New Internationalist

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Issue 277

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When I first started getting interested in nationalism three years ago, there were very few books that I could find to read. In the last year or so, they have been pouring out of publishing houses in a veritable stream.

Nationalism: An Oxford Reader If you want a compilation of the main thinking on the subject, try the range of extracts in Nationalism: An Oxford Reader edited by John Hutchinson and Anthony D Smith (Oxford University Press 1994). It has short pieces by most of the specialists in the field from Stalin(!) to Benedict Anderson, and it is usefully divided into categories like ‘Nationalism and the International System’ and ‘Beyond Nationalism’.

A good read – though I happen to disagree with him – is Michael Ignatieff’s personal account of his own encounters with nationalism in Blood and Belonging: Journeys into the New Nationalism (Vintage 1994). I really enjoyed the more psychological take of Banal Nationalism by Michael Banal Nationalism Billig (Sage Publications 1995) and much of my more abstract thinking on the subject was underpinned by Benedict Anderson’s theories in Imagined Communities (Verso 1983) (though you will get the gist of his ideas in the Oxford Reader).

I would recommend anything by Anthony D Smith, who has both an historical and a global perspective. His most recent book is Nations and Nationalism in a Global Era (Polity Press 1995). He also edits the new journal Nations and Nationalism, the first edition of which was published by the UK-based London School of Economics in March 1995. Another journal which often has articles on nationalism (and is worth reading in any case) is the New Left Review, which has a range of writers from all around the world including Branka Magas from former Yugoslavia, the historian Eric Hobsbawm (whose general books are also interesting on nationalism) and Achin Vanik from India.

Imagined communities If you are interested in the way in which transnationals and global capital are undermining the nation-state, you should read When Corporations Rule the World by David C Korten (Earthscan Publications Ltd 1995) for a humane and hopeful view and Kenichi Ohmae’s book The End of the Nation-State (Harper Collins 1995) for a more corporate one.

You may have noticed that so far all the books have been written by men. It seems that women have only written about nationalism in so far as it affects women – which is a shame. But Woman-Nation-Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics. State, edited by Nira Yuval-Davis and Floya Anthias (Macmillan 1989) is well worth a read for its detailed analysis of women’s situations in countries ranging from Iran to Uganda to Australia, and Cynthia Enloe is her usual incisive self with Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics (Pandora 1989).

For an historical account, read Kumari Jayawardena’s Feminism and nationalism in the Third World (Zed Press 1994), and Basil Davidson’s The Black Man’s Burden: Africa and the curse of the Nation-State (James Curry, 1992). Jorge G Casteneda in Utopia Unarmed: the Latin American Left after the Cold War (Vintage 1994) addresses the knotty question of the relationship between the Left and nationalism in Latin America, while George Orwell’s essays, including My Country Right or Left show how nationalist feelings can throw even the most dedicated left-winger into a flat spin (Penguin). And finally, Thomas Hylland Eriksen provides a different slant with his Ethnicity and Nationalism: Anthropological Perspectives (Pluto Press 1993).

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