The Origins of Modern Nationalism in the North Atlantic Interaction Sphere

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Abstract

This article challenges the standard narrative (e.g. Gellner) regarding the origins of modern nationalism in Europe, and Benedict Anderson's contrary suggestion that it first took shape in creole America, arguing instead that the formation of modern nationalism needs to be understood as a transatlantic process, in keeping with recent research on Atlantic history. More specifically, the North Atlantic dynamic of imperial competition between Britain and France, that led to the American and French Revolutions, is seen as the crucible of modern state formation, and it is argued that the North Atlantic needs to be understood not simply as a geographic space, but as a distinctive sphere of social and ideological interaction, given the centrality of sea-going during this period. It was this complex social environment, centred on a long18th century, that most provoked new imaginings of national community. Toward this end the article articulates the analytic concept of the 'interaction sphere'. With this it picks up on Charles Tilly's key concerns with how best to analyse large historical processes, and his emphasis on political competition and social interaction in explaining social change.
Original languageEnglish
Article number12
JournalSociological Research Online
Volume14
Issue number5
Early online date30 Nov 2009
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2009

Keywords

  • Origins of Nationalism
  • Interaction Spheres
  • Social Change
  • Charles Tilly
  • Revolutions
  • Empires
  • Atlantic History

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