Book Launch: Neil Davidson’s Nation-states: Consciousness and Competition

Join us tomorrow, Thursday June 2, for the launch of Neil Davidson’s Nation-states: Consciousness and Competition!

Time: 5 – 7:30 pm
Venue: Boyd Orr 513
Chair: Maureen McBride
Discussants: Bridget Fowler and Ewan Gibbs

Drinks reception to follow, free and open to the public.

The term “nation-state” conjoins two others: “nation,” a collective social identity; and “state”, a structure of political power. Territorial states have existed since the emergence of class society around 3,000 BCE, but nation-states are a much more recent phenomenon–so recent, in fact, that they are characteristic of only one type of class society, capitalism, whose origins lie a mere 500 years ago and which attained complete global dominance only in the late twentieth century. Yet, although the two aspects of nation-states are actually inseparable, the academic literature tends to discuss them in distinct disciplinary fields: adherence to national identity is a subject for social psychology, or perhaps the cultural studies branch of sociology; relationships between states are the province of international relations wing of political science. Any analysis of the nation-state form must therefore attempt to span the gulf between the individual citizen’s “consciousness” of national identity and the geopolitical “competition” between capitalist states. The bridge between social identity and state-form in political life is of course nationalism, the term encompassing both the ideology that all peoples should have their own nation-state and a series of specific movements to establish or defend those nation-states.

It is of course both possible and necessary to draw up criteria by which nationalisms can be supported or opposed, but these criteria are in a sense separate from claims about the nature of nationalism. For most of the 20th century struggles for self-determination by oppressed groups constituted “the national question”, but while these still exist – not least in relation to the situation of Palestinians and Kurds – during the neoliberal era they have tended to be subordinated to three more recent phenomena. The first is where former nation-states have entered a process of complete disintegration, as in Yugoslavia during the 1990s and in several states in Central Africa and the Middle East more recently, in which different religious, tribal or “ethnic” groups are struggling against each other to seize territory and resources. The second is the emergence, or in some cases the re-emergence of “stateless nations” seeking autonomy or independence in the long-established capitalist states of the West. In some cases these had an earlier history of oppression, in others not; but by the 1980s differences between Catalonia and Quebec on the one hand and Scotland on the other were marginal. The third is the extent to which the nation-state form has supposedly been rendered redundant by globalisation on the one hand and the development of supra-state entities like the European Union on the other – although the fashionability of globalisation theory has faded in the face of a financial crisis which saw states mobilise in order to prevent a banking collapse and a refugee crisis which has led to a ferocious re-assertion of border controls.

These are among the issues that will be discussed at the book launch this Thursday! Come along to celebrate and discuss.

The Sociology subject area gratefully acknowledges the support of the MacFie bequest for this seminar series.