Re: foundations of the nations

Robert Snower (rs222@WORLDNET.ATT.NET)
Tue, 13 Aug 1996 20:40:25 +0000

At 07:42 PM 8/13/96 +0000, thomas w kavanagh wrote:
>So I went out and found Calhoun's 1993 Annual Rev. Soc article, and
>Smith's 1986 book, Ethnic Origins of Nations.
>Smith's discussion of 'ethnies' parallels many of the 1960s discussions of
>"tribe" which lead to Fried's "The Problem [Notion] of Tribe." For Smith,
>'ethnies' exhibit collective history, a myth of descent, shared history,
>distinctive shared culture, territory, and most of all a "sense of
>solidarity". He does not imply a primordiality to 'ethnies', putting their
>origins in the bronze age [Fried put the origin of Tribes in the
>neolithic]. Rather they are, as you say, 'symbolic capital'. But that is
>also what Abner Cohen said in 1969 under 'retribalization':
> the process by which a group ... involved in a struggle for power
> and privilege with another [group] manipulates some customs,
> values, myths, symbols, and ceremonials from their cultural
> tradition in order to articulate a political organization, which
> is then used as a weapon in that struggle
>Others have called it ethnogenesis.
>I suppose my problem is that the usual focus on 'ethnies', ethnic groups,
>and 'nations', often takes those characteristics as givens rather than as
>processual variables.
In view of the above, how do "ethnies" differ from nations? Or is "nation"
an instance of "ethnie?" (Is that the singular of "ethnies?") It would seem
from the above characterization of "ethnie," the latter is true.

On Tue, 13 Aug 1996 wrote:

> According to some authors, the current tension between ethnicity and
> nationalism is the result of a larger clash between tradition and
> modernity.

If, by "ethnicity" those scholars mean what used to be called
"tribalism", as in "tribalism versus nationalism," and are analyzing that
'ethnicity' or 'tribalism' as 'traditional' versus 'modern nationalism', I
beleive they are missing the basic point of political anthropology :
tribes/ethnoses *are* just as modern as the traditional nation states.

I am wondering "just as modern" in what sense. Just as ancestral, as old in
origin? One cannot be construed as developing out of the other? Or do you
mean simply both of them make their appearance on the contemporary scene?
Are they perhaps different cultural arrangements, equally old, with a common

What do you feel characterizes the difference between "ethnicity/tribalism",
or whatever term you prefer, and the "traditional nation state?"

Best wishes. R. Snower