October 6, 2021

Origins of Ethnic Boundaries


  • Questions
  • Nations as “imagined communities”
  • States and imagination


Tomb of Unknown Soldier

Imagined Communities

Anderson’s book coins a phrase: “imagined communities”

  • nations (ethnic groups) are “imagined” (comes up in Chandra’s definition)
  • Ethnic boundaries include material practices/institutions AND shares understanding (imagination)

Imagined Communities

What makes it possible to imagine membership in a community?

Latvian Song and Dance Festival

  • nearly 20,000 people singing, dancing in unison.
  • ~1% of all Latvians in Latvia participate
  • impossible to know all singers/dancers, let alone all Latvians

How does this help imagine Latvia as a nation?

Imagined Communities

In small groups:

Thinking of the national/ethnic identifications you hold: what kinds of experiences, rituals, institutions, practices make it POSSIBLE for you to imagine yourself as a part of a community?

Origins of Imagined Communities

Modernity and Imagined Communities

Last class: possibility to imagine oneself in ethnic categories shaped by the state.


  • The kind of broad imagined communities of nation/ethnicity only became possible in modernity

Print Capitalism

Print Capitalism

Print Capitalism

Print Capitalism

The State and Imagination

The State and Imagination

But how were these imagined communities achieved?

  • Print is one thing, but people didn’t become national overnight: illiteracy

The State and Imagination

Even though it was possible to imagine the nation, not everyone did


Even though Europe was the birthplace of nationalism; nationalism tied to wars in Europe…

  • large segments of France could not understand French
  • rejected the label of French
  • actively resisted cooperation with the French government

as late as the end of the 19th century!!!

The State and Imagination