States of the nations

Nations and Nationalism
October 20, 1995

Recent events in the for-mer Yugoslavia, Western Europe and other parts of the world have highlighted the need for a better understanding, both theoretically and politically, of the changing dynamics of ethnic mobilisation and of nationalist movements. In many countries we are seeing a resurgence of movements which in one way or another place themselves in the terrain of articulating extreme nationalist and racist political platforms.

Such transformations have not escaped the attention of researchers both in the social sciences and the humanities. In disciplines ranging from sociology to cultural studies there has been an unprecedented flowering of research and writing which has helped to transform the ways in which we think about the role of nationalism and ethnicity in shaping social and political relations in contemporary societies. There has also been a notable expansion of courses which address these issues. Even five years ago it would have been hard to imagine the range of new books, journals and conferences which seek in one way or another to address the changing face of nationalism and ethnic conflict in the present environment.

It is in this broad context that we have to see the appearance of Nations and Nationalism. As articulated in the editorial that introduces the first issue, it has two main objectives. First, it aims to provide a dedicated forum for researchers working on aspects of nationalism and ethnic conflict in a variety of disciplines. Secondly, it aims to help define the parameters of the study of nations and nationalism as a field of research.

It has its origins in the work of the Association for the Study of Ethnicity and Nationalism, which was established with a base at the London School of Economics in 1990. The location is by no means an accident since both the association and the journal are inspired by the work of Anthony Smith, whose works on aspects of nationalism and ethnic identity have done much over the past two decades to shape the study of nationalism as a specific area of research at the LSE and elsewhere. Smith's work has been characterised by a consistent attempt to provide a multidisciplinary basis for the study of nationalism and by a search for more recognition within the social sciences and humanities that ideas about national and ethnic identity have helped to shape both the past and the present in fundamental ways.

Given its origins perhaps it is no surprise that the concerns which have been evident in Smith's work over the years are reflected in the range of issues which are covered by Nations and Nationalism in its first two issues. Indeed, the first issue opens with a wide-ranging paper by Smith himself on the construction and reconstruction of nations. This helps to set the tone for both the conceptual and the substantive issues that are covered in other papers. Apart from the paper by Smith there are contributions by a number of well-established scholars whose writings have influenced the analysis of nationalism and ethnicity over the years. These include the late Edward Shils, Michael Hechter, George Mosse and John Rex.

While all these papers may say little that is new they do address a number of topical questions, such as nationalist violence, multiculturalism and racism and nationalism. There are also a number of papers that explore, among other things, the changing morphology of nationalisms in the former Communist societies of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, the role of the extreme right in Germany and Afrikaner nationalism. All of these are topical issues and they provide interesting insights into complex and ever-changing situations.

It would be unwise, of course, to form a view of the range of issues to be covered by a new journal from the contents of the first two issues. But it seems clear already that the journal is attempting to establish an identity as a key international journal for scholars concerned with the study of nationalism as both a historical and contemporary phenomenon. It is thus self-consciously attempting to create a space for itself alongside Ethnic and Racial Studies, which has been published since 1978. Indeed, part of the thinking behind the new journal seems to be that there is a need for a journal that focuses centrally on nations and nationalism, as compared to the broader compass of its more established competitor. As is evidenced by the arrival of a number of newer journals concerned with cognate issues, such as Social Identities, publishers are also hoping that there is space for a number of journals which focus on aspects of race, ethnicity and national identity. Given the rapid expansion of both research and teaching in these areas this may well be true, though it remains to be seen what the focus of each journal will be in this changed environment.

At a more positive level, the arrival of new journals can be seen as providing more space for debate about the murderous consequences of ethnic nationalism in its various historical and contemporary forms. In an era when metaphors such as "ethnic cleansing" have come to the fore of public debate there is a clear need for rigorous theoretical and empirical research to provide a basis for more informed discussion and understanding of the ways in which contemporary forms of nationalism and ethnic conflict are not some throwback to the past, but an integral element of present-day social relations. It is to be hoped that Nations and Nationalism will, along with other journals, help to provide a forum for researchers working from a variety of perspectives to explore and debate these issues.

John Solomos is professor of sociology and social policy, University of Southampton. He is associate editor of Ethnic and Racial Studies.

Nations and Nationalism: Journal of the Association for the Study of Ethnicity and Nationalism

Editor - Anthony Smith, Obi Igwara, Athena Leoussi and Terry Mulhall
ISBN - ISSN 1354 5078
Publisher - Cambridge University Press
Price - £59.00 (inst.), £36.00 (indiv.)
Pages - Three issues a year

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