For a theory of nationalism
Nation is state-oriented, whereas nationalism is an ideology which may simply promote one’s own identity against Others. Therefore, theories of nation-building do not explain nationalism. Other theories adopting a materialist approach do, like Gellner’s model in which nationalism appears as resulting from socio-ethnic conflicts, but they ignore the inner mechanism of this ideology. Theories looking at nationalism as an export product from the West also miss this point too. In contrast, a convincing body of theories anchor nationalism in socio-cultural reform. The intelligentsia which undertakes it in order to resist the threat posed by some dominant Other – often from the West, that fascinates them -, eventually develops a nationalist attitude, because it is not willing to imitate the West but strive to restore its culture by incorporating into it prestigious features of the West through the invention of a convenient Golden Age, the cornerstone of nationalism.
This approach finds a parallel in the theories of ethnicity which do not apply the primordialist paradigm but focus on the making of group boundaries. Barth highlights the decisive role of the relationship to the Other and the little importance of cultural contents – compared to the maintenance of group boundaries – in the making of ethnic identities, in such a way that there are more affinities between his theory of ethnicity and theories of nationalism than between the latter and theories of the nation.
However, one can construct an integrated model of nationalism by organising different theories in a sequence. While the ideology-based approach comes first, the creation of a nationalist movement implies the rise of socio-economic conflicts and the massification of nationalism, a process of nation-building.
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