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"The Nation Form"
Balibar, Etienne

Kate Liu 9/28, 2009

Balibar, Etienne. "The Nation Form"  Review XIII 3 (Summer 1990): 329-61.

purpose: to clarify...that of the causes and "deep" structures of contemporary racism.

    0.  myth of national origins: as an ideology --"origin" cannot be a singular event.

A. Terminology: nation and state; social formation; world state-system; 
Marxist historiography: functionalist (nation as instrument of bourgeois hegemony) and historicist (nation overdetermining class struggle):
study national unity as a historical reality in fact divided because of antagonistic class strategies, or even as the long-term consequence of a continuous transformation of "class" identities and the unstable equilibria established between opposing interests
Althusser's influence: ISA as combined functioning of several dominant institutions (102)

B. History: from Pre-Nation to Nation State

  • Pre-history: 1)  non-linear, a series of conjunctural relations (e.g. institution of national language, development of monarchical power, centralization of legal and fiscal power, the complementariness of church and state );
        2) they do not belong to one determinate nation.
  • threshold of a nation: some qualifications such as

    a. a product of colonization: either as colonizer or colonized, or both

    b. there were several political forms (e.g. empirical, transnational) besides national ones, and different bourgeoisies connected with them.  It was the national bourgeoisie that finally won out. 

    c. the concurrence of nationalism and cosmopolitanism: capitalism as a world system needs the control of the circulation to be exercised from the core, which is occupied by the state bourgeoisie in the class struggle.  The state bourgeoisie and the bourgeois social formation, therefore, constitute each other. 

    d. this mutual constitution is uncertain, though there is an illusion of "a unilinear development of social formations and the uncritical acceptance of the nation-state as the 'ultimate form' of political institution, destined to be perpetuated for ever"   (91) 

  • (delayed) nationlization of society -- e.g. some peasants in France got nationalized only when they were about to disappear as a dominant class.   But this disappearance was also delayed by the state protectionism. (92)
  • producing the people--institution of individuals as nationals.  "Every social community produced by the functioning of institutions is imaginary, that is to say, it is based on the projection of individual existence into the weft of a collective narrative, on the recognition of a common name and on traditions lived as the trace of an immemorial past. ... only imaginary communities are real" (93).     
  • "In the case of national formations, the imaginary which inscribes itself in the real in this way is that of the 'people'.  It is that of a community which recognizes itself in advance in the institution of the state, which recognizes that state as 'its own' in opposition to other states ..." (93)

"producing the people" = "making the people produce itself continually as national community" (93).  "It must at one and the same time be a mass phenomenon and a phenomenon of individuation, must effect an 'interpellation of individuals as subjects' (Althussert) which is much more potent than the mere inculcation of political values or rather one that integrates this inculcation into a more elementary process ...of fixation of the affects of love and hate and representation of the 'self'.   (e.g. "the space of the state as a place where we have always been--and always will be--'at home'."  94)

unification of people by ideological form, e.g. patriotism, nationalism, through education, force, with an analogy of religion, and fictive ethnicity

but --- national ideology is different from religion. 

  • Fictive Ethnicity and Ideal Nation -- (every identity is individual, but socially produced.)  "The naturalization of belonging and the sublimation of the ideal nation are two aspects of the same process." (96)

methods of producing ethnicity:

1. two major routes: language and race

a. language: "All linguistic practices feed into a single 'love of the language' which is addressed not to the textbook norm nor to the particular usage, but to the 'mother tongue'--that is, to the ideal of a common origin projected back beyond learning processes and specialist forms of usage and which, ..., becomes the metaphor for the love fellow nationals feel for one another.  (97)  --> Language community is an open one; language alone is not enough, as it is always possible to learn several languages.   One's mother tongue is not necessarily the language of one's mother. 

b. race: "whereas the language community can only create equality between individuals by simultaneously 'naturalizing' the social inequality of linguistic practices, the race community dissolves social inequalities in an even more ambivalent 'similarity'; it ethnicizes the social difference which is an expression of irreconcilable antagonisms by lending it the form of a division between the 'genuinely' and the 'falsely' national.  

  • racialization of language, verbalization of race = production of ethnicity
    1. family and school  the dissolution of extended family// penetrated by state-intervention.  Modern family is no longer the private sphere which the state does not intrude into. 
    2. Public health and social security have replaced the father confesseor.
    3. Geneology--no longer oral, or kept in private.  "Today it is the state which draws up and keeps the archive of filiations and alliances". (101)
    4. As lineal kinship, solidarity between generations and the economic functions of the extended family dissolve, what takes their place is neither a natural micro-society nor a purely 'individualistic' contractual relation, but a nationalization of the family, which has as its counterpart the identification of the natural community with a symbolic kinship, ... (102)
    5.  (e.g. health care, census, birth control, eugenics) 
    6. Re. Althusser's theory of Ideological State Apparatus:

      a. one institution cannot be an "Ideological State Apparatus"; what such a formulation adequately designates is rather the combination of several dominant institutions. 

      b. the function of schooling and family is not in "the reproduction of labour power, but from the fact that they subordinate that reproduction to the constitution of a fictive ethnicity.  

    issues: Do you agree?
    • language community (98)The linguistic community induces a terribly constraining ethnic memory…, but it is one which none the less possess a strange plasticity: it immediately naturalizes new acquisitions. It does so too quickly in a sense....Ideally, it 'assimilates' anyone, but holds no one.
    • The future of nation (p. 91; 105) in globalism?
    • topics for future discussion: fictive ethnicity, national history and language, different nation forms (U.S. vs. France, US vs. Canada, Canada vs. UK, etc.)