In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Nations and Nationalism

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals

International Relations Nations and Nationalism
Jennifer Jackson-Preece, Maria Norris
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 July 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 July 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0181


At the heart of nationalism lies the belief that humanity is (or ought to be) divided into nations, and that nations are (or ought to be) the basis of independent sovereign states. The basic problem of nationalism is the difficulty (if not impossibility) in making political facts correspond to the national ideal. As a result, scholarship on nationalism deals with complex issues regarding the nature of identity and belonging, as well as the origins and legitimacy of the international system of nation-states. Consequently, this article has not been designed to answer questions, but rather to introduce the international-relations reader to key debates, developments, and controversies in a field that is deeply interdisciplinary. The article comprises works from disciplines as varied as political science, sociology, anthropology, law, and criminology as well as international relations. It has been split into three main sections. The first deals with nationalism theory, which is mostly concerned with the origins of nations and their relationship to the state. The second section takes the study of nationalism further by looking at identity, national or otherwise, and its relationship to belonging. Finally, as long as nationalism has existed, there has been conflict in its name. The last section thus looks at instability and nationalism in its myriad of forms, including secession, self-determination, multiculturalism, and ethnic conflict.

General Overviews

The Nationalism Project website is a great starting point for those interested in finding out more about nationalism. More-detailed introductions are found in Breuilly 2013 and Özkirimli 2005. Özkirimli 2010, Day and Thompson 2004, and Smith 1998 provide accessible introductions to nationalism theory, and Hutchinson and Smith 1994 is a great companion. Delanty and Kumar 2006 is a more critical introduction to the field.

  • Breuilly, John, ed. The Oxford Handbook of the History of Nationalism. Oxford Handbooks in History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

    This edited volume comprises thirty-six essays providing a global view of the study of nationalism. It is comprehensive of current developments and debates in nationalism studies.

  • Day, Graham, and Andrew Thompson. Theorizing Nationalism. Edited by Jo Campling. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

    This is a great, modern overview of nationalism theory. It is accessible to new readers and is written in a very engaging way.

  • Delanty, Gerard, and Krishan Kumar. The SAGE Handbook of Nations and Nationalism. London: SAGE, 2006.

    A critical overview of nationalism theories and debates. Useful for those unsure about where to begin in the field of nationalism studies.

  • Hutchinson, John, and Anthony D. Smith, eds. Nationalism. Oxford Readers. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.

    This reader showcases carefully selected extracts of the central theories of nationalism. It is helpful to those who do not want to brave the entire section on nationalism theory.

  • The Nationalism Project.

    This website provides an overview of definitions and debates on the topic of nationalism and is a great starting point for those interested in the field. It is particularly useful as a data bank of multiple definitions of nation and nationalism.

  • Özkirimli, Umut. Contemporary Debates on Nationalism: A Critical Engagement. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

    The author reviews major areas of debate and key issues in the study of nationalism in the modern world, taking his work on the theories of nationalism further. It continues to highlight key debates and challenges in nationalism studies.

  • Özkirimli, Umut. Theories of Nationalism: A Critical Introduction. 2d ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

    The book provides great critical insight on the theoretical aspect of nationalism and is essentially a roadmap to studying nationalism theory. It is more critically bent than Delanty and Kumar 2006, directly questioning key assumptions in nationalism theory.

  • Smith, Anthony D. Nationalism and Modernism: A Critical Survey of Recent Theories of Nations and Nationalism. New York: Routledge, 1998.

    This volume provides an overview of dominant academic explanations of nations and nationalism. Although written in 1998, it remains the most comprehensive exploration of the different theories of nationalism through the ethnosymbolist lens.

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