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Benedict Anderson’s Concept of Imagined Community

The concept of the ‘imagined community’ is most obviously associated with the work of Benedict Anderson on the ‘nation’. For Anderson, the nation is an ‘imagined community’ and national identity a construction assembled through symbols and rituals in relation to territorial and administrative categories. National identities are intrinsically connected to, and constituted by, forms of communication. The nation is an imagined community because most of its members will never know most of the other members and yet they consider themselves to be a part of the same commonality. Despite their physical separation, members of a nation often regard themselves as sharing in a fraternity with which they identify.

15anderson-obit-1-web-jumboAn imagined community such as a nation is, according to Anderson, intrinsically connected to communication processes. Thus, it was the mechanized production and commodification of books and newspapers, the rise of ‘print capitalism’, that allowed vernacular languages to be standardized and disseminated. This provided the conditions for the creation of a national consciousness. In particular, the mechanization of printing and its commercial dissemination ‘fixed’ a vernacular language as the ‘national’ language and in so doing made a new imagined national community possible. Communication facilitates not just the construction of a common language but also a common recognition of time. For example, the media encourage us to imagine the simultaneous occurrence of events across wide tracts of time and space, which contributes to the concept of nation.

From a cultural studies perspective Anderson tends to overstate the unity of the nation and the strength of nationalist feeling and thus covers over differences of class, gender, ethnicity and so forth. Nevertheless, the whole idea of an imagined community has wider applicability than the nation. The concept can be utilized in relation to all forms of collective identity. Thus, just as national identity takes the form of identification with representations of the nation, so can ethnic groups, feminists, classes, New Social Movements and other communities of action and identity be understood as imagined

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Categories: Cultural Studies, Literary Criticism, Literary Theory, Postcolonialism, Sociology

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