National vs universal

The Sociology of Nationalism. First Edition - Globalisation. First Edition
February 26, 1999

The Sociology of Nationalism adds another blossom to the flourishing tree of nationalism studies as a new "springtime of nations" unfolds both in the eastern and the western hemispheres. But this new blossom is rather exotic, almost sui generis. The avowed aim of David McCrone, a sociologist at Edinburgh University, in producing this book was neither to write "a history book" nor to reveal "a new, bright theory of nationalism", but rather to "review the literature on nationalism from a disciplinary perspective".

This he has done, rather surprisingly, by offering us an impressive and extensively annotated bibliography or collection of book reviews.

McCrone has classified the literature into numerous categories and sub-categories such as ethnicity, history, the nation-state, anti-colonial nationalism, orientalism, neo-nationalism, post-communist nationalism, nationalism and its futures.

Although not comprehensive, this mostly theoretical survey contains some fascinating empirical material. Some of the contents come as a surprise, mostly pleasant but somewhat bewildering. However, the title is the strangest thing of all. For the discipline that guides McCrone's perspective is only one part sociology (including Ernest Gellner, Anthony D. Smith, Michael Mann, Anthony Giddens and Roger Brubaker), and the other parts are philosophy, political science, women's studies, cultural studies, anthropology and history.

In fact, one of its chapters, "Nationalism and Ernest Gellner", should have provided the title of the whole book. Indeed, this is almost a Festschrift for the late scholar of nationalism: if there is no dominant discipline in this book, there is a dominant perspective, and it is Gellner's. This is a book in defence of nationalism: theoretically, "according to Gellner", who "was to show how essential [nationalism] is to the workings of modern societies" and, personally, "as a Scot".

These days the literature on nationalism has to compete with studies in the opposite tendency, that of globalisation. As Edward Shils had long observed, both these tendencies are inherent in mankind: the need for differentiation and the need for the absolute truth, the universal. Malcolm Waters, sociology professor at the University of Tasmania, Australia, offers one such counter-weight to reflections on nationalism. Globalisation is, indeed, weighty, gaining in mass what it lacks in depth. But this is not a weakness of the author but rather the predicament of the genre: the survey book.

This manual of the machinery and extent of globalisation documents the globalisation of the three spheres of social life, "according to Weber": the economy, politics and culture.

Apparently, the implications for ethnicity are not the disappearance of ethnicity, but its "de-territorialisation" and an increase in "ethnic pluralism": "globalisation ... implies greater connectedness and de-territorialisation". However, the possibility of such occurrence is doubtful.

According to such scholars of nationalism as A. D. Smith, Steven Grosby and Isaiah Berlin, the territorial attachment is the attachment to a physical home and territoriality constitutes ethnicity and, indeed, humanity, as much as culture. Civilisation, architecture, the public square, the art gallery, the concert hall, representative government, institutionalised religion, are unthinkable outside settled and territorially demarcated communities.

Athena S. Leoussi is lecturer in sociology and European studies, University of Reading.

The Sociology of Nationalism. First Edition

Author - David McCrone
ISBN - 0 415 11459 4 and 11460 8
Publisher - Routledge
Price - £45.00 and £14.99
Pages - 207

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