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Nationalism and regionalism

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It is a broad topic because there is a long history behind these topics and they are analyzed by multiple disciplines.

The conceptual uncertainty of nationalism[edit | edit source]

Nationalism is a huge intellectual project. Nationalism has been studied in many disciplines not only in political science and international relations, but also in sociology, anthropology and economics.

Nationalism has a powerful and ambiguous political force in the contemporary world because it can mobilize individuals towards collective goals, including protecting the nation from potential threats or fighting for an exclusive national territory. Nationalism is a conceptual uncertainty, Anderson speaks of "philosophical poverty" with an emancipatory side and a repressive capacity.

The emancipatory element is the force behind liberation movements against colonial oppression. Only societies that developed a nationalism within themselves arrived at a more progressive state. It is among the philosophers of the Enlightenment that one finds the conception of a positive and negative nationalism with extremely nationalisms that can be considered as aberrations. The repressive element is for example the extreme genocidal hate motive.

Nationalism has a diversity in geographical and historical space, but also in time. Nationalism is not a southern phenomenon. Although there were nationalist movements that led to independence in Latin America in the 19th century and colonies in the 20th century from the 1960s onwards, this is a phenomenon that has been observed in northern countries. Many political geographers are interested in the techniques used by the state in northern countries.

Nation - Nationalisme[edit | edit source]

Nationalism is based on the idea of the nation. For Renan when the conference What is a nation? of 1882 proposes a definition of the nation: "A nation is a soul, a spiritual principle. Two things which, to tell the truth, make one, constitute this soul, this spiritual principle. One is in the past, the other in the present. One is the common possession of a rich legacy of memories; the other is the present consent, the desire to live together, the willingness to continue to value the inheritance one has received undivided. For Renan, national identity is a collective identity with a destiny constructed as a similar story.

Perspectives[edit | edit source]

Primordial / essentialist perspective[edit | edit source]

The human being is considered as belonging to a nation. National identity is like a biological trait. It contains Ratzel's thought that binds the people to the ground with a perspective of the origin of the essentialist nations that is based on biological determinity naturalism. This is a perspective that has now been rejected, but which is present in a political perspective. Although present today, "primordialism" is widely rejected in scientific research. National identity is linked to the emergence of the modern state in Western Europe in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Ethno-symbolist perspective[edit | edit source]

This perspective is based on the fact that most nations are based on ethnic ties and traditions that will become resources for the formation of nations. The idea is that at some point there is a tradition on the basis of which the nation was formed. Nationalism is a discourse and a construction. It is the historical context that determines how these traditions are used.

For Anthony Smith, the "ethnic" connotation is a discursive construction. National identities are formed around ethnic identities, under particular social, economic or political conditions. Today's nations draw their existence from links with earlier communities, namely "ethnic groups". There are several characteristics of an ethnic group: collective proper name; myth of a common ancestry; shared historical memories; one or more differentiating elements of a common culture; association with a territory/country; a feeling of solidarity.

Modernist Perspectives[edit | edit source]

It is in this perspective that most geographers, especially political geographers, work today. Nations emerged after the formation of states. The emphasis is placed on the production of national identity through spaces and scales, hence the interest of political geography. Researchers from this perspective focus on processes.

Ernest Gellner's research (1925 - 1995) focuses on the transition from agrarian society to industrial society, the role of mass education and the creation of the nation by necessity. Eric Hobsbawm's (1917-2012) are about the post-revolutionary era in France, the rise of capitalism, the creation of national allegiances by rich elites. According to him, intentional social manipulations ("false consciousness", "invented traditions").

Benedict Anderson: Imagined Communities (1983)[edit | edit source]

Imagined Communities (1983)[edit | edit source]

A nation is an imagined community, not an imaginary community opposing Gellner and Hobsbawm, there are real communities juxtaposed with nations. On the other hand, the limited and sovereign nation. For Anderson, what shapes human communities is not that they are authentic or false, but the ways in which they are imagined.

Nationalism is a cultural artifact that occurs through a complex crossing of discrete historical forces towards the end of the 18th century. Once created, these artifacts become "modular", capable of being transplanted into very diverse social terrains and adapted to diverse political and ideological constellations. Emphasis is placed on regular cultural practices producing and reproducing the relevance of the national identity such as the census, the map, the museum.

For Anderson, the origin of national consciousness is the emergence of print media and capitalist development. The revolutionary vernacularization marks the decline of Latin. The impact of the Reformation and the diffusion of particular vernaculars was an instrument of administrative centralisation beginning before the 16th century. It is an "explosive" interaction of a production system, a technology, and the "fatal" diversity of languages. There is a causal association between the emergence of state sovereignty and national identity from a historical context, but this questions evolution "after history".

Le nationalisme comme mouvement social[edit | edit source]

According to Gellner, nationalists seek congruence between national unity and political unity. Two variations can be distinguished:

  • ethnic nationalism: evolution from the belief in the existence of an ethnic or national group to the process and political practice organised around this belief as, for example, the Basque Country or Tamil Eelam, but also irredentist movements ;
  • civic nationalism: a state-led process aimed at the development of the nation; a form of patriotism or citizenship that celebrates the existence of a state, such as citizenship tests.

We must be careful, because there is a tendency to see these two variations as geographically distinguishing as the "orientalist" phenomenon differentiating the Southern and Northern nationalisms, but in practice, the two are not always differentiable.

Nationalism - regionalism[edit | edit source]

In a way, there is a similar logic. Regionalism is found in different parts of the world, but in the specific context of Europe, this has led to the emergence of more pronounced regions in Europe than elsewhere. Many financial instruments have provided support to the regions.

What is a region?

  • economic perspective: regions are created by the market;
  • political perspective: regions created "top-down" by the state;
  • cultural perspective: "ethnosymbolist" regions based on the idea that there is a shared history and solidarity of common destinies ;
  • ecological perspective: regions defined by the environment.

The region, like the nation is a construction, because each construction will create an "us" that has a border with "others". This is reflected in regionalist movements. Political geography is concerned with the production of regions and regional struggles, but also with territorial divisions and the reasons for these divisions.

Thus, Paasi distinguishes three approaches to understanding regions:

  • pre-scientific approaches: the region as a necessary spatial unit for empirical research, in particular through comparative statistics;
  • disciplinary approaches: the region as an analytical object or outcome emerging from the research process. These regions can nevertheless influence policy (textbooks, etc.);
  • critical approaches: the region as a social construct, the result of political processes and struggles. These approaches analyze regionalization in its geographical and historical context and in the broader context of state formation and transformation.

Alpine regionalism[edit | edit source]

Regionalism is emerging from populist parties in Alpine regions such as the Lega Nord, the Ligue savoisienne or the Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs with representation in Brussels and international ambitions. These are regions seeking to emancipate themselves from national capital mobilizing regional identity for political purposes. There is the construction of a history through notions of homeland, tradition, conservative feelings or even around ecology. It is the construction of a region and a "living space".

There are several territorial issues in the Alps. The Alpine Convention neglects the regional level. In parallel there is the "Alpine Space" programme of the European Union which is a cross-border programme that finances projects. In this programme, the perimeter of the Alpine Space is much wider than the Alpine Convention.
There is a macro-regional strategy launched by the regions, but supported by the States, based on the idea of an Alpine macro-region that more or less follows the perimeter of the Alpine space.

Xavier Long's analysis deals with the double paradox of Alpine regionalism with populisms in the Alps that refer to a supranational, non-local space and benefit from the constitution of a European space, but there is "the establishment of a distant reference level only reinforces the enlarged local". Territoriality is seen as an "ideal representation [...] without denying the reality of the mountain-object, it is necessary to work in parallel with the mountain-idea [...] Today, alpine belonging is first of all an intellectual construction [...] links to the territory cannot be decreed, but under certain conditions the discourse can produce territory, if the populations integrate it and if the geographical moment is favourable". Identity is never complete, it is a process in transformation around practices.

Summary[edit | edit source]

Political geography is interested in nationalism and regionalism because they are at the origin of any territorial division and the struggles around these divisions, and the mobilization of space for political ends. Nationalism has a double face with manifestation as an emancipatory force as well as a repressive force gives the concept conceptual/philosophical uncertainty.

National identity and nationalism emerge in the context of state formation. There are many factors that can serve as a foundation for a nationalist movement, but it is not possible to anticipate precisely the factors that will be determining. The region, like the nation, is a social construction. Regionalization analysis is a research field par excellence for political geography.

Annexes[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]