Ethnicity and Nationalism in Post-Imperial Britain


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Especially peculiar to nationalism is defining the nation against an Other inside or outside of the state borders. However, this short definition by no means exhausts all the complexities of nationalism. It matters, for instance, whether we are talking about a nationalism in 19th-century Europe or a nationalism in post-World War I India. Nationalism has a subjective dimension to it. Members of a nation usually feel a sense of unity that in certain circumstances may go beyond class inequalities; it is particularly the case when the nation has a common enemy, be it a colonizer, or be it a specific minority group.

In nationalist rhetoric the nation is frequently conceptualized as a fraternity that somehow holds a privileged position in the world. Benedict Anderson came up with perhaps the most famous definition; he sees it as an imagined community, because the overwhelming majority of its members never personally met each other. This community is envisioned as both limited by its borders and sovereign it has the ability to self-govern. In many cases immigrants are seen as an Other, against which the nation defines itself. Many nationalists lay claims to a particular ethnic heritage.

For instance, some Indonesians think that an Indonesian essence has existed from the dawn of times and has been impervious to historical earthquakes such as local rivalries between sultanates and Dutch colonial rule.

The politics of nationalism and white racism in the UK

According to them, in the post-colonial period this essence was simply liberated in the form of a nation state. But no respected historian today supports what is called a primoridalist theory of the nation; a belief that nations evolve from particular ethnic groups in a linear manner. This claim to ethnic heritage is usually made by nationalists post-factum and is never consistent throughout history.

In fact, Indonesians themselves vary between their concepts of national identity to the point that the disagreements erupted in internal violence in the mids and in the early 21 st century. Too often we see discontinuity in the historical development of a nation. So how, in fact, are nations created? What are the indispensable conditions for nation-building? Juan R. Cole and Deniz Kandiyoti believe that it is the state or at least some power structures that creates the nation, and not that the state is a natural result of nation-evolution.

The state, or at least some state-like structures, imposes a universal identity through state education, in which a linguistic unity, a sense of shared history and culture are effectively created. Nation-building involves also a degree of violence. One example of it is army conscription, which is achieved partly by coercion and partly by instilling the ideology of patriotism. In largely agrarian societies, the nationalistic enterprise oftentimes involves subduing the peasantry by the big landowners.

Such attempts have frequently erupted in violence between the two groups before a national consciousness could be created.


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The British nation was described afresh in opposition to immigrants, especially black settlers. Newcomers were then construed as an Other, as a negative backdrop against which British national consciousness could thrive; migrants were degraded so that British greatness could shine. Border control proves to be key in sustaining national identity. Surprisingly, even children of legal immigrants born in Britain are sometimes denied full national membership. We are left to conclude that truly British children inherit the full cultural, linguistic and historical package from their parents; as opposed to acquiring these identities through social interaction.

All of which begs the question: how long is enough to become a real part of the nation? Two generations? Three generations? Ten generations? All the way to the Norman conquest, or maybe even further, to Celtic cultures? If so, how many people in Britain could claim rights to national membership? Identity is seen by nationalists as being allotted to people once and for all on the basis of descent and perceived cultural allegiances, instead of being a complex interplay of individual, social and historical circumstances. But many immigrants and their children cannot be so easily sorted out to different cultural bags; their unique situation allows them to cross national and cultural borders with sometimes unexpected results.

White nationalism in Britain had its counterpart in black nationalism.

In the Association of Black Social Workers and Allied Professionals in a move strangely reminiscent of apartheid decided that only black people could adopt black children. They argued that a black child placed in a white family is a replication of the slave system, whereby the child satisfies the emotional needs of the family. Nationalism in a colonial context is a different phenomenon with its own peculiarities.

As Juan R. Cole and Deniz Kandiyoti noted, in colonized countries nationalism tended to emerge from the model of agrarian capitalism; large-scale crop production, mainly for export. A landed elite that supervised the peasantry harnessed them to the national enterprise in order to drive out the colonizer and regain control over production. Frantz Fanon complements this picture with a cultural component of the struggle and tensions between the native people and imperial power.

He proposes an action-reaction model; as the colonizer denigrates the colonized people, the people, or more specifically, intellectuals create a glorified and idealized vision of a past civilization.

Chapter 3. The Globalization Hypothesis and Its Fallacies

In short, an independent nation in a colonial context comes about by virtue of a convergence of these facts: colonial power exploiting and denigrating the people, a reaction by the landed elite to oppression, mobilization of the peasantry by both violent and cultural means creating a national identity. Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

Three generations? Ten generations?

All the way to the Norman conquest, or maybe even further, to Celtic cultures? If so, how many people in Britain could claim rights to national membership? Identity is seen by nationalists as being allotted to people once and for all on the basis of descent and perceived cultural allegiances, instead of being a complex interplay of individual, social and historical circumstances.

But many immigrants and their children cannot be so easily sorted out to different cultural bags; their unique situation allows them to cross national and cultural borders with sometimes unexpected results. White nationalism in Britain had its counterpart in black nationalism. In the Association of Black Social Workers and Allied Professionals in a move strangely reminiscent of apartheid decided that only black people could adopt black children.

Englishness and the growth of English nationalism - Professor Michael Kenny

They argued that a black child placed in a white family is a replication of the slave system, whereby the child satisfies the emotional needs of the family. Nationalism in a colonial context is a different phenomenon with its own peculiarities. As Juan R. Cole and Deniz Kandiyoti noted, in colonized countries nationalism tended to emerge from the model of agrarian capitalism; large-scale crop production, mainly for export.

A landed elite that supervised the peasantry harnessed them to the national enterprise in order to drive out the colonizer and regain control over production. Frantz Fanon complements this picture with a cultural component of the struggle and tensions between the native people and imperial power. He proposes an action-reaction model; as the colonizer denigrates the colonized people, the people, or more specifically, intellectuals create a glorified and idealized vision of a past civilization.

Is "Imperial Nationalism" an Oxymoron? - ASEN

In short, an independent nation in a colonial context comes about by virtue of a convergence of these facts: colonial power exploiting and denigrating the people, a reaction by the landed elite to oppression, mobilization of the peasantry by both violent and cultural means creating a national identity. Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites. The task before us now, if we would not perish, is to build the Earth.

Thank you for the useful information about nationalism. This theory is very dangerous nowadays.

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What Is Nationalism? A Short Guide Updated on May 28, Virginia Matteo more. Nationalism in a Colonial Context Nationalism in a colonial context is a different phenomenon with its own peculiarities. Political Science. Thank you for an outstanding presentation on the issue of nationalism. Sign In Join. Connect with us.

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Ethnicity and Nationalism in Post-Imperial Britain
Ethnicity and Nationalism in Post-Imperial Britain
Ethnicity and Nationalism in Post-Imperial Britain
Ethnicity and Nationalism in Post-Imperial Britain
Ethnicity and Nationalism in Post-Imperial Britain

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