sociology

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The psychological importance of having nationalism

Nationalism is a sense of identity with the nation. Liah Greenfeld, Professor of Sociology at Boston University has defined Nationalism as ‘an image of a social order, which involves the people as a sovereign elite and a community of equals’ (Nationalism). The concept of nationalism is something which we see all around us, everyday of our lives, an example of this would be national flags flying high at different sporting events i.e. Olympics, rugby match, football match.

Nationalism is developed from the idea that the nation, in contrast to the nation-state and is formed by the indigenous people to an area. It is the longest-lasting and most sensible form of government, for it groups together people who have culture, heritage and language in common. Anderson argument of a nation being an ‘imagined political community that is imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign’ is a viable one. His arguement that, what is being imagined is limited because ‘even the largest of nations has flexible boundaries’, beyond which other nations lie I have argued is true. They are Sovereign because the ‘state is symbolic of the freedom from traditional religious structure’. I agree with Anderson that a community develops a sense of nation, because the ‘nation are usually imagined as a horizontal comradeship that connects people, men and women.

I have examined three main areas of society, to examine if ‘imagined communities accurately describe nations. The community, a sense of belonging, the culture, language and use of language, the way children are exposed to all of these, which in return play an important part in imagining communities.

The notion of belonging is a central aspect of how we define who we are. As we grow older we all consider ourselves to be individuals but as we soon learn throughout life, it is our involvement in particular groups/clubs that is important in constructing a sense of identity. Social identity is an important part of what it is to be human.

The home in which a child is born into will determine what kind of life the child will live and experience. Children imitate the patterns of behaviour and ‘norms’ within their home when growing and developing. They share experiences in the family home and their own particular way of life, is how they perceive the world around them to be. The neighbouring homes and peoples living in close proximity do not impact on their personality or maybe even their family culture. As Lee and Newby (1983) point out, the fact that people live close to one another, does not mean that they automatically have much to do with each other (Smith, 2001). There may be little or no interaction between the neighbours, but when it comes back to the individuals been asked what community means to them, Putnam(2000) tells us they responded with ‘ our deepest sense of belonging is to be part of the neighbourhoods social network and also beyond that boundary lies work, church and civic life (Smith, 2001). This can also help the individuals or families to build a sense of self and individuality within informal relationships. Peter Willmott’s ‘community of attachment’ states:

In common usage community does not necessarily refer to just to the fact of people living in the same place or sharing the same interest or characteristics. People sometimes, but not always, recognize the common interests they share with others living in the same area or having the same characteristics. Sometimes, but not always, they have a feeling of identity, of common membership. So 'community' is sometimes used to refer to such sentiments or feelings and to social bonds and patterns of behaviour that can sustain and reflect these sentiments and feelings. Terms like 'sense of community' and 'spirit of community' suggest the general meaning of the word (Smith.P.K., 2007)

Anthony P. Cohen’s (1985) work around belongings and attachment suggests that communities are best approached as ‘communities of meaning’, in other words, the community plays a vital role in generating peoples sense of belonging. ‘People construct community symbolically, making it a resource and a reference of their identity’ (Cohen, 1985). The sense of belonging is certainly changing, in so far as in the past a sense of belonging would have been defined in terms of traditional markers of social identity such as class or religion. Today we are able to select from a wider range of groups, communities, brands and lifestyles, which in turn will shape our social identities. The background of belonging may have changed, however we still want the same things from our involvements within these groups, the need for social bonding, loyalty, security and acceptance. Today we have more flexibility and opportunity to move in and out of different groups. According to the Social Issue Research Centre (SIRC) Family, Friendship, Lifestyle Choices, Nationality, Professional identity and Team spirit and shared interest have been identified as the six key social factors in which people identify as their sense of belonging today (Dr Peter Marsh, 2007). That sense of local community is no longer important to present-day ideas of belonging. Instead, it is more likely that people feel a sense of belonging in the place where they live now rather than where they were born. These places may change during the course of one's life but during each stage a sense of local community still remains important.

In addition to community, the language used in the early life of any person contributes to a stronger sense of nation. Growing up, children have ‘cultural stories’ told to them, more often than not these are handed down from generation to generation. The language spoken is felt while being held or sitting on a parent’s knee. These stories, regardless of content contain values to live by and are held dear to the child’s heart, giving them great source of comfort and also instilling the child with a sense of ‘who they are and what they are all about’. They become patriots. The nature of storytelling and through repetition, encourages the child to develop the use of imagination, a very necessary future skill enabling a child to solve problems and imagine an image in their own head, but when you add the tone of the storyteller - their own texture, colour and flavour, it changes the whole perception of these same words if they were written in text.

Most stories told, invariably have their own tone of regional dialect, distinguishable from other neighbouring counties within the same country, regardless of size. In Peter Wogan’s Imagined Communities Reconsidered: Is print capitalism what we think it is?, Anderson argues that print is only what allows the nation to be conceptionalised, where as oral language gives it emotional force; or to put differently, print allows us to imagine the nation, while orality makes us love and die for it (Wogan, 2001, p. 404). Anderson makes it clear that oral language provides the emotional attachments that inspire us, whereas print merely provides an enabling condition, for example the cognitive structure for imagining or conceptualising the nation (Wogan, 2001, p. 405). Poetry, in particular, is written and spoken in a voice from its own cultural, regional and historical dialect. This will give the listener a visual image of the past and/or dreams for the future.

The child grows and develops with images and deep emotional attachment to an imagined community or nation, where stories originated, mostly rooted deep in historical and cultural backgrounds. These imagined feelings and connections to places and people, never having actually met or not having any personal knowledge of their make-up, these connections are felt strongly enough for the person to take issue or stand up against people they meet, who disagree with, or simply do have the same imagined connection to this imagined community.

Resulting from early attachments to community and nation, Irish people who emigrate to other countries hold more closely their Irish identity than some who continue to live in the nation, due to being physically disconnected. In order to feel a strong connection to their own country people live literally by their nation’s customs and traditions, living in an imagined community which gives them a sense of belonging. Anderson states ‘ it is imagine because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow members, meet them, or even hear them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their community’ (Davidson, 2007). For example families of emigrants who left Ireland to live in America during the famine time. These families of today imagine themselves as Irish, despite never having met the emigrants or never having set foot on Irish soil. This strong cultural identity results from being reared in an ‘exaggerated Irishness’ or imagined community. Listening to the cultural stories instils present day Irish Americans with a strong identity of Irish community. Is this a real or imagined community?

The cultural story of an Irish national is one of being a part of thirty-two counties. In thinking about imagined communities, the question is raised, on which side of the border is the imagined beliefs. Growing up in the Republic of Ireland, one is reared with a sense and image of a reunited Ireland, while the reality is such that generations of people living in Northern Ireland have grown up with a reality of living under British rule and customs. This is how the loyalist community have been reared and this is the real community that they desire, English and very separate in culture. However it is the republicans who strive and continue live in an imagined community and dream of ‘A nation Once again’.

In conclusion Andersons imagined community does accurately describe nations. As people develop and integrate within particular groups their experiences while participating in the formed group is imagined, there is a false sense of comrade and common sharing of ideals between the individuals in the group and its aims, however when persons find themselves outside of the formed groups there is a real sense of individualism and awareness of no common shared ground or ideals.


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