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Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism

The definitive, bestselling book on the origins and development of nationalism.
Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson's brilliant book on nationalism, forged a new field of study when it first appeared in 1983. Since then it has sold over a quarter of a million copies and is widely considered the most important book on the subject. In this greatly anticipated revised edition, Anderson updates and elaborates on the core question: what makes people live, die and kill in the name of nations? He shows how an originary nationalism born in the Americas was adopted by popular movements in Europe, by imperialist powers, and by the anti-imperialist resistances in Asia and Africa, and explores the way communities were created by the growth of the nation-state, the interaction between capitalism and printing, and the birth of vernacular languages-of-state. Anderson revisits these fundamental ideas, showing how their relevance has been tested by the events of the past two decades.

Reviews

  • “[S]parkling, readable, densely packed.”
  • “[A] brilliant little book.”
  • “Anderson's knowlege of a vast range of relevant historical literature is most impressive; his presentation of the gist of it is both masterly and lucid.”

Blog

  • Replica, Aura, and Late Nationalist Imaginings

    In Chapter 4 of A Life Beyond Boundaries, Benedict Anderson reflects on the increasingly comparative direction his work began to take in the 1970s and '80s. 

    In my early days at Cornell, use of the concept of 'comparison' was still somewhat limited. I do not mean that comparisons were never made; they were made all the time, both consciously and (more often) unconsciously, but invariably in a practical way and on a small scale...

    Historians, anthropologists, economists, and sociologists rarely thought systematically about comparison at all. The political science department was a partial exception, since it had a subsection called 'comparative government,' to which I belonged. But the comparisons my classmates and I studied were primarily focused on Western Europe...

    For me, the odd thing was that comparative government did not cover the US itself, which was the preserve of a different subsection called American government..

    One of the central myths of American nationalism has long been 'exceptionalism' — the idea that US history, culture and political life are by definition incomparable. The US is not like Europe, not like Latin America, and absolutely not like Asia. Needless to say, this fancy is absurd. In different ways, the US is perfectly comparable, especially with Europe, South America, Japan and the British Dominions of the Empire (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and so on.)


    Below is one of Anderson's comparative engagements with US history; a consideration of national monuments, the primary coordinates of which are the United States and the Philippines, adapted for 
    The Spectre of Comparisons: Nationalism, Southeast Asia and the World from an essay first published in a 1993 issue of Qui Parle.


    “There is nothing in this world as invisible as a monument,” wrote Robert Musil

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  • The Strange Story of a Strange Beast: Receptions in Thailand of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Tropical Malady

    Towards the end of A Life Beyond Boundaries, Benedict Anderson describes how his retirement allowed him to renew his passion for film. "No one interested me more," he writes,


    than the young Thai genius Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who won two top Cannes prizes in three years for his Blissfully Yours and Tropical Malady...The irony is that Apichatpong's films have never been allowed a normal commercial run in Siam itself, and he has been locked in a running battle with the imbecilic censors in Bangkok. So, for fun, I wrote a long article about Tropical Malady itself, but especially about the reactions of different audiences (villagers, arrogant and ignorant Bangkok know-it-alls, students, middle-class families, teenagers, etc.) It turned out that people in the countryside understood better what the film had to say than urban intellectuals. In July 2006 the article was translated by my former student Mukhom Wongthes as "Sat Pralaat arai wa?" (What the Heck is This Beast?) in Silapa Wattanatham. Three years later the text was republished in as "The Strange Story of a Strange Beast: Receptions in Thailand of Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Sat Pralaat," in James Quandt's edited collection Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Later I also joined, in a quiet way, the fight against the imbeciles. It was in this way that I first met Apichatpong, with whom I soon became close. (The deliciously unacademic cover for the Thai translation of Imagined Communities was designed by my new friend.)


    Below we present the version of Anderson's essay that appeared in James Quandt's Apichatpong Weerasethakul, published by the Austrian Film Museum. Though out of print, the book is currently included with the Film Museum's DVD release of Apichatpong's Mysterious Object at Noon. 


    (From Sat Pralaat [Tropical Malady])

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  • Imagined Communities: Benedict Anderson on (British) Nationalism

    Tariq Ali introduces a documentary about the late Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities and the concept of nationalism, particularly as it was expressed through the 'British' national imagination. Made in 1991, the film features Anderson and other thinkers responding to the book and its examination of the role of print culture in the origins of nationalism. 

    Anderson, the world renowned scholar of Southeast Asia, passed away in December, 2015. An instant classic, Imagined Communities was first published by Verso in 1983.

    His memoir, A Life Beyond Boundaries, will be published in May 2016. Anderson recounts a life spent open to the world in this intellectual memoir and discusses the ideas and inspirations behind his best-known work, Imagined Communities, whose complexities changed the study of nationalism.


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