Small Countries: Structures and Sensibilities

Small Countries: Structures and Sensibilities

Small Countries: Structures and Sensibilities

Small Countries: Structures and Sensibilities


What is a small country? Is a country small because of the size of its territory or its population? Can smallness be relative, based on the subjective perception of a country's inhabitants or in comparison with one's neighbors? How does smallness, however it is defined, shape a country and its relations with other countries? Answers to these questions, among others, can be found in Small Countries, the first and only anthropological study of smallness as a defining variable.

In terms of population size, some two thirds of the countries of the world can now be considered small countries, and they can be found in all world regions except North America and East Asia. They exhibit great diversity with regard to culture, history, and institutional arrangements, so there can be no model of any "typical" small country. Yet the essays collected by Ulf Hannerz and Andre Gingrich identify a range of family resemblances in such areas as internal connectivity and sensibilities of identity. Contributors describe a number of similar problems with which small countries must cope, on domestic levels as well as in their transnational and global encounters. For some small countries, challenges such as media organization and branding have a negative impact on real or perceived vulnerability, while for others, the same challenges facilitate success stories.

Comparative case studies cover a diverse set of regions, including the Caribbean, Middle East, Africa, and Europe, and employ diverse anthropological approaches. Tacit assumptions about scale, identities, and networks in everyday social life are best revealed through close, interpretive effort. At times a sense of shared belonging comes to the fore with particular events, such as a national crisis or an unexpected success in international sports, offering scope for situational analyses. In showing how small countries confront globalization, Small Countries reveals how the sense of scale intensifies when the world as a whole shrinks.


Andre Gingrich and Ulf Hannerz

Take a handful of countries. During much of its half century or so as a contemporary independent state, Mali has not been much in world news. One of its cities, Timbuktu, was a medieval center of trade and learning but has more recently had a dubious claim to fame as “the end of the world.” Then half the country is conquered by Islamists, the old colonial power France comes in with troops, and for some time the global news media flock there. At about the same time, the international newsweekly Economist (2013) devotes a cover story to “the next supermodel: why the world should look at the Nordic countries,” with a portrait of a friendly but somewhat quizzicallooking Viking. a year and a half earlier, however, one of these countries had been the site of an extremist massacre. Qatar and Abu Dhabi and Dubai in what is now the United Arab Emirates used to be places where local people made a modest living from pearl fishing and trade along the shores of the Persian Gulf. Now, thanks to oil wealth, they have global museums, global sports events, and major international airlines. Singapore has been described as a First World country in a Third World region—now that the vocabulary has changed, is it a tropical part of the Global North? and in the tropics again, the Seychelles and the Maldives, out there somewhere in the ocean between Africa and India, have become celebrated tourist destinations.

All these—Mali, the Nordic countries, the Gulf states, Singapore, the island nations of the Indian Ocean—are, by some definition at least, small countries. in the global news flow, some of them may be there today and gone . . .

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