Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Nationalism and Culture

The interview with Isaiah Berlin brings up an intriguing concept—that of nationalism in the place of cultural study. Granted, this is not a brand new idea, but after studying small communities within large areas, the researcher can lose sight of the effects of nationalism upon the culture.
Some cultures, like the rainforest tribes of the Amazon and villages in Africa possess nationalism, to a degree that is often not recognized as true nationalism to Westerners. What we recognize as nationalism is a sense of “togetherness” and fellowship with other members of a strictly defined community. It is the definition of that community as a nation that is key to our understanding of nationalism. There must be some concept of a nation, a geographic place that is home to people, home to a government before what we consider “true” nationalism to take place.
So what is it? Would we consider the tribal community of the peoples in The Storyteller to be a nation? No. But different people will argue different points. One major one is that there exists for them no clear-cut geographical boundaries to their world. As Llosa writes it, there is simply the world, and they wander it. This is not a “wrong” mindset, just one that is incompatible with the Western definition of “nation.” It seems their existence as a nomadic tribe disqualifies them as a nation, not because they are nomads, but because they seem to have no concept of geographical location and boundaries. Boundaries, however, can exist only when a culture is aware of the existence of others, and their fixed location in regards to their own. This expands our definition of a nation to mean a community that has not only geographically defined itself, but identifies itself in regards to the geographic location of other nations.
To use another example, the village of Things Fall Apart would likewise fail to be considered a nation, to western eyes. This time, the reason is much easier to understand, though more difficult to define. The community in question is too small for Western definitions to consider it a nation. While I don’t think there exists a true numerical value for the number of people in a region, a single village is undoubtedly too small. Another key factor that was made a painful point in Things Fall Apart that a nation requires is sovereignty over itself. It must reserve the right to exercise power within its boundaries with little to no interference from other countries. The incursion of the white man and the subsequent powerlessness of the native peoples to drive them out makes it clear that the single village was unable to exercise its own sovereignty.
So we have identified that geographic boundaries are essential in identifying a nation, as well as a large size. Furthermore, community members must be aware of themselves in regards to other nations, as well as exercise sovereignty within their own boundaries. The last point is one that the example groups would fulfill, which is a shared sense of community, a sense of “us” in regards to “them” or a community of others.

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