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Ernest Gellner

Academic, well known for his theories on Nationalism.

Gellner was born in Paris in 1925. The son of lower middle class bohemians, he grew in Prague, only to flee to Britain with the ascendancy of Fascism in Europe. Fighting in the British Army against the nationalist bloc, it is unsurprising that Gellner should have come to theorise nationalism.

For Gellner, "nationalism is primarily a political principle that holds that the political and the national unit should be congruent". Nationalism only appeared, and, Gellner argues, became a sociological necessity in the modern world. In previous times ("the agro-literate" stage of history) rulers had little incentive to impose cultural homogeneity on the ruled. But in modern society, work becomes technical. One must operate a machine, and as such one must learn. There is a need for impersonal, context-free communication and a high degree of cultural standardisation.

Furthermore, industrial society is underlined by the fact that there is perpetual growth - employment types vary and new skills must be learnt. Thus, generic employment training precedes specialised job training.

On a territorial level, there is competition for the overlapping catchment areas (e.g. Alsace-Lorraine). To maintain its grip on resources, and its survival and progress, the state and culture must for these reasons be congruent. Nationalism therefore is a necessity.

Criticisms of Gellner's theory:

- Too functionalist . Critics charge that Gellner explains the phenomenon with reference to the eventual historical outcome - industrial society could not 'function' without nationalism.

- Misreads the relationship between nationalism and industrialisation

- Fails to account for nationalism in non-industrial society and resurgences of nationalism in post-industrial societies

- Can not explain the passions generated for nationalism (Why should one fight and die for one's nation)?



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