NATION AS (IS) A BRAND. PART 2

movable type as created by Johannes Gutenberg around 1439 in Mainz, Germany

 

The previous blog post raised some of the questions that often emerge when we speak about the nation. More than a geo-political project the nation is an immanent process that needs to be collectively sanctioned in order to come into being. But to make this complex structure of feelings move as a single body on a pre-determined direction it is necessary to have an entire discursive apparatus in place, some of which are the natural manifestations of the folk, some a pure symbolic construct on a political level.

TOWARD A TAXONOMY OF THE NATION

Nation can often be seen as a self-evident idea. One bound to become an ‘easy-access category’ (Roosval, Salovaara-Moring, Inka 2010), rather deterministic in nature. But it can also be understood as an open-ended object, constantly redefined in its constitutive elements and purposes. As such, the nation still needs to be explicated (Ibid: 2010, with my emphasis).

In this interrogation of the discursive strategies that form the nation and nationhood I am going to review some key theories for a better understanding of the processes and contexts in which the grand narratives of nations come into being. We start by establishing what actors are at play in these processes and the power relations thereby produced in what Appadurai describes as ‘the will to nation’, or the ‘identity politics on the level of Nation-State’.

NATION AS A LINGUISTIC CONSTRUCT

One recurring idea about forms of national organization on political and social levels is that of the ‘imagined community’, proposed by Benedict Anderson (1991). This imagined community is one in which its constitutive elements are often too dispersed and fragmented to form an organically cohesive group. The earlier forms of political and social organization in the European continent, for example, were articulated on a community-level, gemeinschaftlich (Lash, 2002). They were multiple and heterogeneous, usually functioning within region or even village borders. Anderson proposes that these forms of socio-political organization were fundamentally transformed by technological and economic factors.

“… the convergence of capitalism and print technology on the fatal diversity of human language created the possibility of a new form of imagined community, which in its basic morphology set the stage for the modern nation.”

The technological revolution triggered by Johannes Gutenberg’s movable type meant that the mechanical reproduction of books made large-scale distribution and circulation possible. For example, by 1600 as many as 200,000,000 volumes had been manufactured and distributed (Febvre and Martin: 37, in Anderson 1991).

Interestingly, Anderson maintains that the decision to publish in vernacular languages had an ideological motivation – Martin Luther explored the potential of using a common languages (German) other than Latin to reach as wide an audience as possible for the benefit of the politico-religious project of Reformation – In the period of 1518 and 1525 Luther’s works accounted for one-third of all German language books sold (Ibid.: 1991) – but it was also driven by a capitalist imperative: once the market of literate readers, who could speak and read in Latin, had saturated new ones had to be found, thus publishers had to find another niche amongst less cultivated readers who, by contrast, were often monoglot.

Therefore, the elementary constituents of what was soon to delineate the model of modern nation-states in Europe were, according to Anderson’s studies, defined by the rise of a national consciousness through [vernacular] print-languages. It enabled cross-cultural dialogues and discernment between different groups based on their particular languages (e.g. Anglophones, Francophones, Lusophones and etc.). Also, the fixity attributed to language through print-capitalism enabled it to develop a historical dimension over time and created ‘languages-of-power’ that in their own right conferred social status and authority to certain individuals and social groups and their associated linguistic forms– dialects which failed to establish themselves in any valued print form were invariably rejected in the high political-cultural circles, meaning that language not only provided the mechanism to create distinctive national identity narratives but it also contributed to creating intra-national class divisions.

Next, we will see the roles of commodities in the production of narratives of the nation.

Cheers.

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About Vilmar hybridthoughts
HybridThoughts is a blog set up by Vilmar Pellisson and it is dedicated to the open debate of global contemporary culture in its most diverse forms. It endeavors to capture intriguing examples that illustrate the complexities and dynamism of cultural production and how it can combine, interact, react and transform our perceptions of the world and the way we live in a process characterized by reflexivity and subjectivities.

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