Paper presented at the 4th Annual Qualitative Methods Conference: "Histories of the present"
3 & 4 September 1998, Johannesburg, South Africa

'Imagined Communities' - by what stretch of the imagination?

Ulrike Kistner

Department of Comparative Literature, University of the Witwatersrand

This paper contests the discourse-theoretical and constructionist framings of the theory of ideology, and of nationalism and ethnicity in particular. The discursive idealism entailed in constructionist notions of 'imagined communities' cannot explain the affective power of nationalism. This paper attempts to explain this affective power by reference to a certain type of political love that Freud envisages in his writings on group psychology. The primary social tie is structured by the imaginary institution of the social, which proceeds from a position that in itself is not part of the social sphere. The interrelation between political subjugation and social subjection, as it was heralded by modernity, and played out in normalisation procedures, in nationalisms and ideologies since the end of the eighteenth century, is challenged today by the disappearance of the social and political basis of modern states. This paper proposes to analyse new nationalisms and ethno-nationalism within the context of globalisation, of the demise of the social sphere, and of the social subject.

In contrast to Marxist-inspired thinking on the national question, present-day discourse theorists and social constructionists emphasise human agency and imagination in the creative use of imagery, symbolism, in rituals and tradition, in their attempts to explain the formation of nations and nationalism. Contemporary cultural critics tend to view 'identity' as a kind of self-fashioning, or a running autobiography which makes rather than represents 'the self'.

However, much as this relatively recent orientation has common sense understandings of nationalist practices on its side, it is fraught with conceptual problems. Notions of 'invented traditions', and of 'imagined communities' lend credibility to social theories that refer the categorisations of gender, nation, ethnos, and generally the identity of collectivity and of person, to social constructions. One does not need to look very far in identifying some of the most glaring problems arising from social constructionist accounts of personal and collective identities. At first glance, there is the problem of circularity: cultural constructions of identity are explained by frames of reference, categories, or cognitive structures that are themselves held to be culturally constructed. Inherent in this assumption is a reification of 'culture' and 'cultural difference' based on the idea of culture as a closed system, which belies the complexity of of power, and of cross-cutting bonds, alliances, and histories. Thirdly, there is the problem of arbitrariness, arising from the cultural relativism that accompanies social constructionism. For actors caught in positions circumscribed by exclusivist national or ethnic particularisms, ethnic and national identity is neither a matter of individual construction, nor, in most cases, a matter of choice, and certainly not a matter of an arbitrary exchangeability of coeval frames of reference. A person designated as Serb cannot simply 'invent' or 'construct' a 'Croat' 'identity' for him or herself. Pointing to the arbitrary and contingent nature of 'constructions of identity' does not diminish any of their social reality and force. They attain a social facticity for as long as and insofar as they figure in propositional attitudes that structures a field of action. This is all the more so if they arise in a context of tacit or explicit collective agreement, which is a crucial element in the creation of institutional facts. On a more explicity conceptual level, John Searle shows that a socially constructed reality presupposes a reality that is not socially constructed. His version of external realism is backed by his contention that the world exists independently of our representations of it. More specifically, this claim involves the notion that reality is not logically constituted by representations, that there is no logical dependence between reality and our representations of it. In other words, conclusions about reality cannot be derived from features of our representations of reality (Searle 1995: 191,153,157, 159; see also Zizek, 1993: 202).

Furthermore, notions of 'invented traditions' of nationalism betray a strongly instrumentalist and voluntarist view of national imaginings, and a flat-footed psychologist understanding of interests, desires, and collective needs (the need of belonging, of continuity and stability, and the need for origins) without, however, explaining the affective power of attraction to a cause.

In other cases, 'imagined communities' are simply reduced to ideological forms to be submitted to the analysis of underlying 'material' factors for their true nature to be revealed. Further difficulties are added by the appropriation of 'ideology' to the thematics of discourse analysis. This appropriation has partly been aided by Benedict Anderson's description of the nation as a community narrated in specific ways in a particular print-language. We are being told to analyse not the falsity/genuineness of the claim to community, but "the style in which they are imagined" (Anderson [1983] 1992: 15). This rather unproblematic assertion has provided a field day for textual and discourse analysts. For,

[s]een from this angle, the nation becomes a kind of modern 'text' and nationalism a form of political 'discourse', rather than an ideology. We are then invited to join in a 'reading' of text (and subtexts), as if the key to an explanation of this form of discourse and text lay in a literary analysis of the meanings and devices employed by nationalists and others in their modelling of 'nation-ness'. (Smith 1991: 361).

The discursive idealism entailed in constructionist views of 'imagined communities' cannot explain the affective power commanded by nationalist myths, rituals, iconography, and narratives.

There are two aspects of Anderson's treatment of Imagined Communities, however, that are resistant if not immune to this criticism. Firstly, Anderson analyses the rise of nationalism at the moment of the patriotic death of the nameless soldier, and its ritualistic commemoration. Secondly, he points to the dynastic matrices of modern nations and nationalisms, without which the modern 're-constructions' of communities, traditions, origins, would be inconceivable. These two aspects characterising the imagined communities of nationalism are closely interrelated:

Whereas ... individual freedoms are granted by universal rights, the freedom of the nation is of a different, a particularistic nature - it refers to a collectivity, the independence of which must be defended, if necessary, with the blood not of mercenaries but of the 'sons of the nation'. The interpretation of the nation as a prepolitical entity allows it to uphold an unchanged early modern image of external sovereignty ... . This is the place where the secularized state preserves a residue of sacred transcendence: in times of war the national state imposes on its citizens the duty to risk and sacrifice their lives for national liberty. ... the willingness to fight and die for one's own country is supposed to express both national consciousness and republican virtue. (Habermas 1996: 286-287)

This double inscription mirrors the ambiguous status of 'the nation'. On the one hand, it poses as a voluntary nation of citizens who generate democratic legitimation. It is the nation of the Staatsbürger (citizens) associated with each other by choice as free and equal persons. On the other hand, it poses as an inherited or ascribed nation of those who are born into it. In this mould, it functions as the nation of the Volksgenossen (patriots) finding themselves formed by an inherited form of life and the fateful experience of a shared history (Habermas 1996: 287). The notion of a nation state that has equality among citizens inscribed in universalistically couched constitutional rights is traced back to the rise of modern democracies, while the origins of the cultural nation are seen to lie in the mists of time. The contractual definition considers the nation as "the product of a free association of individual wills which, on the basis of political decision and rational discussion, has reached an explicit or implicit consensus around publicly proclaimed principles and their institutional embodiment" (Singer 1996: 310). The cultural nation, in contrast, is defined by a supposedly collectively shared ancient memory, kinship, tradition, religion, and/or language. In its organicist claims, the cultural nation purportedly 'roots' the social tie in determinants beneath and beyond the constitutional framework of democratic citizenship - beneath and beyond individuals' will, cognition, and control. This is what has earned the cultural-organicist definition of the nation the reputation of "timeless irrationality" (see Anderson [1983] 1992; Bhabha 1991: 91-94); and of a "potential seedbed of authoritarianism and xenophobia" (Singer 1996: 312).

A historicist explanation that seeks the emergence of nationalism in the spaces of the dislocation of all communal forms, tends to iron out the tensions between these two conflictual understandings of the nation. Benedict Anderson, for instance, characterises late eighteenth century Europe in terms of the dusk of religious modes of thought, and the dawn of the age of nationalism. New nationalist identifications, he contends, could no longer rest on sacral legitimations. He sees in nationalism a secular transformation of fatality into continuity, of contingency into meaning, of chance into destiny (Anderson [1983] 1992: 11, 85). Against this historicist account, I would assert that the categories of 'society' ('Gesellschaft') and 'community' ('Gemeinschaft') cannot be diachronically separated. In the words of Jean-Luc Nancy, "society was not built on the ruins of community. ..., far from being what society has crushed or lost, is what happens to us ... in the wake of society" (Nancy 1991: 11). This is implicitly acknowledged by Benedict Anderson in one of the very few places where he attempts to define the pecular kind of imagination that is at work in communities: an 'imagined community' he says, is 'imagined' "because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow members, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion" (Anderson [1983] 1992: 15).

Even empirically and historically speaking, we can witness the collapse of the conceptual scaffolding of the contractual nation in the wake of the political revolutions of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In the gaps and tears of the contractual nation, a cultural definition of the nation was re-instituted. The manifold difficulties in institutionalising the contractual nation can be related to three principal problems. There were, firstly, "the problems faced by the contractual discourse in its attempts to anchor the nation in space and time". Secondly, the modern state faced "difficulties in defining who does or does not belong to the nation". And thirdly, there were "the difficulties arising from [the tendency of contractual discourse] to identify the nation with its polity" (Singer 1996: 319).

"As the contractual conception loses its discursive monopoly, the nation is increasingly able to welcome its past (and future) as integral to its self-definition" (Singer 1996: 321). A mythical past, far from being a symbolic menace to the modern self-definition of the nation, becomes its source, guaranteeing its temporal contintuity. The contractual definition, in turn, acts as a check to the symbolic terror of the cultural nation's tendency to present the nation as indivisible; as a barrier against the persecution of cultural differences; "it prevents the terms of national identity from being defined, socially speaking, in overly ... exclusivist terms" (Singer 1996: 335).

The linkage between contractual and cultural definitions of the nation, despite their mutual contradiction, was aided by and in turn aided the process whereby, in modern states, the sphere of the political was drawn into social processes and institutions. The "imaginary institution of society" no longer appears reducible to a founding act or to a political constitution, but becomes the bearer of its own implicit modes of self-constitution and self-regulation (Singer 1996: 331). It is in this sociological understanding of the subsumption of the political under the social, that Benedict Anderson casts 'imagined communities': their 'imagined realities', he states, consist of nation-states, republican institutions, common citizenships, popular sovereignty, and national flags and anthems (Anderson [1983] 1992: 81). Annexing, as he does, 'imagined communities' to a contractual definition of the nation, he loses a historical-critical handle on both the social imaginary, and the distinction between Gemeinschaft (community) and Gesellschaft (society). An unproblematised linkage between contractual and cultural definitions of the nation, as Anderson assumes it, and the attendant subsumption of the political under the social, allows for a relative de-politicisation, or 'secularisation' of the cultural discourse of the nation.

The co-existence and apparent complicity of the contractual and cultural definitions of the nation, however, belies their continued conflictuality. The tension between these two logics of the nation has been and is likely to be resurfacing in the process of globalisation and the consequent disintegration of the sphere of the social, and more particularly, of the welfare state. It is bound to come to the fore with the erosion of hard-won political and social rights that had defined the nature of democratic citizenship for the better part of the twentieth century.

This development provides good reason for attempting to conceptualise the mechanisms involved in the imaginaries which are being played out in particular collectivities. The provenance of the category of 'the Imaginary' is commonly traced to Lacan - implicitly so for instance in Lefort's writings, and explicitly in Althusser's definition of ideology as the imaginary relation of social actors to real conditions of their existence. Althusser adduces Lacan's account of the 'mirror phase', instrumental in the construction of the child's specular ego (constituted on the basis of the image of the counterpart), to account for the specular function of ideology. However, Lacan's notion of the 'imaginary' cannot be annexed to Althusser's theory of ideology. For Lacan, intersubjective relations cannot be reduced to the relations classified as imaginary. It is the symbolic, not the imaginary, that is to be seen as the determining order of the subject. That does not mean, however, that the individual in every case wholly and successfully passes into the subject through the symbolic. What is foreclosed in the symbolic, according to Lacan, returns in the real, which is refractory, and not symbolically recuperable. Althusser's notion of subject interpellation in and through ideology cannot deal with this remainder (see Dolar 1993).

The imaginary in "imagined communities" can thus neither be captured by commonsensical understandings of what belongs to the 'imagination', nor can it be ontogenetically defined. Althusser implicitly acknowledges the impossibility of explaining the workings of ideology in a purely socially or subjectively functional way. The functionalist tenets of Althusser's theory of ideology have been trotted out endlessly, and recited in a formulaic way: ideology guaranteeing the formation of individuals as social subjects, providing for social cohesion, and securing the reproduction of submission to the rules of the established order. What is less well-known is another aspect of Althusser's theory of ideology that relates ideology to transcendental - in the sense of not socially immanent - factors. Largely ignored by critics and commentators, Althusser grounds the notion of subject interpellation in a theological conception of the call: being called by God as a condition for becoming subject. Ideology as the realm of largely unconscious representations that nevertheless constitutes the social bond, found its first realisation in religion (Althusser [1965] 1990: 25, 28). In the role of a political and social unconscious, ideology has no history in the sense that it is omnihistorical. It is only within an non-immanentist account that we can arrive at an understanding of "how human knowledges are produced in the history of the succession of different modes of production ..." (Althusser [1968] 1970: 61).

From a psychologistic account of identity formation, we need to move to conceptualising a political imaginary, a horizon of possible meanings and actions within the political. The political here is to be understood not as a subsystem of society, and not in terms of a politics referring to actually existing political events in their facticity, but as a constitutive principle of any society. This notion of an 'imaginary' we find in the writings of Castoriadis, among others. Here social imaginary signification is a primary socially constitutive process tying together the origin of the world and the origin of society. This process is organised first and foremost under the auspices of religion, insofar as "every religion includes in this system of beliefs the origin of the institution; and the institution of society always includes the interpretation of its origin as extrasocial, and thereby refers to religion" (Castoriadis 1993: 8). Religion stands for the recognition that society's immanent 'real' 'empirical' existence cannot account for its institution. Society's image of its place in the world does not involve an 'image' in the sense of a copy or reflection, but the operation of an organising and constituting imaginary schema that does not cohere with those significations that organise the world (Castoriadis 1993: 7-8, 12-13). Social imaginary significations crucially revolve around the re-presentation of the Abyss within society. They move along the faultlines of the division between nature and culture, in the sense of recalling the social subject's links with nature, with the body in nature (hence the possibility of imagining society as the social body or the body politic, imbued with varying degrees of organicist attributes), with the instinctual, with collective latencies that refer life back to inert matter, with the death instinct, and the unthought.

In this sense, Benedict Anderson's placement of the birth of patriotism in the event of death more aptly describes the role of a particular social imaginary than any one of the other factors listed as instrumental in accounting for the origin and spread of nationalism. National imaginings, being preoccupied with death and immortality, reveal a strong affinity with religious beliefs. In modernity, in particular, the sacred is alive and well in the form of that for which one would willingly sacrifice oneself, something valued above one's own life. Anderson exemplifies this close affinity of nationalism and death/immortality by reference to the tombs of unknown soldiers which become sites of ceremonies and commemorations precisely because they are empty ( - no one knows who has been buried there). Death as immolation in the name of a collectivity is one of the prime mechanisms of the affirmation of community under certain conditions. The community crystallises around the death of every and any one of its members, "that is to say, around the "loss" (the impossibility) of their immanence..." (Nancy 1991: 14). Community is revealed to others in the death of its members as others, the I's always being others.

Community therefore occupies a singular place: it assumes the impossibility of its own immanence, the impossibility of a communitarian being in the form of a subject. ... A community is not a project of fusion ... . (Nancy 1991: 15)

Probably one of the most important mechanism in the formation of community is identification, which requires an explanation that transcends a purely empirical account of how social actors themselves interpret their own belonging to a community. We are here entering the realm of a particular version of a political unconscious, and psychoanalysis has some crucial insights to offer to an account of the social cement, beneath its symbolic representations.

Sociality in this sense consists in a bond of elements that in themselves are non-social. The binding and organising that Freud assigns to Eros, works in peculiar ways in the formation of sociality. It is not of the kind that is involved in an object-relation, nor does it conform to the model of sublimated sexuality. What then accounts for that peculiar kind of political love for humanity, for nation and country, that can command voluntary submission? To answer this question, Freud enters into an analysis of elementary crowds. Group psychology, in facilitating the study of the mechanisms of regression, gives Freud the opportunity to identify primary features of sociality and of the unconscious simultaneously; for "the crowd lays bare the 'unconscious substratum' that all its members have in common ..." (Borch-Jacobsen 1989: 132), insofar as the crowd weakens the individuality of its members. The crowd's unconscious has no contents of its own; it is suggestible only insofar as suggestion comes from another source. This is possible because of the peculiarity that defines the group as "a number of individuals who have put one and the same object in the place of their ego ideal and have consequently identified themselves with one another in their ego" (Freud [1921] 1985: 147). How can a crowd bring forth a society bound together by an affectivity that assures voluntary submission? It is by subjecting themselves to the organically binding and narcissistic, hypnotising figure of the Leader that subjects are subjecting themselves to themselves, binding the Other within themselves. The constraint involved in this subjection is thus imposed neither by force, nor by dint of a social contract, but by an affect destined to extort from each Narcissus the free gift of his freedom (Borch-Jacobsen 1989: 162). The consequent lack of freedom of the individuals bound to the leader in the first type of (vertical) social bond, produces among them a relation of equality, as a second type of (lateral) bond. The close interrelation of these two types of bonds, and the dependence of the second on the first one, is shown by Freud by reference to the phenomenon of panic arising from the loss or disappearance of the unity that is provided in the figure of the leader. The interrelation between these two forms of bonds is further shown in the myths that Freud mobilises to differentially chart the affectivity of the social tie. Mimetic rivalry in relation to the figure of the narcissistic leader gives way to an introjecting identification. A political (aim-inhibited) love, giving rise to rivalry, introjection, shared guilt, and identification - is thus necessary for any human group to constitute itself, insofar as it attaches individuals to each other, and as it checks their destructiveness. The lateral social bond among equals always presupposes a prior vertical bond to a unifying figure, whether that position is centrally occupied (as in pre-modern forms of the state) or vacant and dispersed (as in modern democracies). Subjection presupposes a prior subjugation, and even a primary type of subjugation will always happen in an act of love.

For Freud, the phylogenetic hypothesis of the constitution of sociality, with its primal myths, is always present in the sense that it underpins any ontogenetic explanation of the individual's psychic development, and any case history. That does not mean, however, that its imbrication with ontogenetic accounts is not affected by ruptures in the history of different cultural forms impacting on psychic organisation. Thus, we might ask ourselves what happens to a social imaginary, to the forms of the primal social tie with their close relation to the sacred, under conditions of the "secular advance of repression".

This would involve revisiting the question of religion in relation to subjectivity. To the chagrin of much of contemporary sociology, it would have to be asserted that certain aspects of the social in modernity owe their rise to the re-configuration of religion. Most important among them is the incorporation of the instituting transcendence into the field of the social, and into subjectivity itself - a process that imposes new limitations:

Bringing the social foundation back among humans, placing it within their reach, does not mean putting it directly in their possession. It governs them, directs their actions, shapes their relations with themselves, with others, with things. ... the difference is that by obeying its commands and encountering its limits, we are no longer at odds with the gods but with ourselves. (Gauchet 1997: 165).

Ideology and nationalism, the twin accompaniments of the rise of the social, share a common feature: namely in a social reality no longer drawing its legitimacy from a transcendent order, but from a source apparently immanent to that social reality which renders it intelligible in itself. The sphere of the social is established on the basis of a division between the political and the social, between immanence and transcendence. While it owes its existence to this division, it negates it at the same time, and draws it into its own defining limits. This parallels the process by which political power, in modernity, is inscribed within society, insofar as it is cut off from the foundation that once guaranteed and legitimated its function (see Lefort 1986: 184, 186-187). It generates the illusion that the institution of the social can account for itself. Ideology and nationalism operate within the social sphere, within a discourse that is concerned to produce its own truth, negating any source of power outside of itself, concealing the political. Modern power thus becomes inseparable from representation, knowledge, and the mode of articulation of social disourse. In this capacity, it is constitutive of the modern subject of socialised capital, and of social identity. The immanence of the sphere of the social, of nationalism and ideology more generally, create the effects of an occultation, and misrecognition of power - precisely the attributes of ideology.

Yet these ideological effects can never be complete. They reveal themselves in symptomatic form: as discordances, failures, in the continual attempt to correct them. Achieving concealment is an impossibility. If the place of power could be perfectly neutralised, there would be no criterion which would mark the distinction between the imaginary and the real. It remains that "the origin of the discourse about the order of the world and the order of the social can only be conceived of from elsewhere." (Lefort 1986: 199). Even after the cutting off of the head of the king, the sovereign, or rather, his will - what Rousseau was to call the general will - retains the capacity of maintaining a politically bonded collectivity.

However, ideological occultation has had farreaching effects. In a society that appears in accord with its own origin, with its own constitution, the originating principle is seen to lack any meaning, any reason to exist, and it condemns its adherents to the ignorance of its functioning. "Democracy triumphed at the cost of losing its initial inspiration." (Gauchet 1997: 173) Its form of appearance is an autonomous society, a society regulated and determined purely from within, and subject only to itself.

The expansion of society's self-constituting capacity occurred through increasing doctrinal neutralisation, and the increasing impersonality of its operations. An expanded public power establishes a collective identity. But, contrary to expectation, this collective identity no longer runs through a semi-autonomous civil society with independent bodies as intermediaries between the State and the individual; instead, it comes to increasingly reside in the arbitrary and unpredictable nature of individuals' responses and orientations (Gauchet 1997: 181, 190). The social sphere as public power is disappearing. Individuals privately create the civil links through tacit or explicit contract; the symbolic mediation of the realm of sovereign power and private lives is being increasingly obliterated from the field of visibility.

Attempted recreations of imagined communities at the end of the twentieth century are taking place in a new configuarion. While mimicking the violent irruption of the founding act which marks the exteriority of the place from which a political sovereignty makes its entry into society and institutes itself as the organising principle of society, this violent irruption is no longer mediated by society. This seems to be borne out by the startling inability to regulate violence on the part of a growing number of states - pre-election South Africa, Russia, the US (see Comaroff 1996: 173). One might want to conclude that it is the the disappearance of society in the form of the contractual nation that gives way to the unregulated and often violent re-assertion of the community - the cultural nation. However, this picture is misleading. Premised upon the disappearance of society in late capitalism, the political power that is asserted in ethnic nationalisms remains in absolute exteriority, curiously coupled with extreme interiority, but in such a way that their dialectical relation is being effaced. Seen from either the viewpoint of absolute exteriority, or that of absolutely unmediated interiority, the power asserted in new ethnic nationalism as one of its most extreme manifestations, can found neither community nor society. The mimicked founding of community is not based on a common social bond premised upon a form of political love.

This is what emerges from a consideration of the growing number of political wastelands that can be observed on the world map -

a world map with spreading gray areas, in which no identifiable political community exists at all [e.g. Lebanon and Yugoslavia] In some places and spaces the situation has become highly ambiguous: with the de facto (if not de jure) dissolution off centralized authority, the political domain has refracted itself into sites of power appropriated by local "warlords", international aid agancies, corporations, religious movements, and the like. [Such processes] may foreshadow a future in which states effectively disappear, placing ever greater stress on local structures and on as yet unimagined principles of political and economic integration. (Comaroff 1996: 173)

Globalisation, culturally speaking, far from subjecting local particularities to its universalising sway, is likely to reinforce local particularisms, that are yet inserted into the new global information networks. In the global networks of information technology, absolute exteriority and unmediated interiority of political power meet with the spectre of symbolic exchanges that are no longer dependent on the body, thus effacing the nature/culture divide fundamental to socialised subjectivity. Technology plays an increasingly central role in understanding and rendering the body within culture. Dissociating subjectivity and corporeality by levelling them in 'virtual' informational reality, it removes the unruly body from the quest for self-knowledge (Sey 1996: 117-118).

A closely related shift can be observed in the new ethnic nationalisms. The nation-state nationalisms of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and even the nation-without-state 'imagined communities' of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries depended on an articulation of the primary social tie through the symbolic re-enactment of a founding act asserting the division between nature and culture, and through the organicist attributions to the social and the political. The new ethno-nationalisms, in contrast, dissociate sociality from the individual, effacing the very possibility of a social sub-ject. In the new collectivities, "the people" become equal to themselves, endlessly presented to themselves. One arena in which this is vigorously pursued and asserted, is that of demographics, adduced in the name of effective participatory democracy. This is what Benjamin clearly recognises in his 1935 essay on 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction'. Noting that the rise of statistics accompanies the endless reproducibility obliterating the uniqueness of the object, he finds unlimited scope for "the adjustment of reality to the masses and the masses to reality" (Benjamin [1935] 1992: 217).

Moreover, the trend of atomisation is evident in postmodern identity politics of particular life styles, targetted by the fashion industry, by political parties, by affirmative action policies, etc. - all in the name of social justice. In the process, the very notion of society is being depoliticised. Being reduced to the sum of their elements, particularist groups and identities constitute only a caricature of an idea of 'community' that had previously been defined as being more than, and outside of the sum of its parts. The no-part that that was not included in the social body as one of its elements, had kept the principle of universality open, and had served to maintain a political space at least in principle. This kind of politicisation is prevented in contemporary pluralist negotiation, multicultural sensitivity, and consensual regulation (Zizek 1998: 1006, 988, 996, 1003).

Benedict Anderson could account for 'imagined communities' only by reference to nation-states in the making, where the hyphen between nation and state signifies the co-existence of the culturally and contractually defined nation, the political and the social, the state and some form of civil society (see Singer 1996: 333), however rudimentary. New ethnically defined groups do not figure in his analysis, insofar as they are premised upon the disappearance of the social. In contrast to the 'communities' described by Benedict Anderson, the new imagined communities are transnational. A global symbolic community is created in international flows of information that know no territory or boundary. They combine with local agency in global networks of information technology, resulting in new sites of violence (see Hall 1998). The spectre of this unprecedented, new kind of violence should lead us to develop forms of political struggle in the direction of creating conditions for a political love that can sustain community and society.


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Paper presented at the 4th Annual Qualitative Methods Conference: "Histories of the present"
3 & 4 September 1998, Johannesburg, South Africa
critical methods society - -