Imagined community

An imagined community is a concept developed by Benedict Anderson in his 1983 book Imagined Communities, to analyze nationalism. Anderson depicts a nation as a socially constructed community, imagined by the people who perceive themselves as part of that group.[1]:6–7

The media also creates imagined communities, through usually targeting a mass audience or generalizing and addressing citizens as the public. Another way that the media can create imagined communities is through the use of images. The media can perpetuate stereotypes through certain images and vernacular. By showing certain images, the audience will choose which image they relate to the most, furthering the relationship to that imagined community.


According to Anderson, creation of imagined communities became possible because of "print capitalism".[2] Capitalist entrepreneurs printed their books and media in the vernacular (instead of exclusive script languages, such as Latin) in order to maximize circulation. As a result, readers speaking various local dialects became able to understand each other, and a common discourse emerged. Anderson argued that the first European nation-states were thus formed around their "national print-languages." Anderson presented that the first form of capitalism started with the process of printing books and religious materials. The process of printing texts in the vernacular started right after the moment when the books printed in script languages, such as Latin saturated the elite market and also, in the moment it was observed that just a small category of people were speaking it and were part of the bilingual society. It is also important to remember that this start of cultural and national revolution started around 1517 when Martin Luther presented his views regarding the scripture texts and how population and people should be able to read it in the comfort of their own homes and then in the following years, between 1520-1540, more than a half of the books that where printed in German translation had his name on. Moreover the first European nation-states that are presented to have formed around their "national print-languages" are said to be found in the Anglo-Saxon region, nowadays England and around todays Germany. Should also be taken in consideration the fact that not only in the Western Europe this process of creating a nation was emerging, in a few centuries most of the Europe nations had created their own national languages, but still were using languages such as Latin, French or German, mostly the last two, for political affairs.

Nationalism and imagined communities

According to Anderson's theory of imagined communities, the main causes of nationalism are[citation needed] the movement to abolish the ideas of rule by divine right and hereditary monarchy;[citation needed] and the emergence of printing press capitalism ("the convergence of capitalism and print technology... standardization of national calendars, clocks and language was embodied in books and the publication of daily newspapers")[2]—all phenomena occurring with the start of the Industrial Revolution.[2] From this Anderson argues that in the presence and development of technology people started to make differences between what means divine and divinity and what really is history and politics, because initially the divine and the history of society and politics was based on the existence of a common religion that was a unification umbrella for all the people across Europe. With the emergence of the printing press and also capitalism, people gained some sort of national consciousness regarding the common values that bring those people together. The Imagined Communities started with the creation of their own nation print-languages that were spoken by each individual. That helped the development of the first forms of known nation-states, who then created their own form of art, novels, publications, mass-media, and communications.

While attempting to define nationalism, Anderson identifies three paradoxes:

"(1) The objective modernity of nations to the historians' eyes vs. their subjective antiquity in the eyes of nationalists. (2) The formal universality of nationality as a socio-cultural concept [and] (3) the 'political' power of such nationalisms vs. their philosophical poverty and even incoherence."[1]

Anderson talks of Unknown Soldier tombs as an example of nationalism. The tombs of Unknown Soldiers are either empty or hold unidentified remains, but each nation with these kinds of memorials claims these soldiers as their own. No matter what the actual origin of the Unknown Soldier is, these nations have placed them within their imagined community.[1]

Nation as an imagined community

He defined a nation as "an imagined political community".[1] As Anderson puts it, a nation "is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion".[1] Members of the community probably will never know each of the other members face to face; however, they may have similar interests or identify as part of the same nation. Members hold in their minds a mental image of their affinity: for example, the nationhood felt with other members of your nation when your "imagined community" participates in a larger event such as the Olympic Games.

Finally, a nation is a community because,

regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship. Ultimately it is this fraternity that makes it possible, over the past two centuries, for so many millions of people, not so much to kill, as willingly to die for such limited imaginings.[1]

Context and influence

Benedict Anderson arrived at his theory because he felt that neither Marxist nor liberal theory adequately explained nationalism.

Anderson falls into the "historicist" or "modernist" school of nationalism along with Ernest Gellner and Eric Hobsbawm in that he posits that nations and nationalism are products of modernity and have been created as means to political and economic ends. This school stands in opposition to the primordialists, who believe that nations, if not nationalism, have existed since early human history. Imagined communities can be seen as a form of social constructionism on par with Edward Said's concept of imagined geographies.

In contrast to Gellner and Hobsbawm, Anderson is not hostile to the idea of nationalism nor does he think that nationalism is obsolete in a globalizing world. Anderson values the utopian element in nationalism.[3]

According to Harald Bauder, the concept of imagined communities remains highly relevant in a contemporary context of how nation-states frame and formulate their identities about domestic and foreign policy, such as policies towards immigrants and migration.[4] According to Euan Hague, "Anderson's concept of nations being 'imagined communities' has become standard within books reviewing geographical thought".[5]

Even though the term was coined to specifically describe nationalism, it is now used more broadly, almost blurring it with community of interest. For instance, it can be used to refer to a community based on sexual orientation,[6] or awareness of global risk factors.[7]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f Anderson, Benedict R. O'G. (1991). Imagined communities: reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism (Revised and extended. ed.). London: Verso. pp. 6–7. ISBN 978-0-86091-546-1. Retrieved 5 September 2010.
  2. ^ a b c "The Nationalism Project: Books by Author A-B". nationalismproject.org.
  3. ^ Interview with Benedict Anderson by Lorenz Khazaleh, University of Oslo website
  4. ^ Bauder, H. (2011) Immigration Dialectic: Imagining Community, Economy and Nation. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.[page needed]
  5. ^ "Benedict Anderson" (PDF). Retrieved 15 December 2015.
  6. ^ Ross, Charlotte (November 2012). "Imagined communities: initiatives around LGBTQ ageing in Italy". Modern Italy. 17 (4): 449–464. doi:10.1080/13532944.2012.706997.
  7. ^ Beck, Ulrich (October 2011). "Cosmopolitanism as Imagined Communities of Global Risk". American Behavioral Scientist. 55 (10): 1346–1361. doi:10.1177/0002764211409739. S2CID 144304661.

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