Reviewed by Matthew Hayday (Centre for Canadian Studies, Mount Allison University)
Published on H-Nationalism (October, 2006)
A Provocative Collection, but of Limited Use for the Classroom
Creating a survey textbook poses significant challenges to the modern scholar, who must provide a fairly comprehensive overview of the literature, incorporate competing branches of historiography, and appropriately pitch the completed text for their intended audience. This is complicated enough for an undergraduate survey textbook in a reasonably specialized subset of a single discipline--Canadian history for example. Additional challenges are faced by those attempting to write for an interdisciplinary audience. These challenges are further compounded for the compiler of a reader, who must first select appropriate extracts from a wide variety of existing texts (or newly commissioned ones), and then tie these diverse pieces together into a coherent whole.
In Nations and Nationalism, Philip Spencer and Howard Wollman have attempted to compile an undergraduate reader for university courses on nationalism, drawing not only on seminal works but also on new and interesting contributions to the field from younger scholars. In assembling a fascinating array of texts related to nationalism, they have certainly done an admirable job, incorporating an interdisciplinary cross-section of the literature from political science, psychology, sociology and history. However, it is as a pedagogical tool that their work needs to be more seriously evaluated, as it is in a seminar or tutorial context that this compilation is intended for use. As an interdisciplinary work, there are clearly going to be differing assessments of the utility of this reader for university courses. Thus, while some of the following observations will be more general, others will doubtless reflect my perspective both as a historian and as a professor working in a Canadian context.
Spencer and Wollman begin their collection with a brief introductory essay outlining the six sections of their reader and providing an overview of some of the recent developments in nationalism, both in terms of its contemporary manifestations and the related literature. They offer a brief summary of the main arguments presented in each article, situating each in terms of the political developments that relate to their subject matter. They outline the rationale behind their selections as an attempt "to bring together some of the more interesting contributions to a continually growing literature. With one or two exceptions, they are all pieces which have appeared relatively recently" (p. 2). Many older texts are omitted, partially on account of being widely known and available, but also because more recent arguments about nationalism have recast debates and changed the focus of academic discussion. From the historian's perspective, this is perhaps a critical oversight, as these earlier writings provided the foundation for later conceptions of the nation-state and nationalism, and would be key readings for an intellectual history of nationalism.
Thus, rather than starting with the work of Johann Gottfried von Herder, Jean-Jacques Rousseau or Karl Marx, the first section of the reader contains a selection of writings entitled "The Origins of Nationalism" which draws on some of the most influential writers of the last couple of decades: Anthony Smith, Adrian Hastings, Ernest Gellner, Benedict Anderson and John Breuilly. These highly influential scholars debate the temporal and theoretical origins of the nation and nationalism. Subsequent sections tackle the subject of nationalism from different angles. Section 2, "Approaches to Nationalism," looks at nationalism from the perspective of other "isms" (liberalism, Marxism, and feminism) to determine how these frameworks and philosophies interact with nationalism. Section 3, "Differentiating Nationalism--Nationalism, Racism, Ethnicity," probes the linkages between questions of race, ethnicity and the nation. Section 4, "Forms of Nationalism," focuses on the debate between the variously defined "good" and "bad" forms of nationalism, the most prominent clash being that between civic and ethnic nationalism. Section 5, "National Self-Determination and Nationalist Mobilisation," moves into more region-specific experiences with nationalism, examining the implications and forms of nationalism in Eastern Europe, South Asia and Francophone Africa. Finally, section 6, "Globalisation, Citizenship and Nationalism" interrogates the future relevance of nationalism and the nation in what has been dubbed the era of globalization.
Many of the included articles are thought-provoking contributions to the study of nationalism, appropriately targeted for an intermediate university reader. Joanne Nagel's article "Masculinity and Nationalism--Gender and Sexuality in the Making of Nations," for example, does an excellent job of defining key concepts and terms before continuing to an analysis of the overlap between conceptions of Western masculinity and the modern nation. Michael Mann's "Has Globalisation Ended the Rise and Rise of the Nation-State" likewise begins by establishing the main terms and arguments of the debate concerning the impact of globalization on the relevance of the nation-state, before proceeding to his argument defending the continuing central role played by the nation, and indeed the rising moral regulation function being assumed by the nation-state. Michael Billig provides an interesting introduction to the psychological function of "flagging" the nation in his analysis of "Banal Nationalism." A number of other articles also provide well-bounded examinations of their chosen facet of nationalism, with key concepts and debates in the literature well-explained for undergraduate readers.
Unfortunately, this is not the case for numerous other articles in the collection. While strong in their own right, many are overly advanced or ill-contextualized for an undergraduate audience. Erica Benner's contribution, "Really Existing Nationalisms--A Post-Communist View from Marx and Engels" pre-supposes an extensive detailed understanding of the original writings of Marx and Frederick Engels. A similar problem arises in Andrew Vincent's examination of liberal nationalism. In other cases, the manner in which short extracts have been taken from larger works seems haphazardly done. The most egregious example of this can be found in the extract entitled "Between Camps" by Paul Gilroy, which begins with the sentence "As the example of Martinique makes clear, fascism's militarism and fraternalism changed the character of its national communities" (p. 149), after which point Martinique is never again mentioned. While in medias res makes for an interesting literary device, it is extremely jarring in this context.
Many of these aforementioned difficulties may have been avoided or mitigated in another format. However, apart from the brief introduction, there is no further guidance provided to the reader to contextualize the selected readings. Section introductions to situate each reading within the broader literature, historiographical trends and ideological debates would have been extremely useful. Indeed, even a brief section of mini-biographies would have been welcomed to at least indicate which discipline each author comes from. Each section of the reader includes a very brief section with recommendations for further reading, which is appreciated. However, the one-sentence descriptions of each of the five or six listed works are frustratingly limited. The collection, however, does contain a master reference list and a reasonably detailed index. Both greatly add to the utility of this collection, and are often omitted from similar compilations.
With only a limited amount of space available, it would be impossible to cover all facets of nationalism. However, from a North American perspective, there are a few themes which have largely been overlooked in this reader, but would likely form part of a university course on nationalism. Central both to the Canadian experience and that of many other countries is the manner in which nationalism co-exists with federalism, particularly in states containing multiple nations. This topic is obliquely alluded to in Margaret Moore's article "On National Self-Determination," but the key word of federalism is not even listed in the book index. The manner in which nationalism is expressed in so-called "settler countries" (Canada, Australia, the United States, etc.) also tends to be overlooked in favor of a focus on Europe and post-colonial Asia and Africa. The question of nationalism and nationhood among aboriginal peoples in the Americas and Australia, perhaps one of the most contentious issues on these continents, is likewise omitted.
Overall, while Nations and Nationalism is a thought-provoking collection, drawing on a wide array of disciplines and providing a good overview of many of the new dimensions of scholarship in the field of nationalism, it falls somewhat short as a pedagogical tool. Those already well versed in nationalism studies will doubtless find much of interest among the included selections, but without additional prefatory material, students will likely find it difficult to contextualize these articles and draw the needed linkages between them. A significant burden will be placed on the instructor to provide this required context. From my own "national" perspective, the selection of key themes omits a number of issues which are crucial to a discussion of nationalism in Canada, while the focus on new material to the detriment of classic texts poses problems from a disciplinary focus in history. Intellectually stimulating as a collection of individual articles, this collection unfortunately falls short from a pedagogical perspective.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-nationalism.
Matthew Hayday. Review of Spencer, Philip; Wollman, Howard, eds., Nations and Nationalism: A Reader.
H-Nationalism, H-Net Reviews.
Copyright © 2006 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed use, contact the Reviews editorial staff at email@example.com.