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Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  10,020 ratings  ·  510 reviews
What makes people love and die for nations, as well as hate and kill in their name? While many studies have been written on nationalist political movements, the sense of nationality--the personal and cultural feeling of belonging to a nation--has not received proportionate attention. In this widely acclaimed work, Benedict Anderson examines the creation and global spread o ...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published 2016 by Verso (first published May 1983)
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Josh Good question. Benedict Anderson (like many of his peers) argues for the 'modernist' school which asserts that nationalism is a new phenomenon tied to…moreGood question. Benedict Anderson (like many of his peers) argues for the 'modernist' school which asserts that nationalism is a new phenomenon tied to modernity. There has been a lot of new research on nationalism that has attempted to challenge this, writers like Anthony Smith and Adrian Hastings come to mind, who argue that premodern ppl also had senses of peoplehood.

That said, none of these works have made an impact the way Imagined Communities has, and like the other responders have said, Imagined Communities really did offer new ways to think about nationalism. As for Smith, he makes it clear that his research is meant to augment, not replace the modernist perspective. (less)

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UPDATED: Amazing how reading this for a different class brought out a totally different discussion. The last class I read this for was called "Uses of History in International Affairs," and we spent the majority of our time talking about history as an act- history as narrative, history as an agenda, what someone might use these statements for. We were essentially diplomats in discussion, preparing our strategy of attack against the other side's claims. I don't think we discussed the validity of ...more
Dec 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
One of my longstanding grievances with the public education system is its approach to geography. The jigsaw of nations most children are taught comprise the world is essentially posited as something timeless and ineffable, while in reality are they all very historically recent not to mention ephemeral and in most cases pretty arbitrary.

Benedict Anderson does a great job of deconstructing nationalism (not that hard), but much more importantly rebuilding how national consciousness, "imagined comm
Sean Chick
Aug 12, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Anderson has a good point about how language and the collapse of religious absolutism created nationalism but he fails on two points. First his language is haughty and over the top, including references to obscure stuff. I got most of them but others will be lost. Second he fails to elaborate on other things that caused nationalism to rise, such as technology, revolution, ideology, and warfare. Instead it is mostly presented as a matter of language and media. Also whenever he steps out of the la ...more
Roy Lotz
Jan 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
Boy, am I glad to have finally read this. Imagined Communities is the force behind much of the scholarship in the social sciences I find most interesting. Seeing someone’s name so often in brackets (Anderson, 1983) makes you curious, and Anderson does not disappoint.

For me, this is history at its most interesting—incisive, global in scope, entertaining, and not overladen with facts. Staying entirely within the purview and methodology of the discipline of history (unlike, say, Guns, Germs, and Steel),
David M
Oct 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Not exactly a Marxist theory of nationalism, but a deeply sympathetic investigation by a man who happens to have Marxists political leanings. While showing how national identities are socially and historically constructed, Anderson at the same time finds the phenomenon too powerful to be simply debunked via ideological critique. In this he reminds me a bit of Gershom Scholem writing on the Kabbalah.

Anderson has very little to say about Arab nationalism, and as I read I wondered what he
Jun 25, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A hugely influential work, first published in 1983, which delineates the 'processes by which the nation came to be imagined, and, once imagined, modelled, adapted and transformed.' Anderson is an expert on Southeast Asia, and thus manages very successfully to avoid a purely Euro-centric view. Another extremely successful aspect of this work is the structure: each chapter ends with a succinct summary of its main ideas, a boon for those who need to take notes and revise what they've read, or indee ...more
Jun 17, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Thinkers and Leftists
This is a very important, but difficult read. Even though the author mentions that he did not want to introduce any academic lingo, it is still difficult to comprehend at times, and the academic structure is obvious.

It will truly make you think about history in a novel way once you do understand what is being described. However, the chapter on the Map, Census and Museum was the hardest to comprehend. Of course, the fact that so many themes in the book were hard to understand only goes to show h
Aug 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
bias flag: I am a former student of Professor Anderson. More accurately, he was my undergraduate thesis advisor. I have a neutral memory of my sessions with him, which is to say I don't remember much; I believe he wore flip-flops, which I thought a bit unusual for 42 degrees north latitude. I do carry great shame, even to this day, from my underwhelming academic effort. In my mind, Professor Anderson, as navigator aboard my ship, bears at least some responsibility; if only he told me to ....

Jul 13, 2008 rated it really liked it
Asserted as a Marxist text, Anderson attempts to revise readings of the development of nationalism in attempt to sort out the possibilities its offers for a Marxist agenda. Most importantly, Anderson defines the nation as 1) sovereign, 2) limited, and 3) fraternal. He sees the nation as a structural form of collective imagination that works to cohere through the rise of print capitalism (specifically mass-marketed news media and novels, but one could easily add photography to this list) and the ...more
Dec 13, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-history
Since there has been a good deal of chattering about nationalism of late, it seemed a good time to finally examine this neglected long-term resident on my bookshelves. It is a tough slog through impenetrable Marxist jargon and apparent inside jokes. Also, there are enough dense and eye-strain-inducing footnotes in my paperback copy to send David Foster Wallace weeping to his thesaurus collection. And, in addition to untranslated French and German, there is, I am not making this up, untranslated Indonesian. ...more
As the original text on nationalism as an idea, you would think that this would be a better read. Indeed, the plethora of translations that the author catalogs in the Afterword written for this expanded edition, you would think it would be best thing on nationalism ever. And while it does have a few great ideas, it is a barely developed, almost completely nonsensical book. The first few chapters start out alright as he identifies native languages, bueracratic language requirements, and revolutio ...more
Feb 24, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Definitely an 'essential read', but did his style have to be so annoying? "Unjungled," Benedict? "Museumized?" Those aren't words. Not cute, either. Stop with the scare quotes, too, jeez. And would you translate your goddamn lengthy French quotations??? GOD.
Missy J
Dec 14, 2015 rated it really liked it

On December 13, 2015, Indonesia expert and history scholar Benedict Anderson passed away in Malang (Indonesia). A lot of obituaries in his honor appeared in traditional press and online media. When I read his life story, I was very impressed by his study of Indonesia (esp. regarding the 1965 incident, which led to him being banned from entering Indonesia for over 20 years) and his abilities to speak so many languages! His best-known work is Imagined Communities, where he discusses the origins of nationalism
Imagined Communities : Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, by Benedict Anderson is an interesting look at the development of the idea of Nationalism, and its close association to human conceptions of community and identity. Nationalism has led to many horrible things; Nazi genocide, colonialism, war, ethnic cleansing, and repression of minority groups. Many of these factors are still at play in the modern world. This is because all nations currently in existence derive their leg ...more
A very impressive work on both a research and theoretical level. The syntheses that Anderson generates manage to cut through hundreds of years of history and thousands of miles of geography to create a cohesive, cogent approach that, fairly uniquely among works of this sort, manages to privilege neither time nor space. Well done.
Jun 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: school-history
Imagined Communities is the most accessible text on nationalism that I’ve read recently. Anderson’s examination of the origins of the concept of the nation, and the spread of nationalism is logically argued and thoroughly supported. It is interesting to read a perspective which traces this structure of identity not to Europe, but to South America. An engaging and thoughtful read.
Sotiris Karaiskos
Jul 25, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics
A now classic book on the origins of nationalism and how it became a global phenomenon. Within this presents the theories about the birth of nationalism, with particular emphasis on regional differences. Excellent book, essential for anyone who thinks outside the box. It offers several answers and you generates even more questions for further study of the issue.
Apr 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics
After making an effort to summarise this book, I am not convinced that I can defend all of its arguments, which on balance must reflect on me rather than the book. Apart from anything else, I am not prepared to put in the time; I write a review quickly when I finish a book only to convey my immediate impression. It is nicely written, very well organised and very credible. I suspect, though, that it presents its arguments in a form that requires a lot of elaboration before they will convince a sc ...more
What makes this text well worth reading are his intriguing examples and the methodical way he develops his highly original yet relatively straight forward argument. What I found particularly useful were his marxist explanation for how print capital helped create conditions for a nation as an imagined community, his exposition of the fact that nationalism developed in the Americas before Europe, and the wonderful way he shows how colonial administration and education sowed the seeds of rebellion ...more
Mar 02, 2008 rated it it was amazing
An indispensable canonical book for student of nationalism.
The introduction is a little scary because Anderson uses an unnecessarily complicated academic lingo, but it gets better afterwards. You'll get a brief account of the rise of nationalism in varied places: from the Americas to Hungary and Indonesia.

His main focus is on nationalism as way of perceiving society and oneself as a member of this society. There are a couple of things necessary to imagine the national community and it became possible only in modern times, with the advance of print-capi
Jul 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I would have said that economic history is the one. Geography provides raw materials and determines trade routes, political systems protect property and mediate disputes, workers negotiate wages and buy goods, technology determine what can be produced, diplomacy and wars shape who trades with who. Economic history ties it all together.

But I've been a bit swayed by this book. Genuinely the most enjoyable history book I've read without any economic thought.

Some notes:
- "An imagi
Peter Mcloughlin
With a focus on countries in southeast Asia, the author develops his ideas on nationalism and nationalist movements characterizing them as imagined communities that pull groups of people into collectives and inspire politics for that group. Nationalism and nation-states spreading globally is rather recent in the last century or two. They didn't loom as large in antiquity in terms of politics. I suppose entities like my own country are such imagined communities and who belongs and who doesn't is ...more
Shreedhar Manek
Sep 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
My professor promised that this would be an easy read, because of the (apparently) lucid language, but I cannot really claim the same. The myriad of unknown references makes this far from an easy read. Things are just said assuming the reader knows about everything that's being talked about.

Imagined Communities is without doubt a seminal text. Anderson tries to explain the idea of nations and nationalism and lays out various models to do so.

I don't want to say anything more about this, because if I do,/>Imagined
Patrick McCoy
Sep 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I first heard about Benedict Anderson's seminal study of nationalism, Imagined Communities, from a newspaper article in The Bangkok Post while on vacation in Thailand a few years back. It's not such an unlikely place to hear about Anderson since it turns out that he is somewhat of an expert on SE Asian countries. It seems that he has made his name studying Indonesia, but he has also published widely on Thailand and the Philippines including the intriguing title, In the Mirror: Literature and Pol ...more
Jan 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
What a cool book. I'm really turning around on my whole "no non fiction" bent. Anderson's language is great and his themes are straightforward and shifted a few paradigms for me.

The idea of "imagined communities" is one of those genius things that seems so obvious once it's been said. Like a "why didn't I think of that?" kind of deal. It's also eloquently stated and supported throughout the rest of the text.

Nationalism is kind of weird to think about in this context. Think about the
Sep 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I don't usually read books, particularly academic books, in one afternoon/evening, but Anderson's exposition of nationalisms was amazing. This is one of the most significant books I have ever read for understanding what and why the world is the way it is today. I generally work within a postcolonial frame of reference (in literary studies), whereas this book fits better in the domain of sociology, political science and history -- but it helped round out my understanding of what I study and made ...more
Paul Bowler
Dec 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating account of the invention of nationalism. Some of what Anderson explores I was already aware of, but I have been guilty of a certain euro-centric understanding of nationalism. The author quickly explains how nationalism also has origins in the Americas. The fact that this is a Marxist history was also interesting/challenging for this liberal reader.

My only problems with this book was my own ignorance. It employs jargon that often confused me and when he uses a non-English q
Jun 23, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those into theories of nationalism
Shelves: dissndat
My friend saw this book on my desk and said, "Oh! that is such OLD news!" ehem...
Ben Anderson's book has influenced an entire generation of critics of nations and nationalisms. The book reads well (I enjoy the obvious pleasure with which he writes) and is still fresh to new readers like me. I enjoy his ability to position his work in friendly opposition to other scholars of nationalism

My favorite notion is by far that of "bourgeois aristocracy" in the colonies.

Dec 28, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: textbooks
In the early 80's, Anderson took on the nebulous and rarely asked question; what is nationalism and from where does it derive? This updated edition is a brilliant treatise of philosophical, historical and sociological import. Though I think he over-emphasizes the role of print capitalism, and perhaps skims the role of proximal geography and other difficult issues, overall I found this a tantalizing read.
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Benedict Richard O'Gorman Anderson is Aaron L. Binenkorb Professor Emeritus of International Studies, Government & Asian Studies at Cornell University, and is best known for his celebrated book Imagined Communities, first published in 1983. Anderson was born in Kunming, China, to James O'Gorman Anderson and Veronica Beatrice Bigham, and in 1941 the family moved to California. In 1957, Anderson ...more
“the fellow members of even the smallese nation will never know most of their fellow members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of the communion...Communities are to be distinguished, not by their falsity or genuineness, but in the style in which they are imagined.” 17 likes
“It is nice that what eventually became the late British Empire has not been ruled by an 'English' dynasty since the early eleventh century: since then a motley parade of Normans (Plantagenets), Welsh (Tudors), Scots (Stuarts), Dutch (House of Orange) and Germans (Hanoverians) have squatted on the imperial throne. No one much cared until the philological revolution and a paroxysm of English nationalism in World War I. House of Windsor rhymes with House of Schönbrunn or House of Versailes.” 3 likes
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