Tag Archives: 9/28/2015

An Identity About-Face

It has been argued that the nation state was borne of the desire to give a sense of identity to a region and the people within it. This then evolved to include the ideals of said people, and a collective mythology that further helps define what makes that nation state what and who it is. Perhaps if all of humanity were able to coexist in perfect harmony with no thoughts of aggression or competition then the need for identity through the nation state might not be necessary, but it is..because it doesn’t. In today’s world, despite the supposed dissolution of borders that has occurred as a result of globalization, the national identity of a state has become more important than ever. Opening communication channels throughout the world has forced many nation-states to confront the identities that they so long trumpeted to others, often with unexpected results.

Nation-states exist to provide structure, functionality, cohesion, and regulation to the people and places of a world that is undeniably complex through the implementation of strategically crafted identities that differentiate them from others. The identity that a nation-state possesses (as a result of its own efforts to define or those of others) becomes dramatically more important in a globalized society that allows people from all walks of life to communicate with relative ease. In contemporary society, for example, the United States has long been heralded by its leaders and citizens as an extremely powerful world power. With countries (and their inhabitants) having the ability to relay messages to places that may otherwise be inaccessible, nation-states are more likely to be be called upon in the global theater to be proactive in situations outside of their own borders.

Members of nation-states can, and do, catch wind of outside crises through the globalized media landscape and try to rally their government to action. The Vietnam War, for example, became a mainstay of discussion and source of anger in American society after shocking coverage of the conflict was broadcast to domestic audiences. This resulted, as many people know, in widespread protests and calls for the government to be held accountable for its role in sending men to their deaths in a deeply-opposed war. Similarly, the current crises in Syria and across the Middle East have spurred discussion about what responsibility the US has to intervene owing to its reputation as a dominant world power. Media coverage from the front has become so predominant that today’s public perception of America’s inaction in Syria has evolved into an integral topic in political rhetoric. This arguably would not be the case in an insulated nation untouched by globalization.

An Unattainable Ideal

Do you think the globalization of communication flows has, perhaps counter-intuitively, prompted the *increased* relevance of the nation-state as international actor? Or, do you think that efforts to control or defend information sovereignty are ultimately doomed to fail?

The nation-state is not immediately at risk. The roots of the nation-state run deep; originating in its modern form from the establishment of the United States and France, as a result of their nationalist fervor and respective revolutions. Their geopolitical frameworks were then perpetuated through the establishment of post-revolutionary states in Latin American and those states emerging from divisions in Europe, eventually being projected upon the burgeoning states of the global south as the remnants of colonialism (Wimmer & Feinstein, 764-765). In examining the hegemonic nature of the nation-state template, Wimmer & Feinstein note that nation-states are reinforced on regional and local levels through “contagion”, implying that the nation-state prevails in relation to its neighboring nation-states, creating a sense of global structural cohesion (785-786). This theory holds true in looking at how little geopolitical boundaries have shifted in recent years.

In acknowledging the perseverance of the nation-state, we also must understand that nationalism is not at the mercy of nation-states, with strict geopolitical boundaries, as they exist today. Nationalist sentiments are often divided along geopolitical lines, mostly afforded to those states who had autonomy over their creation, but just as often they exist within or across pre-existing boundaries. Nationalist movements are as deeply rooted as the nation-state, but with the advent of globalized communication flows these struggles are better coordinated and more visible than ever. Even on a micro level, ideas surrounding nationalism are shifting to reflect individuals’ affinities. Individuals have statehood, but a significant portion of any given state may not align their national identity with allegiance to the state within which they reside. Not only this, but due to increasing interconnectivity through mediums that allow individuals to reach across boundaries seamlessly, we start to question the need for the nation-state as it exists. Roshwald provides a great critique of the problem nation-states face in his essay The Global Crisis of the Nation-State. He states, “Anchoring institutions of popular sovereignty in a foundation of national identity can form a strong framework for stable governance, but the undertaking can prove a Sisyphean task. Success hinges partly on the recognition that, as the historian Edmund Morgan noted, popular sovereignty is a fiction—an ideal” (7). As a result he goes on to state that “National identity (a stable version of which is a vital counterpart to popular sovereignty) is likewise perpetually in flux amid global shifts in the distribution of economic and political power, and as demographic and cultural currents flow across borders, continually reshaping the contours of societies” (7). From this, Roshwald acknowledges the need for consensus and shared identity amongst the members of a nation-state for it to thrive, but underscores that ideal as impossible. He notes the changing “contours of societies,” which agrees with my idea of nationalist shifts on an individual basis, as the individual is increasingly externally connected and framed, making it more and more difficult to control the individual’s connection to this open flow of information.

 

It’s a cycle though isn’t it?

 

As the individual continues to build affiliation outside of the nation-state and the nation-state sees that as harmful to its well-being, there is a reaction. The nation-state is using its authority, which we’ve examined as being well-established, to clamp down on the individual’s actions. This is seen across the globe from states notorious for denying its citizens full access to channels of information, like China or Russia, to states that pride themselves on freedom of information, like our own. Though relative, each nation-state seeks to direct the flow of information. So while physical borders and their metaphorical counterparts become increasingly porous, the nation-state reasserts its relevance through its concerted efforts to patch the holes that are causing its slow dissolution.

Feinstein Y. & Wimmer, A. (2010). The rise of the nation state across the world, 1816 to 2001. In American Sociological Review, vol. 75 issue 5. Sage Press.

One loophole of info with a little propaganda to go, please.

Do you think the globalization of communication flows has, perhaps counter-intuitively, prompted the *increased* relevance of the nation-state as international actor? Or, do you think that efforts to control or defend information sovereignty are ultimately doomed to fail?

The dictatorial censorship of information is undoubtedly doomed to crumble. But there are a lot of mallets that need to strike before the walls collapse. Tech-gadget smuggling is happening in Cuba, the Chinese are finding loopholes through the Great Firewall of China and VPNs in Russia soldier on despite government crackdowns.

The preventative measures behind information and communication suppression are obvious, being that one must have a pretty astute state of intuition and critical thinking skills to be a successful revolutionary. But, what’s interesting is exactly why folks are fighting for the free-flow of information and communication, since it’s not essential to their subsistence.

And even though the desire for abstract thought is not innate, it has become an imperative extension of culture for any human whose mortal needs are fulfilled with a trip to the market and some form of non-anarchistic security council. So, as some cultures, like ours, usurp information access in every which way we can get our fix, while incorporating it into all aspects of our lives – maybe it could become a survival need? I digress.

Back to the prompt, which really isn’t an “or” question since the answer is both.

In regards to globalization effecting the nation-state, it is without a doubt the case. The world is under watch by the media and individual citizens. Although, the type of information publicized is not always free and clean, nation-states have been pushed out onto the stage because people now have “mass communication” tool at their fingertips. And because of this, the more repressive a nation-state is, the brighter their international interrogation-light will shine.

For example, the Freedom House report on, “The Freedom of the Net, 2014,” has highlighted Thailand, Vietnam, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Cuba, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Iran, Bahrain, et al., as Not Free.

Going back to information sovereignty, an interesting takeaway I had from Elizabeth Hanson’s “The Globalization of Communication” chapter in her book, “The Information Revolution and World Politics,” was that if you stop the flow of communications and information, you also fail to benefit from the technology and infrastructure that can behoove other segments of one’s population, like medicine and the economy, to add another notch to the “doomed to fail” scenario.

Is controlling information sovereignty even possible?

By: Carlos Diaz Barriga

This is the first tweet from Edward Snowden’s recently opened Twitter account. The tweet, while humorous in nature, is a clear defiance to all world leaders who seek to control the information of their nation.

Powers and Jablonsky argue that “new transnational governance structures enhance the vitality of existing states by insuring the viability of debate within democracies while limiting the influence of special interests.” But what governance structure can control the power of the internet?

With the internet, information flows now appear to be in control of the citizens. Technology overrides nation-states in certain parts of the world; diasporas have created endless transnational online communities.

Consider the Millenial generation, who has grown up thinking everything on the internet should be free (music, movies, news, etc.) and accessible. They were the first users and creators of the system, it’s not easy to suddenly establish parameters as to what they can or can’t do.

Perhaps what states should be focusing on is how the public defines “information sovereignty”. For a lot of the population, free internet means endless access to funny Vines and YouTube videos (as the “Cute Cat” theory suggests). To keep them happy, don’t restrict what they already enjoy. Western governments are already pursuing some version of an intranet anyway (Powers and Jablonsky). The population will accept what they perceive as “just” control (i.e. making illegal music and movies downloads punishable).

The problem, for the nation-states, lies with the Edward Snowden and the Julian Assange types. Both are considered, by some, as heroes of freedom of speech. Snowden, in an interview with The Guardian in May, stated:

“The idea that they can lock us out and there will be no change is no longer tenable. Everyone accepts these programmes [NSA] were not effective, did not keep us safe and, even if they did, represent an unacceptable degradation of our rights.”

And Snowden is not alone; he amassed more than a million followers in less than 24 hours.