Nation and Identity in Contemporary Europe

By Brian Jenkins; Spyros A. Sofos | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

Brian Jenkins and Spyros A. Sofos

This book was conceived at a time of intense speculation about the future of nation-states and nationalism. On the one hand a variety of interrelated global processes seemed to be undermining the nation-state, both in terms of its political sovereignty and legitimacy, and in terms of its primacy as a focus for social identity The globalisation of the market economy, accelerated by the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet bloc, and exemplified in Europe by the rapid development of supranational institutions, has increasingly set limits on the capacity of national governments to act independently. At the same time, alongside the decay of traditional ideologies based on the ties of class or religion, which often acted as mediating agencies of national identity, the impact of mass migratory movements has created more pluri-cultural societies which are less amenable to the historic 'homogenising' myths of nation-statehood.

On the other hand, these global processes have not yet weakened the appeal of what is commonly called 'nationalism' (though the definition of the term is, of course, notoriously contentious). This has been most dramatically demonstrated in the territories of the former communist regimes, but western Europe has not remained immune. At both state and sub-state level, 'nationalist' movements and ideologies have proved their resilience, and cannot simply be dismissed as desperate rearguard actions against the 'onward march of world history

As the birthplace of the nation-state idea, Europe has been the fulcrum of these contradictions and conflicts. Here the concept of nationhood has deep roots, extending back to the mid-nineteenth century and in some cases well beyond, and assiduously cultivated over many generations. At the same time, the global processes referred to above have had a more dramatic political impact on Europe than on any other continent. Divided by the Cold War and then 'reunited', challenged economically by more powerful blocs, open to both 'post-colonial' and 'post-communist' migratory movements, Europe provides a fascinating laboratory for the study of the nation-state, and the associated problems of legitimacy, sovereignty and identity in the modern world.

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