Thoughts on Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson

Anderson offers an interesting view into the formation of communities and the role that the nature of this formation had in the development of nationalism. The foundation of his explanation is his statement that all communities are to be distinguished “by the style in which they are imagined.” He goes on to claim that throughout much of history the dominant styles of imagining have been based on the sacred languages of universal religions (Latin, Arabic, etc.) and dynastic realms, which forced one’s identity into a hierarchical structure. To an extent I agree with this assertion, but I wonder if this view of identity and community formation is too grand and limited. If we look at the Chinese pictographs, which Anderson himself groups into a sacred language, we see its use across a large swath of Eastern Asia. However, this did not bring Japanese literati, let alone Japanese peasants, to adopt a Chinese identity or culture. This idea also ignores cultures that were outside of the “traditional” civilizations, such as the Mongols or Aztecs, which certainly had a strong identity. In fact, the Mongols were largely egalitarian and had their own script before their expansion and subsequently adopted many new cultural attributes throughout their expansion without ever losing their Mongolian identity. I only mention these topics because I wonder if this view of pre-nationalist identity is too focused on the elite and if identity was something more nuanced. Why would a Bedouin identify themselves as a Muslim ┬árather than by their kin network? Why would an Estonian peasant whose grandparents were forced into Christianity and knew no Latin identify themselves as a Christian tied to the Christian world through Latin rather than by their place of origin or their own kin network?

That being said, his argument that standardized vernacular following the printing boom of the seventeenth century was very well supported. Having a small familiarity with socio-linguistics, I wholly agree that standardized language is a powerful tool that can be used to unite a people and discriminate against outsiders. A “horizontally” unifying tool such as this can easily give rise to a common identity, one that is stronger than religion or a political system. And, if a political system can harness a standardized language and dub it the “national” language, then it is in a very powerful and stable position. One need only look at the amazing and drastic reforms to Turkish that were carried out by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. If you have any interest in seeing a region make the major change from an earlier polyglot and open imperial system to a centralized, mono-ethnic state, I highly suggest you read up on Ataturk and the formation of Turkey and the modern Turkish language.

Anyway, this reading has given me a better understanding of the discussion surrounding community identity. I’m still having a hard time identifying what topic I want to cover, but I am confident that Kodey and I can figure it out in the coming week. Hope your guys’ weekend went well and I look forward to seeing you tomorrow!


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