Nationalism and civil society: Democracy, diversity and self-determination

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In the wake of communism, nationalism has regained prominence as a source of global tension and instability. These problems, and nationalism itself, are often dismissed as transitional difficulties rather than studied as basic to the modern world. This paper argues, to the contrary, that nationalism is produced by central features of the modern world, including the ongoing process of globalisation. Its centrality derives first of all from the need to identify the ‘self’ implied by the notion of political self-determination. This ties nationalism to democracy. But nationalism is also shaped in problematic ways by modern individualism. Metaphorically, the nation is often treated as an individual. Nations are also commonly conceived of as categories of like individuals rather than as webs of social relationships. This places an emphasis on sameness which often makes nationalism an enemy of diversity. It also provides the basis for arguments that national identity should take precedence over other competing identities - regional, familial, gender, interest-group, occupational, and so on. Nationalism is particularly potent and problematic where diverse institutions of civil society are lacking or fail to provide for a diversity of public discourses and collective identities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)387-411
Number of pages25
JournalInternational Sociology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1993
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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