Sunday, January 17, 2021

New MALAS Seminar, Spring 2021: MALAS 600 C / Pol S 565 Nations and Nationalism with Professor Latha Varadarajan

MALAS 600 C / Pol S 565

Nations and Nationalism

Spring 2021, Tuesday – 4:00-6:40 

Zoom Link:

Professor Latha Varadarajan


Office Hours – Tuesday, Thursday: 12:30 – 1:30 

Purpose of the course: The history of the modern world can be framed – and indeed, has been framed by nationalist movements across borders – in terms of the political struggles embarked upon by nations as they have sought to take their place in global politics. In that sense, the events of the post-Cold War decades, far from being an anomaly, are seen as a natural progression of politics. If any anything, these events – be it, the creation of new nation-states that changed the political map of the world (post-Soviet States, former Yugoslavia, South Sudan), the emergence of new secessionist movements in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas (East Timor, Sudan, Bolivia), the intensification of older tensions (Quebec, Sri Lanka, Palestine, Scotland) – it is argued stand as testament to the enduring strength of nationalism as a defining factor in today’s world. This is after all, a world that is now seeing an upsurge of nationalism movements, even in states where the question has been treated as settled long ago – whether in Western Europe or North America.

To what extent is this rendering of global politics an accurate one? It is true that these movements, while very different in many ways, are held together by the fact that the demands (for greater political rights, for independence) have generally been couched in the language of nationalism, of representing the interests of a single, well-defined national community.  But, does that in and of itself lend credence to claims about the natural-ness of nationalism? What is it that has enabled certain groups to claim that they are a separate nation? Given the political fallout of such movements, should nationalism be treated as the root of political instability or the solution to it? How different is the contemporary wave of nationalism from ones that preceded it in the past two centuries? To answer these questions, what we need is a broader, historically contextualized understanding of the nature and politics of nationalism. This course is an attempt to fulfill such a need. 

Nationalism, it is generally accepted, emerged as an organizing political force at a specific historical moment, and under specific conditions. What these conditions were, how the idea of nationalism spread, and how we should it understand its various manifestations are all issues that have been the subject of intense debate among scholars as well as those actively involved in political struggles. While it is impossible to cover every aspect of these deliberations in one short semester, this course will serve as an introduction to some of the classic texts, while providing an opportunity to engage closely with the development of nationalism in specific contexts.

The course is divided into two parts. The first part focuses on the question of the origins and nature of nationalism by engaging with some of the most important theoretical debates about the subject. The readings include some of the classic treatises on the subject by both scholars of nationalism (such as Elie Kedourie, Ernest Gellner, and Benedict Anderson) and important historical figures who inspired and were engaged in actual political struggles (Mazzini, Herzl, Lenin, Luxemburg). Having addressed the theoretical debates, in the second section, we turn to the question of the development of nationalism in particular times and places. We will begin with analyses of nationalism in “Old” Europe (Britain and France), follow it up with anti-colonial nationalism (India) and conclude with a closer look at the “new” nationalisms of Europe (Yugoslavia). The purpose of this segment is three-fold: first, to engage seriously with the historical peculiarities of nationalist movements; second, to compare the nature and political consequences of nationalism as an idea through the modern era; and third, to use this broader view to weigh seriously on the question of the relevance and implications of nationalism for contemporary politics.

A note on the times we live in:

In these very surreal times, this class – normally designed to be an experience in a physical space, where we interact and engage with each other – will “meet” on Zoom. Given the world we are living in, choosing any other option would be extraordinarily irresponsible. However, it is important to note that this class, while using an online modality is not meant to a typical online class. 

In a rational world, online teaching would be a boon, with technology being used in a constructive way to make education accessible to the broadest possible group. Unfortunately, we are not yet in that world. As currently construed, much of online education seems to be neither about accessibility nor about education. Rather, the principal goal of the project appears to be “revenue generation,” albeit cloaked in the language of measurable “student learning outcomes” and “degree completion goals.” What gets lost in this drive is the importance of interactions based on close engagement with the readings, of dialogue over a period of time that creates both a sense of trust and respect amongst participants, which in turn leads to a development of critical faculties. 

During the course of this semester, our goal will be to recreate some of those elements to the best of our abilities given the online constraints. To begin with, all the lectures for the class will be live on Zoom. Please note that the lectures will not be recorded, and none of the participants are allowed to record the sessions in any way. You are expected to attend the class sessions, like you would have done in the old days. I understand that it is hard to remain attentive while on Zoom for over an hour. I would encourage you to keep your video on for this period, even just as way to keep your focus. During the course of the class session, you will have opportunities to meet your classmates in breakout rooms. While this is not the same as meeting them in a physical space, the idea is to get you to a point where you can feel comfortable expressing your opinions in the presence of a group of people who will not remain strangers. 

Robust, respectful classroom discussion will be the best antidote to “zoom-itis,” while ensuring that you comprehend the material being covered in class and are positioned to do well in the various assignments. If you have any concerns, do not hesitate to bring them to me.  

Required readings: A significant part of the course will focus on specific books. It is strongly recommended that you purchase the following books (a couple of them – Hockenos and Weber are available as e-books through the library)

  • Elie Kedourie, Nationalism (Wiley-Blackwell, Fourth edn., 1993)
  • Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (Revised edn., London: Verso, 1991)
  • Ernest Gellner, Nations and Nationalism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983)
  • Eugen Weber, Peasants into Frenchmen, 1870-1914 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1976)
  • Paul Hockenos, Homeland Calling: Exile Patriotism and the Balkan Wars (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003) 

Latha Varadarajan

Office: NH 124
Phone: (619) 594-3255

Latha Varadarajan joined the SDSU faculty after receiving a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Minnesota in January 2005. Her research is located at the intersection of international relations theory, international political economy, and international security. More specifically, her published work has focused on the politics of transnationalism (specifically state-diaspora relations); the connections between neoliberal economic restructuring and national security policies; the meaning and relevance of postcolonial struggles; and the debates surrounding the contemporary manifestations of imperialism. She is currently working on a book project that brings together her background in international law and international relations to discuss the contemporary development of a legal-humanitarian world order.

Varadarajan teaches courses on International Relations, International Political Economy, National Security and Nationalism both at the graduate and undergraduate levels.

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