Nationalism and the Internet


  • *Editor's note: This is the ASEN/Nations and Nationalism Ernest Gellner Nationalism Lecture, delivered at the London School of Economics and Political Science, 27 March 2006.


ABSTRACT. The territorial integrity of nations is often taken as the premise for a functioning, unifying national identity. Yet, the economic and technological developments of recent decades have made it necessary to question this assumption. It can no longer be taken for granted that the people who identify with a given nation inhabit the same space, nor can it be assumed that cultural homogenisation takes place at the level of the nation through mass media. When the Internet appeared, many social scientists and commentators predicted that it would threaten the cultural integrity of nations; that the non-territorial character of the Internet would lead to fragmentation and unprecedented cultural differentiation, making it difficult, eventually impossible, to uphold a collective sense of national identity based on shared images, representations, myths and so on. Although it is too early to draw any conclusions regarding the long-term effects of the Internet, experiences so far suggest that such predictions were mistaken. In fact, nations thrive in cyberspace, and the Internet has in the space of only a few years become a key technology for keeping nations (and other abstract communities) together. Nations which have lost their territory (such as Afrikaner-led South Africa), nations which are for political reasons dispersed (such as Tamil Sri Lanka or Kurdistan), nations with large temporary overseas diasporas (such as Scandinavian countries, with their large communities in Spain during winter), or nations where many citizens work abroad temporarily or permanently (such as India or Caribbean island-states), appear in many sites on the Internet – from online newspapers and magazines to semi-official information sites and ‘virtual community’ homepages. In a ‘global era’ of movement and deterritorialisation, the Internet is used to strengthen, rather than weaken, national identities.