Nation-building and the social world

by Lorenzo Piccoli


About a couple of weeks ago I was reading the Ph.D thesis of Jean Thomas Arrighi, which is the most similar work to what I am trying to do, up to date. At page 30 I found a compelling critique of the current social understanding of nation states.

But if nation-building still requires today as much collective amnesia as remembrance, it also relies heavily on a highly questionable sociological understanding of the present, neglecting the inherent complexity of the social world and the plurality of experiences of individuals who together make up a political community.

Then, at page 56, the author points at the necessity to shift the focus on the unit of analysis from the state to the regions. His example is on immigration policies.

For Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party (BNP), Britain should urgently “close the door to more because this is the most overcrowded country in Europe and is way beyond its proper carrying capacity in population terms.” Likewise, the French Minister of Immigration and National Identity [sic] legitimized the need to introduce stricter border control on the grounds that “France’s hosting capacity is simply limited”, which requires putting an end to the “migratory chaos which consists in accepting migrants without restrictions.” Comparable arguments have regularly been deployed in Germany, the United States, Australia, Switzerland, and many other countries where the supposedly uncontrollable influx of immigrants has been presented as exceeding the nation’s capacity to cope with the consequences. But does the BNP leader refer to the London conurbation, where inward flows have indeed been considerable since 1945, or to the English Midlands, Scotland or Cornwall, where the main concern has been protracted emigration? Is Brice Hortefeux solely concerned with the situation in the Ile- de-France and the Bouches-du-Rhône, or with the notorious diagonale du vide stretching from the Meuse to the Landes, where the population density barely exceeds 30 inhabitants per km2, a heritage of the nineteenth and twentieth century rural exodus? Does the right-wing slogan ‘America is full’ encompass the empty lands of the Midwest, or is it meant to halt the ongoing inflow to the five greater metropolitan areas concentrating 60% of all immigrants in the country? By shifting the unit of analysis from state to regional level, migration trends can shift dramatically, not only in quantitative terms, but also in regard to the cultural and socio- economic composition of migrant stocks.

These issues, in a nutshell, are what interest me and what I have been studying for the last two years. Just so you know. I thought these two quotes were an excellent way to provide you a basic understanding.

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