As I did the readings for this week, one theme particularly stood out to me throughout Conrad’s chapters: that of the nation and national identity. Focusing on Germany, he emphasises that German history and national identity were not made purely within the state, but greatly influenced by external factors, foreign events and transnational flows. By looking at Polish and Chinese labour movements and flows, he demonstrates how they were not only viewed as a threat to German national identity, but how they impacted the nation and the way it was perceived. Conrad adds an interesting and important perspective regarding the dynamics of nationalism and national history. He places it in a global context and recognises the transnational aspects and influences which I do not think are recognised enough.

The ideas of the nation and national identity hold a lot of power. Demonstrated through the chapters on the reception and impact of the Polish and Chinese workers, it is evident that they are very important and highly valued. The presence of these foreign people and cultures immediately was seen to threaten and plague German national identity and the nation. Subsequently, policies of ‘Germanisation’ were undertaken, particularly towards the Poles: everyone had to be moulded to fit what was viewed as ‘German’, and lose their former nationality and culture.

But what exactly is ‘German’? It is becoming increasingly clear to me just how connected nations and cultures are, and how they are all influenced and shaped by each other. Therefore, what is viewed as ‘German’ and as part of German national identity is more of a compound of many foreign influences and transnational connections. These connections and ties are what build up and shape something in to what it is. It is almost paradoxical to seek to transform these Polish or Chinese workers, when they themselves contributed to consolidating German national identity. Although their presence led to stronger borders, immigration control, and strengthening of both German and their own identity, they too are part of and influence the German nation.

Drawing on Benedict Anderson, Conrad highlights how the nation is a product of relationships, a social construct and an imagined community. The loyalty to the nation and strength of this bond throughout late modern history has been remarkably strong. This theme (and the often accompanying racism) still runs strongly today. Much of the Brexit campaign built upon the ‘threat’ of immigrants including in taking British jobs, and the era of Trump’s Presidency in the U.S. was laden with anti-immigrant policies and racism, and slogans such as ‘Make America Great Again’. Even in such diverse and geographically expansive countries, there tends to be a singular, strong, national identity formed.

I will end this blog post with a few further questions. Namely, why are the nation and national identity so important to people? Does their strength do more harm than good? And why has it always remained so highly valued in a world that is increasingly connected?

Questioning the Nation, Nationalism, and National Identity

One thought on “Questioning the Nation, Nationalism, and National Identity

  • January 31, 2022 at 4:31 pm

    Hi Jemma! I found your blog post to be very engaging, particularly in the third paragraph. I liked how you pointed out how nations are all influenced and shaped by each other, and that many national identities are compounds of transnational connections. I was thinking along similar lines about history based on the concept of integration, increased mobility, and ideological nation building.

    Conrad noted in the introduction to Globalisation that at one point, the sociological theory of globalization feared homogenization due to increased exchange. This reminded me of content I learned in my modern history course last semester, Popular Culture, Nation, and Socieety: Britain 1880-1960. In the UK in the mid twentieth century, citizens and politicians feared Americanization after the domination and success of American cinema, the rise of American genres of music, and the adoption of American trends by the youth population. This also had to do with resentment as the United States surpassed Britain as a world power. These concerns pushed Britian to form their own identifiable forms of media and entertainment. For example, the formation of the BBC and its regulations and style were specifically designed to be different than American radio stations. These qualities helped form ideas of Englishness, like the accent of radio hosts known as Received Pronunciation.

    This idea that avoiding homogenization helped the UK form tenets of their national identity makes me think of Benedict Anderson’s concept of the nation as an imagined community. By defining the ‘other’, a nation also must define what is characteristic to their own community.

    Also in the Conrad readings was a quote by Swedish social anthropologist Ulf Hannerz: ‘geographical spaces cannot really contain or limit culture’. This helped my understanding of why historians must look at history with transnational perspectives because people are constantly moving and defined spaces are constantly shifting. It made me think of boundaries, and that the defined limit to a geographical space does not contain or limit culture because it is the space through which culture, people, ideas, and commodities are exchanged. Though the border to a country might be a stationary line, it is actually a space of great mobility.

    Finally, these ideas about borders and geographical spaces not defining culture feels especially relevant in the 21st century. Ruger noted in the OXO article that there is a new interest among historians in institutions (companies and orgs) as key arenas for transnational activities. After reading the Hannerz quote, I thought about how communities and identities can even exist online, facilitated by social media and micro-trends. These communities transcend geographical boundaries so that two people on opposite sides of the planet can consume the same information, which is really interesting to me.

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