Re: foundations of the nations

John H. Stevens, Jr. (jhs14@CORNELL.EDU)
Tue, 13 Aug 1996 00:03:11 -0400

Regarding Gisela's query:

>I wonder whether does anybody know something about the ethnic origins of

So do I sometimes!! :-) Seriously, a large phalanx of scholars have
endeavored to answer this question, as well as the ones you asked towards
the end of your post:

>Can we talk about ethnies 40 thousand years ago? In that case, is it the
>same that kind of ethnic groups than today ethnic groups?
>Are the ethnies necessary elements for natinalisms?
>Why people need to be part of a nation and fight for it?

I believe fat books have been written about each of these questions! The
literature on nationalism and and its incestuous relationship with
ethnicity is pretty bloody vast. I think Anthrony Smith is the current top
dog in this area, having written *The Ethnic Origin of Nations*, among many
other works. Most academics who deal with this topic do one of three
things with nationalism: some subsume it under some other process or
processes (such as industrialization perhaps, or print capitalism); others
assert that it is irrelevant or downright dangerous because of its illusory
(shall we say "invented"?) quality (I think Hobsbawm would fit in here);
and a third, more recent, strain talk about "the nation" as being
constructed in opposition to or on the backs of other collective identities
such as ethnicity or a similar marked category (Ana Maria Alonso is a good
example from anthropology, and I think Gerald Alfred falls into this
category with his recent analysis of Mohawk nationalism).

Did ethnies exist 40K years ago? Ook. Good question. I think it depends
on what definition of ethnie you subscribe to and what sort of politics
were taking place so long ago. Humans have always, it seems, needed some
kind of collective identity (for pragmatic and functional as well as
affective and ontological reasons). These IDs seem to be adapted to
changing circumstances even as they condition those circumstances (witness
the history of the use of "tribe" in discourse on Native Americans). I
think we would need to know what those folks were calling themselves (and
what others were trying to call them) before we could really say there were
indeed ethnies in our quite distant past.

So, I would say that in all likelihood the "ethnies" of the far past
probably weren't like the ones we have now.

As to the last two questions about nationalism, I would answer "yes" to the
first (since I fall pretty much into the Alonso and Alfred camp), and "I
have no idea" to the second. The second question is one that inevitably
seems to come up in most major works on nationalism, and the general answer
is "because nationalism is so powerful." Of course, no one seems to be
able to explain *why* it is so powerful, and why we don't throw ourselves
into battle for our Cub Scout pack, but that is often the answer, sometimes
given with genuine regret, sometimes with a snobbish twist of rhetoric.

I'd be happy to zap Gisela (or anyone else) appropriate references on the topic.

Best regards,

John H. Stevens, Jr.,
Graduate Student
Department of Anthropology
Cornell University

snail: c/o Dept. Of Anthropology, 265 McGraw Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853
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