The Sociology of Nationalism: Tomorrow's Ancestors

By David McCrone | Go to book overview

2

TRIBE, PLACE AND IDENTITY

Ethnicity and nationalism

The late twentieth century, with its language of ‘ethnic cleansing’, is an epoch in which ethnicity and nationalism have come into their own. In a recently published anthology on ethnicity, the editors write: ‘Ethnicity, far from fading away, has now become a central issue in the social and political life of every continent. The “end of history”, it seems, turns out to have ushered in the era of ethnicity’ (Hutchinson and Smith, 1996:v). Whether we look at the Balkans, Chechnya, Nagorno-Karabakh, Central Africa or closer to home in Northern Ireland and Euskadi (the Basque Country), some of the most emotionally charged and seemingly intractable political disputes appear to be ‘ethnic’ in origin. The ‘dark gods’ theorists of nationalism who accuse it of releasing and mobilising ethnic hatreds would seem to have a point.

Students of nationalism also argue that ethnicity and nationalism are closely linked. For example, Walker Connor begins his collection of essays on ‘Ethnonationalism’ by justifying why he did not simply call it ‘nationalism’. The answer he gives is that ‘there is no difference if nationalism is used in its pristine sense’ (1994:xi). Unfortunately, he continues, this is rarely the case. Why it should be ‘unfortunate’ is debatable, but it is a fairly widespread sentiment. Nationalism without ethnicity is judged not to be quite the right thing.

The analysis of nationalism in Scotland provides a good, apparently negative, instance of this. In recent years, much has been made of the fact that what underlies Scottish nationalism is a ‘sense of place’ rather than a ‘sense of tribe’ (Smout, 1994). In other words, Scottishness is based on living in a common territory despite clear and abiding social, religious and geographical differences. The nationalist party, the SNP, prides itself on the ‘mongrel’ character of the Scots, and has argued that residence in Scotland, not blood-line, will confer citizenship if and when political independence is achieved.

Some writers have drawn the implication of this ‘territorial’ sense of nationality that it is a second-best definition, in the absence of a strong sense of ethnicity, the sense of tribe. Steve Bruce, for example, has drawn lessons about Scotland from his work on Northern Ireland to argue that it is precisely the lack of a single identity of a ‘people’ with common ancestors, common language, shared religion and a glorious history which prevented nationalism emerging in Scotland when it was

-22-

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The Sociology of Nationalism: Tomorrow's Ancestors
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • 1 - The Fall and Rise of Nationalism 1
  • 2 - Tribe, Place and Identity 22
  • 3 - Inventing the Past 44
  • 4 - ‘devils at His Back’ 64
  • 5 - Nation as State 85
  • 6 - Dialectic with the Other 102
  • 7 - In and Out of the State 125
  • 8 - The Unforeseen Revolution 149
  • 9 - Nationalism and Its Futures 169
  • Bibliography 188
  • Index 199
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