Article Spotlights Round-Up: Borders, Ethnicity and Minorities

articlespotlightRead on for some SEN articles that reflect on some news items reported on the blog over the past several weeks:

The Nation-State Form and the Emergence of ‘Minorities’ in Syria, Benjamin White, Volume 7, Issue 1, March 2007, pp. 64-85.

Minorities are specifically modern political groupings: they belong to the era of nation-states. This article explores the emergence of minorities in Syria under the French mandate. It examines the contradictions caused by French attempts to impose a religious political order within the secular form of the nation-state, showing how that form created minorities, most of whom cannot simply be mapped onto the millets, or religious communities, of the Ottoman Empire.

Using French and Syrian sources from the archives of the French High Commission, the article examines various religious and ethnolinguistic minorities to show how their emergence was governed by the nation-state form. French colonial policy influenced their development, but not their existence. The article draws on publications from the nationalist press of the period to show how the formation of minority and majority consciousness constitutes a larger process that is intimately linked to the nationstate form. The Syrian case is presented for comparative study and warns against an unreflective use of ‘minority’ as an analytical category.

Nationalism, Exclusion, and Violence: A Territorial Approach, John Robert Etherington, Volume 7, Issue 3, December 2007, pp. 24-44.

Nationalism can be understood as a doctrine of territorial political legitimacy, in the sense that demands for national self-government necessarily involve claims over a given territory. Such claims are ultimately justified by establishing a relationship of mutual belonging between the nation and ‘its’ territory. This makes nationalism intrinsically exclusionary and potentially violent, since purely civic nations become impossible in practice. Shared political and social values on their own fail to bind nation and territory together, and as such the nation’s ‘home’ might be anywhere, and thus, in a world of competing political claims over territory, nowhere. Ethnic elements of national identity are therefore necessary if an exclusive relationship is to be established between the nation and ‘its’ territory. These arguments are illustrated by analysing a series of nationalisms that have been traditionally considered to be ‘civic,’ such as those found in the United States, Canada and England.

Nationalism, Ethnicity and Self-determination: A Paradigm Shift?, Ephraim Nimni, Volume 9, Issue 2, September 2009, pp. 319-332.

An ongoing paradigm shift is giving birth to a more multidimensional understanding of the relationship between nationalism, sovereignty, self-determination and democratic governance. A common element among the various versions of the new paradigm is the dispersal of democratic governance across multiple and overlapping jurisdictions. Governmental processes are no longer seen as discrete, centralised and homogenous (as in the old nation-state model) but as asymmetrical, multilayered, multicultural and devolved into multiple jurisdictions. These changes have hardly affected the two main conceptual frameworks that dominate the study of nationalism: modernism and ethnosymbolism. As a result, these frameworks risk becoming irrelevant to the new forms of national self-determination, asymmetrical governance and shared sovereignty. Modernism and ethnosymbolism insist that nationalism seeks to equate the nation with a sovereign state, while in reality the overwhelming majority of nations are stateless and unable to build nation states because they often inhabit territories shared with other nations. The paradigm shift occurs through the realisation that nation-state sovereignty is no longer a feasible solution to the demands of stateless nations. Ethnosymbolism is in a much better position to adapt to the paradigm shift provided it abandons the claim that the nation state is the best shell for the nation.

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