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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Nationalist formation in the former European colonies of Asia and Africa

  • Author(s): Rothschild, Amy Caroline
  • et al.

This paper attempts to answer two potentially interrelated questions. First, how did the former European colonies of Asia and Africa which won their independence in the Post- World War II era come to think of themselves as nations and aspire to nationhood? What were the shared features of nationalist formation among this group? Second, why have so many of the former colonies experienced such difficulty transitioning to independence? Is there a relation or connection between the manner in which they came to their national consciousnesses and their post-independence struggles? This paper is divided into three sections. Section I examines general theories regarding the historic origins of nations, nationalism and national consciousness. Section II compares two theories of nationalism which deal specifically with the formation of nationalism in the former colonies of Europe that won their independence in the Post-World War II era: that of the classical nationalist scholar, Benedict Anderson and that of the postcolonial/subaltern theorist, Partha Chatterjee. Section III moves from theory to practice, bringing Anderson's and Chatterjee's theories to bear on the case of East Timor, which I argue in many ways serves as the paradigmatic case of the wayward postcolonial nation-state, whose people joined together after the second World War, under highly idealistic nationalist banners and against great odds, to throw off the "yoke of colonial rule" and claim control of the nation-state, only to disintegrate post-independence into violence, the emancipatory aspects of their nationalist struggles seeming to have fallen by the wayside.

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