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

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks and Core Readings
  • Peer-Reviewed Journals
  • Associations and Internet Resources

Sociology Nationalism
Cynthia Miller-Idriss, Christian Bracho
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 July 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 July 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0037


Nationalism has been defined in a variety of ways, but definitions are always rooted in the nation, which most scholars agree emerged during the transition to the modern industrial age, supplanting monarchies and other kinds of prior communities and groups based on kinship or tribal ties. Initially, scholars saw nations as based on primordial attachments that were understood to exist as “given” through birth into a particular geographic community or ethnic group. This understanding has evolved into a view of “imagined communities” in which nations are based on a sense of attachment to one another among individuals dispersed across space and time and likely never to meet each other but who share customs, language, traditions, culture, or residence within a set of borders. Because these attachments are imagined by individuals and groups of individuals, neither nations nor the identities attached to them can be understood as essentialized, stable, or static. Instead, nations today are thought to be imagined, constructed, and negotiated. Nationalism exists in these moments of imagination and construction of the nation, which take many forms. The simple expression of national identity, efforts to make political and national units congruent, or xenophobic treatment of outsiders in favor of those deemed to belong to the nation are all examples of nationalist forms. Nationalism can be official and ceremonial (as in the singing of national anthems at presidential inaugurations) or banal (as in the quotidian nationalist symbols people encounter in their everyday lives, from national flags in school buildings to postage stamps displaying national heroes). Over the last several decades—particularly since a resurgence of interest in nationhood in the 1980s and 1990s—the focus of research has been on elite perspectives—that is, how the nation is mediated and constructed through parliamentary speeches, presidential speeches, or public school textbooks and curricula. More recently there has been a movement toward the study of everyday nationhood, which is discussed in greater detail in this article.

Textbooks and Core Readings

There are dozens of core texts and readers on nationalism. This section offers brief descriptions of texts that are most commonly assigned in specialized courses on nations and nationalism at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Such texts offer definitions of nation and nationalism as well as chapters or overall emphases on the relationship between nationalism and key concepts. Hearn 2006 pays particular attention to power, Guibernau and Hutchinson 2001 adds an emphasis on ethnicity and religion, and Balakrishnan 1996 weighs in on class and gender. Hutchinson and Smith 1994 focuses on nation building and international relations, and Eley and Suny 1996 embeds analyses of nationalism within cultural studies, focusing on issues such as memory and symbolic systems. McCrone 1998 pays particular attention to recent nationalist and neo-nationalist movements, while Delanty and Kumar 2006 adds an emphasis on how nations are changing in the global era.

  • Balakrishnan, Gopal, ed. 1996. Mapping the nation. London: Verso.

    This collection, with an introduction by Benedict Anderson, aims to “map the terrain” of contemporary debates in nationalism studies. Early chapters, which focus on the term “nation” as it developed in the 19th century, set the stage for chapters on class, gender, and national belonging in the 20th century. The volume includes contributions by Ernest Gellner, Miroslav Hroch, Eric Hobsbawm, and Bankim Chatterjee.

  • Delanty, Gerard, and Krishan Kumar, eds. 2006. The SAGE handbook of nations and nationalism. London: SAGE.

    An exhaustive anthology of readings with contributions by classic and contemporary theorists. Part 1 explores the numerous approaches to studying the nation, including historical, cultural, sociolinguistic, and gender frameworks. Part 2 includes thematic chapters on topics such as ethnicity, sport, and migration. Part 3 examines the changing nature of nations in the “global age.”

  • Eley, Geoff, and R. G. Suny, eds. 1996. Becoming national: A reader. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Explores the link between nationalism and cultural studies, arguing that nations, deeply rooted in memory and social imagination, provide complex symbolic systems for demarcating territory and defining personhood, that is, “becoming national.”

  • Guibernau, Montserrat, and John Hutchinson, eds. 2001. Understanding nationalism. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell.

    The volume, invited by the Association for the Study of Ethnicity and Nationalism (ASEN), addresses discussions of ethnicity and religion in relation to national identity, the “gendering” of nations via symbols and myths, and the impact of global processes in shaping nation-states. Contributors also argue for longer historical case studies and explorations of myth-symbol complexes within nations.

  • Hearn, Jonathan. 2006. Rethinking nationalism: A critical introduction. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

    A survey of nationalism studies, with specific attention to the debate between primordialism and modernism. Hearn alternates between expository chapters that flesh out key concepts and critical chapters that “rethink” those concepts (e.g., power and culture). Defines nationalism as a set of claims to identity, jurisdiction, and territory.

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

    An authoritative, interdisciplinary collection of key readings about nationalism by renowned scholars. Plots theoretical debates in the field with emphases on nation building, international relations, and nationalisms both within and outside Europe. Section 2 extensively reviews theories of nationalism.

  • McCrone, David. 1998. The sociology of nationalism: Tomorrow’s ancestors. London: Routledge.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203428856

    McCrone reviews key debates and trends in the study of nationalism from the 19th century to the present, covering key topics, such as the relationship between the nation and ethnicity or the state and paying particular attention to recent nationalist and neo-nationalist forms. Chapter 3 provides a particularly detailed overview of the use and mobilization of history in the construction and invention of nations.

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