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”Imagined community” is a term coined by Benedict Anderson (1983) in Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, an influential book on the emergence and persistence of nations. The concept addresses the relationship between states, capitalism, and cultural belonging.
Anderson defines the nation as imagined ”because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members . . . yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion” (1983: 6), and as a community because ”regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail . . . the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship” (1983: 7).
”Imagined community” positions national identities and nationalism as social constructs. Anderson emphasizes the dynamic coincidence of the development of printing technologies, industrial capitalism, and increased literacy as crucial in this regard, as this allowed the idea of the nation to be disseminated within national-linguistic markets to an emergent bourgeoisie (who could ”imagine” themselves in national cultural communities outside of family structures and religious institutions).
For Anderson then, the promise of the nation as ”imagined community” is in the social integration of strangers; the impression, albeit an illusion, is of a coherent group moving together through history and into a common future. In questioning how such narratives are constructed and maintained through culture, the concept of ”imagined community” has become important to much sociological research on nationalism, ethnicity, and identity.
- Anderson, B. (1983) Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Verso, London.
- Billig, M. (1995) Banal Nationalism. Sage, London.