Mass Mediations: New Approaches to Popular Culture in the Middle East and Beyond

By Walter Armbrust | Go to book overview
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TWO
Public Culture in Arab Detroit
Creating Arab/American Identities
in a Transnational Domain
Andrew Shryock

The shared economic infrastructure of advanced industrial society and its inescapable implications will continue to ensure that men are dependent on culture, and that culture requires standardization over quite wide areas, and needs to be maintained and serviced by centralized agencies. In other words, men will continue to owe their employability and social acceptability to sustained and complex training, which cannot be supplied by kin or local groups. This being so, the definition of political units and boundaries will not be able to ignore with impunity the distribution of cultures. By and large, ignoring minor and innocuous exceptions, the nationalist imperative of the congruence of political unit and of culture will continue to apply. In that sense, one need not expect the age of nationalism to come to an end.

ERNEST GELLNER, Nations and Nationalism

Gellner made the above prediction in 1983, when the age of nationalism, in scholarly circles at least, was just beginning. Benedict Anderson's Imagined Communities. originally published in the same year, turned nationalism into an anthropological obsession, with the result that modernity—a quality both Anderson and Gellner ascribed to nationalism in the West—was finally recognized as a legitimate object of ethnographic research. The topics that consumed anthropology in the 1980s (reflexivity, political economy, historicity, postcolonialism, and popular culture) were framed, more explicitly than ever before, in relation to metropolitan, Western-derived social forms. The nationalist imperative was never far from view, even if there was always something vaguely “imaginary” about it.

The trend continues. Yet today Gellner's vision of endless nationalism is often treated as unlikely and uninteresting in roughly equal degrees. Metropolitan intellectuals of all sorts, along with businesspeople and politicians, are now drawn to post modern, trans national images of community.

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