity might be visually represented in comic panels. Such works go beyond words in a scholarly book, using diverse disciplinary tools, such as visual studies, to represent complex issues of nationalism, in words and visually. There are few works in this field illustrating the fertile grounds of this burgeoning research trend. For example, in Taking African Cartoons Seriously: Politics, Satire, and Culture edited by Peter Limb and Tejumola Olaniyan (2018), many of the contributors examine how African political cartoonists represent and grapple with issues of nationalism in their respective cultures and nations. A 2016 special issue on Afro-Superheroes (2016) by the Journal of African Cultural Studies and Mocking the State: Comic Strips in the Zimbabwean Press (2008) by Wendy Willems also contribute to this stream of research. Key works in the French-language include “Franco-Belgian Comic Strip and Colonial Imagination: From the 1930s to the 1980s” (2008) by Philippe Delisle and “Representations and Functions of Comics in Madagascar” (2008) by Nathalie Ravelontsalama.

To be clear, the few works in this research trend, nationalism studies as reflected in comics, is not a reflection of the diverse sources to draw from that reflect key themes in nationalism studies. The comic book industry in Africa is rapidly expanding and new African comic books appear on an almost monthly basis, some of which have overt messages about nationalism. For example, Andy Akman's (black) Captain Africa and Bill Masuku’s (female) Captain South Africa, in Nigeria and South Africa respectively, not only grapple with the issue of who the modern-day superhero is by examining issues of race, imperialism, gender and sexuality, but also exploring issues of nationalism. In short, the storylines of these two superheroes invite us to consider: how do African superheroes reflect nationalism and national identity in their respective countries of origin? As the superheroes fly across their countries and across the continent helping individuals, they invoke both pan-Africanism and nationalism.

In short, it’s an incredibly exciting time in nationalism studies and I look forward to continuing to read everyone’s responses to the current question of the month!

Jacqueline-Bethel Tchouta Mougoué, University of Wisconsin-Madison

23 May 2020

Majority Nationalism as a Focus for Research

As Dave Prior points out the study of nationalism is multifaceted. There is growing interest in majority nationalism as an area for research. Many studies have focused on minority (or sub-state) nationalisms within multinational states, but majority nationalism has often been taken for granted and seen as unproblematic. Recent research has sought to interrogate the nationalism of the majority in multinational states on the grounds that they are a significant feature of politics in the contemporary world. Moreover, the nature of majority nationalism has an impact on how the political system operates, the content of the constitution and on how citizenship is conceptualised. Majority nationalism may be expressed as the nationalism of the state, the nationalism of the majority nationality/ethnicity, and/or the nationalism of the dominant/hegemonic national community. This is more than ‘Banal nationalism’ in the sense coined by Michael Billig, but it does incorporate some of these insights and those that study everyday politics and public life. The study of majority nationalism also offers insights into state-making, nation-building and political integration in new and old states. None of these policies/strategies are politically neutral in multinational states. For example, constitutions nearly always reflect the political assumptions and interests of the majority community and in extreme cases the constitution may insist that there are no minorities within the state. At a less extreme level the constitution and political practise can marginalise or criminalise the actions of minorities demanding autonomy or self-determination. India for example criminalises the advocacy of secession.

Among a number of recent publications the following have advanced the study of majority nationalism: Alain-G. Gagnon, André Lecours, and Geneviéve Nootens (Eds.), Contemporary Majority Nationalism (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2011); Neophytos Loizides, The Politics of Majority Nationalism: Framing Peace, Stalemates, and Crises (Stanford University Press, 2015); Harris Mylonas, The Politics of Nation-Building: Making Co-Nationals, Refugees, and Minorities, (Cambridge UP, 2013); there is also a special issue of Nationalism and Ethnic Politics 26:1 (2020) devoted to ‘state and majority nationalism in plurinational states’. In some cases majority nationalism becomes a form of ‘ethnic-democracy’, an association made in Angana P. Chatterji, Thomas Blom Hansen and Christophe Jaffrelot (eds.), Majoritarian State: How Hindu Nationalism is Changing India (Hurst, 2019).

One way forward with this research that interests me is a re-evaluation of conventional narratives concerning the origins of the nation and the emergence of nationalism as a political expression. This is of particular importance in ‘classic’ cases such as England and France but would apply to most cases in different parts of the world (including the United States and India among others). What is often ignored is the contested nature of the nation and especially its territorial extent. Why do some nations presuppose that all those who live on a specific territory share the same nationality? Or, to put this slightly differently, does shared citizenship imply a shared nationality.