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Published onOct 01, 2021

The RePLITO project approaches the question of “living together” from perspectives that seek to go beyond the implicit ideal of national discursive communities that inform the framework of “social cohesion” which informs this funding line as part of larger global debates on polarization and the rise of identity politics. Some scholars and public commentators have reacted to a renewed surge of nationalism with attempts to reframe the concept in less right-wing and ethno-centric terms. Examples of this are Yael Tamir’s “Why Nationalism” (Tamir, 2019), Aleida Assmann’s “Die Wiedererfindung der Nation” (The Reinvention of the Nation) (Assmann, 2020), Thea Dorn’s “Deutsch, nicht Dumpf” (German, not Dull) (Dorn, 2018) and Yascha Mounk’s “The People vs. Democracy (Moustafa, 2018). Dorn and Mounk call for a renewed patriotism. Academic debates and funding lines for “social cohesion” are part of this current discourse aimed at protecting liberal narratives of nationalism.

Starting in the mid-1970s, a series of British intellectuals and academics began producing a stream of texts and essays on nationalism that inaugurated a new phase in the study of the phenomenon. The Scottish writer Tom Nairn’s “The Modern Janus” (Nairn, 1975) and “The Break-up of Britain” (Nairn, 1977) directly inspired the Irish Indonesianist Benedict Anderson to produce “Imagined Communities” (Anderson, 1983), which in turn was followed by seminal works Ernest Gellner and Eric Hobsbawm’s, all which confirmed the arrival of the study of post-primordial nationalism.

Since then, political scientists still largely agree that the nation, is an “imagined community” with an “invented tradition” (Hobsbawm & Ranger, 1983).

Nationalism has since been viewed largely as aiming for sovereignty exercised by a group of people defined as nation over a given territory and is thus the “political principle which holds that the political and the national unit should be congruent” (Gellner, 2006) as a political ideology primarily striving for a congruence between nation and state. Nationalism is both a “collective sentiment or identity bounding and binding together those individuals who share a sense of large-scale political solidarity” and a sentiment “aimed at creating, legitimating or challenging states” (Marx, 2005).

The concept of “Nationalism” has assumed various positions in different disciplines and fields: in political science, the focus on the state, on institutions, and on civil society, perpetuated rather than questioned methodological nationalism; sociologists transferred the insights of constructedness of nations to other social categories, such as ethnicity (Brubaker, 2004) and offered larger comparisons. Meanwhile, anthropologists often found themselves in the predicament of wanting to take the informants’ "emic” perspective seriously while acknowledging the genealogical approaches to “etic” outsiders’ perspectives.

The internal contradictions of the term “nation-state” has become particularly apparent in the cases of identities for whom some voice demands for their own states, such as Basques, Kurds, and Uighurs.

Nation state models in Europe and the Americas are often differentiated along their approach to citizenship, either on the basis of jus soli, birthright citizenship, the right of anyone born in the territory of a state to nationality or citizenship - the predominant rule in the Americas following English common law, - or jus sanguinis ("right of blood"), derived from Roman law.  

The notion of “Constitutional patriotism” (Verfassungspatriotismus) emphasizes political attachment to the norms and values of a pluralistic liberal democratic constitution rather than a particular ethnic or religious national culture. Its proponents often evoke constitutional patriotism as a post-national concept based on shared values rather than primordial contingencies.  

The political scientist and historian Sudipta Kaviraj differentiates between post-Empire or post-colonial nations that are modeled after the homogenized European nation states - such as Turkey - and those that offered an alternative model embracing their diversity - such as India. Kaviraj calls the latter model a "Non-Nation-State" (Kaviraj). Another model continues colonial divide-and-rule politices in the form of highly regulated multiculturalism, such as Singapore, which, upon independence, largely succeeded in breaking up political groups and organizations based on ethnic identity.

With the loosening grip of parliamentary control over transnationally operating cooperations, with growing migration of people and goods and a deepening net of international treaties and institutions, discussions concerning the benefits and dangers of globalization often see hardening positions on the value of national communities.

In the mid-2010s, a surge of votes for right-wing nationalist parties across the globe heralded a new chapter for nationalism. A quickly emerging genre of “literature across disciplines framed Brexit, the rise of right-wing parties in Eastern and Western Europe and the support for Modi, Trump, and other strongmen, as “populism.” However, what characterises all of them more accurately is majoritarianism, masculinism, and right-wing nationalism.

Within political science, scholars discussed whether the explanations for the most recent wave of nationalist rhetoric lie in cultural or in socio-economics realm. Several accounts of weaknesses within and attacks on the liberal democracies, most of all the US, described the growing skepticism towards political elites (Levitsky & Ziblatt, 2018) (Runciman, 2018). A wave of scholarship on populism described Trump’s racist rhetoric and tried to explain the growing nationalist populism[1] either by emphasizing the cultural alienation that many voters felt in the face of globalization and a shift in values (Norris & Inglehart, 2019), or by emphasizing growing socio-economic inequalities. Several studies have, for instance, directly linked election of Trump and the vote for Brexit to the China trade shock ((Autor et al., 2016); (Colantone & Stanig, 2018)) and emphasized the experience of precarity and the influx of migrants into the North Western European welfare systems as a main driver for right-wing populist voting (Manow, 2018). The political economist Dani Rodrik argues that cultural and economic explanations are not necessarily in tension but that each set of factors can reinforce the other (Rodrik, 2018). Connected to Manow and Rodrik’s positions, another group of scholars discussed the new cleavage between “cosmopolitanism” and “communitarianism”: the winners and losers of globalization (Wilde et al., 2019). All of these scholars study the pressures of global capitalism, the advances of which have brought new pressures to bear on state sovereignty. Faced with a lack of sovereign options and room to maneuver in the traditional ways of states, it is perhaps little wonder that those who run them have sought to base their legitimacy on identitarian grounds.

[1] For a discussion of the contestation concerning the relation between populism and nationalism, see Brubaker 2019.


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