Geography Thursday! Yippie!

Posted by @ 4:12 pm on October 7th, 2010

I’ve only been in Geography for four weeks, and I have to admit, I haven’t “learned” a whole lot from classes. I have read a bunch of cool Geography stuff on my own. So rather than vent my frustration about class, I’ll talk about a book.

Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities posits that the social/community aspect of citizenship is premised on an imagined solidarity between people based on the arbitrary boundaries of the nation-state.

Let me back up for just one brief digression/explanation: In 1950, T.H. Marshall revolutionized the concept of citizenship by breaking it down to three categories: civil rights, political rights, and social rights. What was so ground-breaking about Marshall’s claim is the addition of social rights into the mix, which ties in notions of solidarity and community. Prior to Marshall, citizenship as a concept focused strictly on the relationship between citizen and nation-state. Marshall acknowledged the power in nationalism, pride, etc.

In order for there to be nationalism–and perhaps more importantly, in order for there to be people willing to die for their nation–there must be a solidarity between citizens (or else: a draft. My comment, not his.), but the key point is that this solidarity is imagined. The kinship felt is imagined, or at least, in its most nascent form, it was imagined. Anderson uses the United States as an example. It is impossible for us to know all 310 million people living in the States, and yet we are expected to feel solidarity as a nation-state.

In class last week, I explained the concept of imagined communities. Anderson is a big name in Geography, one I only recently learned but I’m new; nonetheless, several students in the class were really reluctant to “buy into” his ideas. One woman (who I happen to find very problematic) argued that when a category 4 hurricane (named Igor) hit Newfoundland, Canadians banded together in a non-imagined way to help. She was diligent in arguing her point, even though she was wrong, very wrong. See: Canadians may’ve banded together, but it was because they imagined a solidarity, a commonality, when in reality, there isn’t one. A nation is just a chunk of land. A state is just the mechanism that governs it.

What does this have to do with writing?

Well, I would argue that HTML Giant is more of a real community, even though it is not manifest in one location, than most real–geographic–communities. The bond that we share here, writing and reading, is more of a solidarity than what I would feel with any average American walking down the street, even if that street was in Canada or some other country. The bond we share here is probably greater than the one I would share with any average Asian American walking down the street, even though we share the same visual markers and possibly shared experience growing up. And yet, HTML Giant is also an imagined community because it isn’t real, it isn’t material, and the solidarity is based on superficialities.

Nonetheless, I think there’s something fascinating about locating a community through a social network and seeing exactly how this community can be simultaneously material, virtual, and imagined. What do you think?