On theory, nationalism & remembering

I wanted to share two excerpts from pieces I read today which really struck me, one on theory and one on nationalism.

On theory:

Theory is always for someone and for some purpose. All theories have a perspective. Perspectives derive from a position in time and space, specifically social and political time and space. The world is seen from a standpoint defineable in terms of nation or social class, of dominance or subordination, of rising or declining power, of a sense of immobility or of present crisis, of past experience, and of hopes and expectations for the future.

Of course, sophisticated theory is never just the expression of a perspective. The more sophisticated a theory is, the more it reflects upon and transcends its own perspective; but the initial perspective is always contained within a theory and is relevant to its explication. There is no such thing as theory in itself, divorced from a standpoint in time and space. When any theory so represents itself, it is the more important to examine it as ideology, and to lay bare its concealed perspective.

– Robert Cox

On nationalism:

The histories of national struggles have generally been written by nationalist elites. In supplying these texts, historians have played a central role in nation-building and myth-making and have only recently begun to deconstruct some of the myths. The texts are meant to provide the nation with a shared understanding of the past. The narrative and its embedded myths and thus part of the glue that binds the collective. 

Nationalist narratives generally identify an external enemy, heroes, a vanguard party, and pivotal moments. The narratives are by necessity neater than actual events. Counter-narratives are silenced, marginalized, or incorporated in shortened form into the nationalist narrative. These counter-narratives tend to be those written, or remembered, by opposition groups, members of the lower classes, minorities and women. 

Forgetting is a crucial part of constructing nationalist narratives, as episodes and actualities that might divide the collective or show internal dissent and conflict are suppressed. Other memories simply fade, not having been recorded. 

– Beth Baron


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