Benedict Anderson : Imagined Communities (2006)

What makes you « feel » American or British? How was this feeling born? How did it grow? (So much that people live or die for nations, kill and hate or love in their name?

In Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson has been for about 30 years now through different edition of the book trying to address what has always more or less been a delicate subject ; nationalism.

History, Sociology, Arts, Anthropology, Politics absolutely every field is turned around to provide the most complete analysis possible enhanced by an immeasurable number of references and example often from popular culture.

In order to understand the origins of the imagined communities, we firstable and obviously go on a trip back in time to get an idea of how men started to perceive themselves as part of a group, which were mainly centred at first around beliefs, religions, which when they went under an unprecedented development in Europe in the middle ages, reached violent and critic heights. Now, do you think this only belongs to the past? This book will make you think a lot about what you thought only was…

But if there is something that actually changed the world and the societies, a point that Anderson doesn’t fail to emphasize on; it’s the creation of print. All its impacts are thoroughly dealt with and in particular how it played a huge role in the spread and development of languages in the European continent. There’s a pertinent reflexion about and the signs we all have in common going way over personal and communities’ beliefs.

“In principle, everyone has access to a pure world of signs”. Peoples’ perception of the world is greatly highlighted notably with the mention of Marco Polo’s travel books, which, like pretty much all books, really forge, even to a tiny extent these perceptions, down to the simple phrase and because these ideas of showing grew as communities did, the way even to explain things started to be shared and contributed in people starting to recognised who is “us” and who isn’t ; like the press will always emphasize on someone foreign origins even though he or she was born in the country when that person has done something reprehensible and how “national” this person become when she or he has done something exceptional.

The variety and of cultural references are nicely used especially for the explanation of expressions, and phrases that make full sense only in a specific language, how those happen to become codes within a group, a region and how powerful an element they are in the relationship between language and a country’s culture. They create a sense of togetherness making it a pillar in the rise of the feeling of nationalism ultimately leading to the rise of capitalism to a bigger extent = Indeed, how the USA and the UK would be such “good players” at this, if they didn’t have such a huge and dense imperial past?

What makes the strength of this book skilfully powerful explanations of important abstract notions with the most accurate and concrete elements surrounding us and that we really get to understand in this book, are not missing at all but just actually filling space and time. This way, the end of Chapter 8 insists on the “Imagined” part of the title, with languages at the heart of everything after dealing with the difference between patriotism and racism. And as important as languages are in connection to the feeling of nationalism, yet there is permanent self questioning the strong points made there, with challenging example such as Switzerland.

There obviously is quite an important part of the book dedicated to this fundamental period of mankind history that is colonialism explaining how most of the world involved grew/evolved out of it and how these traces link us all together like we aren’t aware, just like “revolutions” did and do, how its acquired by everyone in an unique union that you just can’t find in modern democracies anymore.

As complete and detailed as this work is, advising it only to fascinated people in geopolitics and students would be quite a mistake, because Benedict Anderson really manages throughout Imagines Communities to define our place speaking about the world and by extension about ourselves, and this directly to us like no other contemporary writer does, with such pertinence.


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