An Asia Expert in the Footsteps of “Imagined Communities”: Who is Benedict Anderson?

Anderson is one of the scientists who theorize when, under what conditions, and for what purpose nationalism emerged. Benedict Anderson was born in China in 1936, the son of an Irish father and an English mother.

By Jane Dickens Published on 20 Kasım 2023 : 23:42.
An Asia Expert in the Footsteps of “Imagined Communities”: Who is Benedict Anderson?

Among his relatives on his father's side of the family were people who embraced Irish nationalism. He immigrated to America with his family during the Sino-Japanese War. While he was continuing his education at Cambridge University, the Suez Crisis occurred, and Anderson was disturbed by Britain's use of military force against the Nasser regime, which turned the Suez Canal into Egypt's national resource and demanded taxes from foreign ships. This pushed him to adopt a worldview based on anti-imperialist Marxism.

When he returned to America, he completed his doctorate at Cornell University at the age of 29. His postdoctoral studies focused on Indonesia. However, the Indonesian government deported him and banned him from entering the country on the assumption that he was a 'spy'.

Anderson, who concentrated on nationalism in the 1980s and 1990s, wrote books with the same title in 1983 and 1991, in which he explained the theory of 'imagined societies'. He argued that nations are composed of people who imagine themselves to be sovereign within the borders of their country.

Benedict Richard O'Gorman Anderson (August 26, 1936 – December 13, 2015) was an Anglo-Irish political scientist and historian who lived and taught in the United States. Anderson is best known for his 1983 book Imagined Communities, which explored the origins of nationalism. A polyglot with an interest in Southeast Asia, he was the Aaron L. Binenkorb Professor of International Studies, Government & Asian Studies at Cornell University. His work on the "Cornell Paper", which disputed the official story of Indonesia's 30 September Movement and the subsequent anti-Communist purges of 1965–1966, led to his expulsion from that country. Benedict Anderson was the elder brother of the historian Perry Anderson.

He argued that tools of allegiance are built among the members of every nation that distinguish them from other nations.

He revealed that nationalism began to take shape during the industrial revolution and the transition to modern society and that the most important role in this was played by 'printing capitalism', which standardized written languages. He defined nationalism as people's willingness to make sacrifices for nations, many of whose members they have never seen, yet 'imagine' being a part of.

He claimed that nationalists had established a loyalty between the people defined as the nation, the country in which they lived, and the state whose rulers they elected. He explained this in a language that everyone could understand, using the 'novel example'.

He was talking about a novel called ABCD consisting of four characters. A is B's wife and C's lover. D is C's girlfriend. The paths of A and D never cross, they are never aware of each other, and they do not even meet while walking on the road. However, both have a role in the plot of the novel. They simultaneously play their own roles, and through such characters, the authors create an 'imaginary' world in the minds of the readers, in which all the characters are involved in some way.

The author compares nationalism fiction to the novel example he gave. Citizens who have never seen each other 'dream' of a unity of fate among themselves through nationalism. According to Anderson, the media also has a very serious role in the construction of the dream of nationalism. While people read newspapers every day, they are aware that the events presented to them by the press are followed by all citizens. Therefore, a homogeneity of fate is created among the members of the nation, regardless of class differences.

Arguing that increased literacy facilitated nation-building, Anderson revealed that nationalist intellectuals in colonial societies were inspired by the history and culture of the Colonial power and constructed nationalism for their own people.

Benedict Anderson died on December 13, 2015, on Java, Indonesia's main island. In addition to his groundbreaking work on nationalism, Imagined Communities, Anderson was also the author of numerous books and articles about the societies and cultures of Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia.