Sample question from…

Sample question from committee:

4) In his Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson argues cogently that modern nation states tend to imagine a shared national origin and a shared communal life, values, identity and essence - in spite of the very visible diversity and differences existing within each particular national community or culture.

How does such a conceptualization of the discourses of Nation and national culture get played out in some of the texts on your reading list? How do some narratives solidify the "imagined community"? In what ways might they also challenge or threaten a shared belief in the imagined community? How can a "static" and petrified notion of culture/community be challenged? Be as specific as possible, referring to at least three primary texts on your list.

If I got this as an oral question, I'd have to take a deep breath and think a bit before trying to answer it. As a written, though, it'd be a breeze. Anderson's book is excellent, by the way -- very readable and smart. I recommend it if you're at all interested in questions like: what constitutes a national identity? why do we care? (and how can one not be interested in such questions, given the current Us vs. Them / America vs. the World rhetoric going on?)

Want a bit more info? Anderson sees nations as imagined political communities that are imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign:

  • imagined because members will never know most of their fellow-members, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion
  • limited because it has finite, though elastic, boundaries beyond which lie other nations
  • sovereign because this idea came to maturity at a stage of human history when freedom was a rare and precious idea
-- and it is imagined as a community because it is conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship.

As I understand it, this formulation of Anderson's serves as the base of the current theoretical thinking about nationalism -- what it is, what purpose it serves, what nationalism should be, if it should exist at all. It's really interesting to think about in regards to India (and Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children).

One thought on “Sample question from…”

  1. Interesting. I think similar things hold true for ideas about “culture”; certainly it’s easy to talk about “Western culture” or even “American culture” without acknowledging the vast range of practices and beliefs encompassed by such a term.

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