Sep 1, 2020 in Analysis

Theories of Nationalism and Tribalism: An Intersection

In his arguments about nationalism and tribalism, James argues that the two are not distinct, but have synchronized realities especially in the present. James further argues that most scholars in this area always study nationalism and view it as major setting for the society’s intersection. Apart from this, he argues that some anthropologist have prophesied the end of the nation state and are therefore seeking to understand the traditional style of community . What James is saying is that more studies on nationalism, tribalism and other related to nationalism need serious study to understand the future trend of nationalism. In relation to this, this paper contributes to this topic by explaining the different theories of nationalism and tribalism and then seeks to determine the intersection of the two theories.

Theories of Tribalism

Different views have come up trying to explain tribalism. Basically, tribalism refers to ethnic divisiveness . However, this notion have been rejected and expanded by some theorists who explains tribalism in a different manner. According to Ekeh, an anthropologist in this area, tribalism, especially in continents like Africa, refers to intolerable manners of behavior in mixed ethnic contexts that jeopardize and threaten normal cohabitation among people of different ethnic groups.

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In his works on tribalism, James argues that tribalism can be explained in different ways such as traditional tribalism, customary tribalism, modern and postmodern tribalism. James argue that traditional tribalism, which is one of the tribalism types, is complex and refers to groupings based on proximate kingship and genealogical placements. These groups, according to James, are spread to an extent that they resemble or look alike with traditional kingdoms . 

This is different from modern tribalism, which refers to groupings formed through globalization and nation formation. This form of tribalism was created from the traditional tribes after rationalized Christianity and global imperialism led to the re-formation of traditional tribalism. This notion is supported by Lentz who argues that the social change that took place in Africa 1940s and 1950s under the British colonialism led to the phenomena of urbanization and labor migration. This led to detribalization, as Lentz refers to this phenomena led to different social fields that were different in organization and behavior. While citing the works of other anthropologists, Lentz calls this form of modern tribalism as secondarily tribesman, which takes place after detribalization. Lentz continues to explain this phenomena in the context of the environment by arguing that it applied when people were away from their tribes, but as soon as they returned in their homes, they were tribalized.  This made modern tribalism in this era to be different since it did not carry the rural modes of behavior and institution into the city. Instead, the urban phenomena was different as people lived together in the urban setting. 

Post-modernism tribalism, on the other hand is a type of tribalism that has emerged in modern capitalist societies . It is based on the notion that people can join certain tribes or groups through undergoing some experiences such as piercing of the body parts for the young people, which emerged back in the 80s. Such form of tribalism has led to the emergence of different names to refer to this tribalism. These includes tribal tattoos, primal piercing and tribal art among other names. This type of tribalism has thrived because of deep and reactivated desire to relink. It is mostly common in the West, which explains why names such as global tribe has emerged to explain some of the groups that have been formed in the process. 

Apart from explaining tribalism, the main interest behind the study of tribalism is its effect and characteristics and different theorists have their take on this. Lentz argues that even in the past determined or played a role in the formation of organization. She also explains that tribalism was caused by the inequalities in the urban areas meaning that tribalism is an offspring of urbanization .  

James, on the other hand argues that tribalism is associated with, imperial romanticism, bureaucratic schematizing and literary distortion meaning that he supports the notion that urbanization and the effects of colonialism and bureaucratization led to tribalism . 

Tribalism, especially modern tribalism, as explained by James has led to different problems such as the Rwandan genocide, which is a result of modern tribalism. The Nazi holocaust is also explained as a result of modern tribalism and so are other struggles such as the nationalist violence that took place in Yugoslavia . 

Theories of Nationalism

Different authors or theorists have different views about nationalism. In his arguments on nationalism, Llobera, classifies these theories into two broad categories and this include the sociobiological and the primordialist theories. The latter, according to him are based on the assumption that the identity of the group exists and is given. This means that such theories assumes that certain attachments in the area of language, race, religion and blood exist. These coercive ties, as explained by this author exists in realities of communities and ethnic groups, which is deeply embedded on different groups’ history. This assumption is different from the biological one, which views human bond from the biological perspective and explains it from the human behavior perspective . 

 In his theories, James defines nationalism in different ways with one of the definition referring to nationalism as cluster of terms that are associated, but have different meanings. These include nation sentiment, nation-state and nation. When ism is added on this definition, the subjectivity is added with this ism. 

While this is the case, nationalism is defined by other authors as ideology of the existence of a state. One of the known theories is Gellner’s theory, which supports the compatibility of the national and the political unit. Gellner’s theory also holds that nationalism is powerful and needed for a community to become industrialized from its agrarian community. Gellner also argues that a nation state is the only one that has the aptitude to maintain a high homogenous culture . 

Another theory of nationalism was proposed by Hechter who viewed nationalism as those political activities, which are aimed at making a nation’s boundaries. He also sees nationalism as the activities that collectively seek self-governance. This is based on the presumption that nationalism is of the modern states and not the traditional states since the latter were based on a system of indirect rule, which is against nationalism there existed some distinct groups in traditional empires. 

Nationalism according to the theory postulated by Deutsch is the aptitude to communicate efficiently to a wide range of subjects and to communicate better with members of a large group more than communicating efficiently with outsiders. 

Hobsbawn, on the other hand viewed nationalism as movements led by the elites and which employ created traditions through ceremony, education and monument. 

Breuilly also postulated a theory in this area and saw nationalism as political movements after power and validating these actions using nationalist arguments based on the idea that a nation with peculiar and explicit culture exists and that the dominant values and interests are for the nation. These arguments are also based on the idea that the nation ought to have political sovereignty. 

Breuilly assumes that nationalism can only be understood from a politics point of view and that this makes sense only from the political context. He also assumes that the modern state is the one that shapes its national politics and its main aim is to possess the state. 

When arguing about the number of these theories and their arguments is captured in the words of Callahoun as cited in the words of Jaffrelot where he argues that nationalism is very diverse and for this reason, it is hard for theories to capture this diversity and explain it all . 

Connections between the Theories of Nationalism and Tribalism

A look at these two different theories shows that they are connected in one way or another. Nationalism theories, for example, are seen to emphasize on collectiveness of the ethnic groups. Meaning that nationalism tends to brings tribalism together instead of scattering it. This is well captured in the arguments Rothi who argues that nationalism is that shared feeling between members of a group. He also argues that it is specific to certain demographic and geographical setting and that it seeks independence for ethnicity culture and binds it together . This is also explained in the same author’s arguments that in nationalism, individuals tend to identify and be attached to their nations and seeks national identity. This means that nationalism is a type of tribalism, only that this surpasses tribalism to include a larger geographical area and to include others from different tribes. 

Theories of tribalism and nationalism also have an intersection in their insistence on the kingship and the blood ties. This has been explained in the categorization of nationalism theories since they fall in sociobiological perspective and the primodial perspective, whose basis is kingship and blood ties. On the part of tribalism theories, this is seen in the category of traditional tribalism, which is formed along kingship and blood ties. 

The two different types of theories also intersect on their reliant on geographical location to explain nationalism and tribalism. This can be seen in one type of tribalism, which is modern tribalism where grouping is stretched across different places. In fact, James explains this association by arguing that the phenomenon of modern tribalism is highly related to contemporary developments of globalization and nation formation. 

Nationalism theories also seem to be a reconstitution of traditional tribalism, which was scattered or strewn by the effects of capitalism, industrialization, rationalized Christianity and colonialism. This means that nationalism formed as modern tribalism formed meaning that nationalism too was crafted in the process. Nationalism theories, like some tribalism theories can therefore not rest on the traditional, but find their resting place on modernity. This is true given that most theories of nationalism do not pay homage to traditionalism. This is very noticeable in Deutsch’s theory, which is explained as based on the assumption or the idea of communicating over a large area and group of subjects meaning that nationalism is beyond traditional societies.

The same is also evident in Gellner’s assumption since he views nationalism as thriving well in a society that works towards industrialization against agrarianism.

In conclusion, James argues that that nationalism and tribalism are not distinct, but have synchronized realities especially in the present. This can be seen in the different theories of both nationalism and tribalism, which tend to intersect on different areas such as formation and meaning. This can also be seen by the way theories in these two different areas emphasize on kingship and ethnic ties and their relationship to industrialization and development.

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