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Thinking Global and Local

In the world today, given the continued proliferation of various social issues and concerns under the rubric of globalization, nationalism remains a potent force. In fact, in the age of globalization and with the worldwide dominance of nation-states whose development and growth are based on modern information and communication technologies, “time” and “space” have become more pronounced concerns in relation to identity. In this context, Benedict Anderson’s insights about nationalism are still so important in the age of late modern capitalism and globalization as peoples around the world grapple with common problems and emerging concerns.

Globalization, based on the power of modern technologies, may be seen as a process by which time and space are rendered less constricting for relations to flourish between individuals and groups of individuals (including “nations-states”). With globalization, the concern for identity becomes more pronounced. People’s sense of identity, such as national identity, can be affected by the flow of globalization for identities are not created totally outside of temporal and geographic reality. To understand this, one needs to (re)visit the work of the political sociologist Benedict Anderson.

Anderson (1991, pp. 5-7) argues that the nation is imagined because never — not even in the smallest nations — can one know all the members of the nation. What’s the implication of this simple insight or observation from Anderson? A “nation” asks so much from its people, especially under certain conditions (such as under war). Some could proudly claim that they can die for their nation. But what is this nation? Who are the people that comprise this imagined community? Think, for instance, how many individuals comprise this proud nation?

Now, compare that figure with how many friends you actually have listed in your social networking site (e. g. , Facebook, MySpace, and Friendster). Perhaps you would be willing to offer your life to save some of these friends, but to say that you would die for faceless people you do not really know? That takes socialization. A lot of imagination. A nation is a community in our mind’s eye. What helps create this community are common elements in our culture like, for example, a sense of history (a sense of “national” time, as it were), a “national” language, and shared values.

Another important anchor for national identity is territory or geography. Where is that nation or what places belong to the people of a particular nation? This is a very passionate concern for many peoples in the world still. Wars erupt because of issues surrounding such a question. However, the notion of nation does not correspond neatly with geographical features, but it is the sense of “home” that is facilitated here. Today, modern tools and experiences are sharpening that sense of identity or belongingness referred to as nationalism even more.

Anderson, in a relatively recent interview underscored the importance that he attaches to modern communication, by way of books, the telephone and more recently radio and TV, as a condition for the existence of a national community. Through these, he points out that the national imagination is facilitated for “how could we otherwise even know about each other? ” (Khazaleh). Benedict Anderson also speaks of new forms of nationalism in the age of globalization. “Despite all the talk of transnationalism and fluid identity, nationalism is in the best of health,” Anderson says.

For him, “newer examples of nationalism are the long-distance nationalisms of migrants: Jews in the USA fighting for a state in the Middle East, or Tamils in Norway working for their own state in Sri Lanka. Some of the most ardent Sikh nationalist[s] are situated in Australia and Canada — thanks to the Internet and cheap airline tickets. ” A key proposition from his book must be pointed out. He says that the nation is “imagined as a community, because, regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship.

” Anderson was most emphatic that “[u]ltimately it is this fraternity that makes it possible, over the past two centuries, for so many millions of people, not so much to kill, as willingly to die for such limited imaginings… [and these] deaths bring us abruptly face to face with the central problem posed by nationalism: what makes the shrunken imaginings of recent history (scarcely more than two centuries) generate such colossal sacrifices?

I believe that the beginnings of an answer lie in the cultural roots of nationalism. ” This perspective should make us more sensitive to the nuances of globalization and lead us to the realization that the nation is an interestingly nuanced idea. As the world globalizes (or becomes virtually smaller) and democratizes, nationalism indeed has been playing a very fluid role. In the case of democracies and democratization, for instance, Barnett and Low’s (p. 13) observations in relation to nationalism could be pointed out here:

[D]emocratization often involves a combination of distinctively local features, appropriations from elsewhere, and new inventions. For example, the emergence of modern democracy in the eighteenth century depended on the appropriation of pre-democratic political mechanisms like representation. In turn, twentieth century anti-colonial movements borrowed and re-invented nationalist discourses, in the process establishing the value of national, sovereign independence as a basic element of modern understandings of democracy.

And this hybridization of democracy is increasingly institutionalized through organizational networks of policy advocacy, social movement mobilization, and human rights monitoring. As space and time are further warped in the age of globalization, as territories continue to be contested, and the nationalist discourse becomes sharpened for many peoples, we see more the reality of fluid identities remaining open to contestation and challenge. But some may insist: Isn’t nationalism outdated in our global society as precisely more and more people live a transnational life?

Anderson responds: “That’s exactly what I don’t believe. Think about long-distance nationalism, email/Internet nationalism. In my lecture I referred to exiled Argentinians’ websites. These are extremely nationalistic and are purely about Argentina. Think of the Norwegian schools in Spain, it’s crazy: The only reason for their existence is that people fear that their children will stop being Norwegian. The Norwegian schools take Norway to Spain. That is the best evidence available that nationalism has gone mobile. (Khazaleh)

Works Cited

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Revised Edition ed. London and New York: Verso, 1991, pp. 5-7. Barnett, Clive and Low, Murray (eds. ) Spaces of democracy: geographical perspectives on citizenship, participation and representation. London: Sage Publications, 2004. Khazaleh, Lorenz. Interview with Benedict Anderson (translated by Matthew Whiting). Retrieved from http://www. culcom. uio. no/aktivitet/anderson-kapittel-eng. html, 12 May 2008.

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