People in other disciplines will mock me, but I just read Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities for the first time. Even more frivolous, I bought it on impulse in the brilliant bookshop at the Royal Institute of British Architects, because I loved the cover. Besides, the phrase ‘imagined communities’ as a description of a nation grabbed me.
Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism
For I’ve been pondering national identity for a while. Most accounts of it in political debate refer to historical events or traditional activities or symbols – John Major’s version of George Orwell‘s “Old maids bicycling to Holy Communion through the morning mist,” or the country house and aristocrats version of English identity that speaks not at all to chippy working class Northerners (say) or Scots or the Cornish, or for that matter the romanticism of miners’ galas and the Peterloo Massacre.
Yet it seems obvious to me that identity (including national identity) is a process in the present, and looking to the future. It is a matter of shared cultural experiences and imaginative or empathetic identification with others with whom one has some kind of communication links – books, music, TV, the web. So I love the phrase Imagined Communities. And Anderson’s link between nationalism and the combination of print technologies and vernacular languages makes complete sense.