Nationalism and Subaltern Studies

Opposing to Eurocentric definitions of nationalism we might consider a premise based on Anderson’s Imagined communities in an article Unfinished Imagined Communities: States, Social Movements, and Nationalism in Latin America, written by José Itzigsohn and Matthias vom Hau. They propose a different view:

Anderson argues that early nineteenth-century “creole pioneers” invented nations in the struggle for Independence from Spain, thereby establishing a “blueprint” for nationalism around the globe. Anderson’s argument about the Latin American origins of nationalism did not work out. Critics were quick to point out that ideas about popular sovereignty and citizenship employed by insurgent creoles originated in Western Europe (Greenfield, 1992; Guibernau, 1996), and that Anderson’s elite-centered argument ignored the agency of subaltern actors (Lomnitz, 2001; Mallon, 1995; Thurner, 1997). We maintain, however, that it is worthwhile to follow Anderson’s invitation to explore how the Latin American experience can inform theories of nationalism.”

Here we stumble upon a merely new field of studies called Subaltern studies. Ileana Rodríguez, the editor of The Latin American Subaltern Studies Reader, explains the project of subalternity which began in India as a political and epistemological criticism of history. In year 1981, Ranajit Guha defined the subaltern very broadly as anyone who is subordinated “in terms of class, caste, age, gender and office or in any other way.” Historical knowledge, subalternists contended, organized the past in line with the governmental efforts of the modern state. Opposition to state policy was deemed logical and political if carried out in a language that the state could contest and eventually incorporate.

In the funding statement of Latin American Subaltern Studies Group (LASSG), which was released in 1993, it is written:

»De-nationalization is simultaneously a limit and a threshold of our project. The deterritorialization of the nation-state under the impact of the new permeability of frontiers to capital-labor flows merely replicates, in effect, the genetic process of implantation of a colonial economy in Latin America in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It is not only that we can no longer operate solely within the prototype of nationhood; the concept of the nation, itself tied to the protagonism of Creole elites concerned to dominate and/or manage other social groups or classes in their own societies, has obscured, from the start, the presence and reality of subaltern social subjects in Latin American history. We need, in this sense, to go backward to consider both pre-Columbian and colonial forms of pre-national territorialization, as well as forward to think about newly emerging territorial subdivisions, permeable frontiers, regional logics, and concepts such as Commonwealth or Pan-Americanism”.

In the process of trying to understand nationalism in Latin America we must recognize theories developed in Latin America because they may present a different standing point and lead us to epistemological criticism of history.

Literature and Further readings

Anderson, Benedict. 2006. Imagined Communities Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso.

Itzigsohn, José and Matthias vom Hau. 2006. Unfinished Imagined Communities: States, Social Movements, and Nationalism in Latin America. Theory and Society, 35 (2), pp.193-212.

Latin American Subaltern Studies Group. 1993. The Postmodernism Debate in Latin America. Boundary 20, (3). Duke University Press pp. 110-121.

Ileana Rodríguez (ed.).2001. The Latin American Subaltern Studies Reader. Durham and North Carolina: Duke University Press.

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