Wogan_IMAGINED COMMUNITIES RECONSIDERED-IS PRINT-CAPITALISM WHAT WE THINK IT IS.pdf

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Anthropological Theory Copyright © SAGE Publications London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi Vol 1(4): 403–418 [1463-4996(200112)1:4;403–418;019908] 403 Imagined Communities reconsidered Is print-capitalism what we think it is? Peter Wogan Willamette University, USA Abstract This article critically evaluates Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (1991), arguing that the book’s popularity partly derives from its resonance with widespread, deep-seated western notions of language, especially oppositions between print and orality in terms of their relationship to cognition, emotion, history, and nationalism. The article gives reason to reconsider reactions to Anderson’s book and argues for a more sustained focus on the relationship between nationalism and linguistic ideologies. Key Words Imagined Communities • linguistic ideology • literacy • nationalism • print-capitalism Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (1991) is undoubtedly one of the most influential recent texts on language and national identity, and its warm reception by diverse scholarly communities has certainly been well justified: Anderson’s book has brilliantly illuminated the cultural dimensions of nationalism, particularly the role of print-capitalism, and in doing so has inspired waves of important new research on questions of nationalism. However, it is precisely this overwhelmingly positive reception of Anderson’s book that I think deserves critical reflection. In particular, I will argue that the popularity of Imagined Communi- ties (hereafter referred to as IC) is due, at least in part, to its resonance with certain deep- seated, western views of language. This argument extends previous criticisms of Anderson, and it should give readers reason to check their reactions to this text. At the same time, I advance the positive message that linguistic ideologies themselves can and should be a focus of research on nationalism. Let me make it clear at the outset that this sort of review does not in itself repudiate Anderson’s text; such repudiation would require a combination of ideological arguments and empirical, evidentiary arguments about individual points, and, while I sometimes note factual inaccuracies in IC, my argument is ultimately about readers’ reception of by Sophia Hoshko on March 30, 2016 ant.sagepub.com Downloaded from
the text. Ideally, then, this critique should be read in conjunction with previous critical reviews of IC (Balakrishnan, 1996: 204; Chatterjee, 1993; Coleman, 1996; Gal and Irvine, 1995: 995, note 3; Herzfeld, 1997: 5–6; MacLaughlin, 1988; Rosaldo, 1994; Segal and Handler, 1992; Silverstein, in press; Smith, 1991), many of which I will refer to in this article. In any case, such criticisms of IC should serve to indicate that the book’s popularity cannot be accounted for strictly by the strength of its empirical evidence, and, therefore, that it is worth exploring other explanations. Toward this end, I will begin by

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