Common sense groupism
Few social science concepts would seem as basic, even indispensable, as that of group. In disciplinary terms, “group” would appear to be a core concept for sociology, political science, anthropology, demography, and social psychology. In substantive terms, it would seem to be fundamental to the study of political mobilization, cultural identity, economic interests, social class, status groups, collective action, kinship, gender, religion, ethnicity, race, multiculturalism, and minorities of every kind.
Yet despite this seeming centrality, the concept “group” has remained curiously unscrutinized in recent years. There is, to be sure, a substantial social psychological literature addressing the concept (Hamilton et al. 1998; McGrath 1984), but this has had little resonance outside that sub-discipline. Elsewhere in the social sciences, the recent literature addressing the concept “group” is sparse, especially by comparison with the immense literature on such concepts as class, identity, gender, ethnicity, or multiculturalism – topics in which the concept “group” is implicated, yet seldom analyzed its own terms. “Group” functions as a seemingly unproblematic, taken-for-granted concept, apparently in no need of particular scrutiny or explication. As a result, we tend to take for granted not only the concept “group,” but also “groups” – the putative things-in-the-world to which the concept refers.
My aim in this chapter is not to enter into conceptual or definitional casuistry about the concept of group.
The resurgence of nationalism in eastern Europe and elsewhere in the last decade has sparked – with only the shortest of lags – an even stronger resurgence in the study of nationalism. As a certifiably ‘hot topic’, nationalism has moved rapidly from the front pages to the journal pages, from the periphery – often the distant periphery – to the centre of numerous scholarly fields and subfields. This new centrality is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, the robust demand for knowledge about – and ‘fixes’ for – nationalism brings new opportunities, resources and attention to the field. On the other hand, the rapid expansion of the field has strengthened analytically primitive currents in the study of nationalism, threatening to erode (or simply – given the volume of the new literature – to overwhelm) the analytical gains previously made in sophisticated works by Benedict Anderson, John Armstrong, John Breuilly, Ernest Gellner, Anthony Smith and a number of other scholars.
Borrowing Charles Tilly's phrase, this chapter addresses six ‘pernicious postulates’, six myths and misconceptions that, newly strengthened by the dizzying expansion in the literature and quasi-literature on the subject, inform, and misinform, the study of ethnicity and nationalism. Although I draw illustrative empirical material mainly from postcommunist east central Europe and the former Soviet Union, the theoretical debates I engage are central to the study of nationalism generally.
Europe was the birthplace of the nation-state and modern nationalism at the end of the eighteenth century, and it was supposed to be their graveyard at the end of the twentieth. If we take 1792, when war and nationhood were first expressly linked and mutually energized on the battlefield of Valmy, as symbolizing their birth, we might take 1992 as symbolizing their anticipated death, or at least a decisive moment in their expected transcendence. Chosen by Jacques Delors as the target date for the completion of the ambitious program of the Single European Act, “1992” came to stand for the abolition of national frontiers within Europe; for the free movement of persons as well as goods and capital; for the emergence of a European citizenship; and – with the signing of the Treaty of Maastricht in 1991 – for the prospect of a common European currency, defense, and foreign policy. Just as Europe took the lead in inventing (and propagating) nationhood and nationalism, so now it would take the lead in transcending them; and “1992” served as a resonant symbol of that anticipated transcendence.
Deeper and more general forces, too, were seen as undermining the nation-state and rendering nationalism obsolete. Nationalism, discredited by the “Thirty Years War” of the first half of the century, seemed to have been dissolved in Western Europe by the subsequent thirty years of prosperity – “les trentes glorieueses,” as they are called in lines seemed increasingly ill-matched to social, economic, and cultural realities.
The Soviet Union has collapsed, but the contradictory legacy of its unique accommodation to ethnonational heterogeneity lives on. That accommodation pivoted on institutionalized multinationality. The Soviet Union was a multinational state not only in ethnodemographic terms – not only in terms of the extraordinary ethnic heterogeneity of its population – but, more fundamentally, in institutional terms. The Soviet state not only passively tolerated but actively institutionalized the existence of multiple nations and nationalities as fundamental constituents of the state and its citizenry. It established nationhood and nationality as fundamental social categories sharply distinct from the overarching categories of statehood and citizenship. In so doing, it prepared the way for its own demise. For the institutional crystallizations of nationhood and nationality were by no means empty forms or legal fictions, although this was how they were viewed by most Sovietologists. Institutionalized definitions of nationhood, I argue in this chapter, not only played a major role in the disintegration of the Soviet state, but continue to shape and structure the national question in the incipient successor states.
The chapter is in two parts. The first part discusses the dual legacy inherited by the successor states from the Soviet encounter with the national question. It focuses on the two very different modes in which nationhood and nationality were institutionalized in the Soviet Union – territorial and political on the one hand, ethnocultural and personal on the other hand.
In interwar Europe, one of the most dangerous fault lines was that along which the domestic nationalisms of ethnically heterogeneous nationalizing states collided with the transborder nationalisms of neighboring “homeland” states, oriented to co-ethnics living as minorities in the nationalizing states. The clash between the nationalizing nationalism of interwar Poland and the homeland nationalisms of Germany and the Soviet Union, between the nationalizing nationalism of Czechoslovakia and the homeland nationalisms of Germany and Hungary, between the nationalizing nationalism of Romania and the homeland nationalisms of Hungary and Bulgaria – to name only a few – generated both chronic tensions and acute crises, tensions and crises that were bound up with the background to and the outbreak of the Second World War.
Analogous collisions along the same fault line threaten the stability and security of the region today. In some cases they have already led to war. As I argued in Chapter 3, the interplay between the nationalizing nationalism of Croatia and the homeland nationalism of Serbia (along with the minority nationalism of Croatia's borderland Serbs) led to the breakup of Yugoslavia. Similarly, the interplay between the nationalizing nationalism of Azerbaijan and the homeland nationalism of Armenia (initially sparked by the minority nationalism of Karabakh Armenians) led to the war over Nagorno-Karabakh. Many other collisions or potential collisions along this fault line, while they have yet to generate large-scale violence, remain potentially destabilizing. The nationalizing nationalisms of Romania and Slovakia have clashed with the homeland nationalism of Hungary.
Most discussions of nationhood are discussions of nations. Nations are understood as real entities, as communities, as substantial, enduring collectivities. That they exist is taken for granted, although how they exist – and how they came to exist – is much disputed.
A similar realism of the group long prevailed in many areas of sociology and kindred disciplines. Yet in the last decade or so, at least four developments in social theory have combined to undermine the treatment of groups as real, substantial entities. The first is the growing interest in network forms, the flourishing of network theory, and the increasing use of network as an overall orienting image or metaphor in social theory. Second, there is the challenge posed by theories of rational action, with their relentless methodological individualism, to realist understandings of groupness. The third development is a shift from broadly structuralist to a variety of more “constructivist” theoretical stances; while the former envisioned groups as enduring components of social structure, the latter see groupness as constructed, contingent, and fluctuating. Finally, an emergent postmodernist theoretical sensibility emphasizes the fragmentary, the ephemeral, and the erosion of fixed forms and clear boundaries. These developments are disparate, even contradictory. But they have converged in problematizing groupness, and in undermining axioms of stable group being.
Twice in this century, Central and Eastern Europe have undergone a massive and concentrated reconfiguration of political space along national lines. In the first phase of this reconfiguration (which actually began in the nineteenth century), the crumbling of the great “traditional” multinational land empires – the prolonged decay of the Ottoman Empire and the sudden collapse, in the First World War, of the Habsburg and Romanov empires – left in its wake a broad north-south belt of new states in East Central Europe, stretching from the Baltic littoral to the Balkan peninsula. In the second phase, the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia and the emergence of some twenty new states in their stead have resulted in the nationalization of political space on a much vaster scale, extending from Central and Eastern Europe eastward across the entire breadth of Eurasia.
Like the nationalizing settlement that followed the First World War, the most recent reconfiguration of political space along ostensibly national lines has conspicuously failed to “solve” the region's longrefractory national question. Yet while nationalist tensions have not been resolved, they have been restructured. This chapter addresses this new phase and form of the national question, focusing on the triadic nexus linking national minorities, nationalizing states, and external national “homelands,” and illustrating its dynamically interactive quality with a discussion of the breakup of Yugoslavia.
Migration has always been central to the making, unmaking, and remaking of states. From the polychromatic political landscapes of the ancient world, with their luxuriant variety of forms of rule, to the more uniform terrain of the present, dominated by the bureaucratic territorial state, massive movements of people have regularly accompanied – as consequence and sometimes also as cause – the expansion, contraction, and reconfiguration of political space.
This centrality of migration to political expansion, contraction, and reconfiguration is amply illustrated in the history of the Russo-Soviet state. “The history of Russia,” wrote Vasilii Kliuchevskii, dean of nineteenth-century Russian historians, “is the history of a country which colonizes itself.” That colonization began in the mid-sixteenth century, when conquest of the Kazan and Astrakhan khanates permitted Russian peasant settlement to expand into the fertile black earth zone heretofore controlled by hostile Turkic nomads. It did not end until the postwar decades of the twentieth century, when industrial and agricultural development strategies drew large numbers of Russians to peripheral regions, most dramatically, in terms of ethnodemographic consequences, to Kazakhstan, Estonia, and Latvia. Throughout these four centuries, the eastward, southward, and (more recently) westward dispersion of Russians from their initially small region of core settlement has been intimately linked to the expansion and consolidation of the Russian state and its Soviet successor. It has comprised one of the greatest episodes of colonization in human history.
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