New forms of nationalism: Virtual States

In the last decade, communication technologies such as satellite TV, blogs, Twitter, etc., have brought the world into a state of hyper-connectivity. What does the mean for the nation, particularly how the media’s role in sustaining nationalism? Is the influence of borders declining under globalization? Can media create new forms of nationalism? Perhaps.

Benedict Anderson introduced the concept of “imagined communities,” which asserts that the consumption of mass media introduced shared mediated experiences among disparate communities. Through shared experiences via larger events, such as the Olympics, members of imagined communities feel connected. These are not necessarily real communities that live together, but communities nonetheless.

Philip Seib builds on Anderson’s “imagined communities,” with “virtual states.” Seib argues that the primacy of territorial states that make up the world system (the traditional concept of nation-state) is challenged by virtual states, technology based communities that give cohesion to collective identities that lack physically defined borders.

Seib uses the Kurds as an example to support his theory. While Kurds do not have physical borders, Kurds in Syria, Turkey, Iran, Iraq and members of the Kurdish diaspora are able to connect to their “Kurdishness” through satellite TV and social media (notably Twitter’s #TwitterKurds). Seib believes that this Kurdish virtual state acts as somewhat of a counterweight to the territorial state.

“Kurdistan may be a virtual state, but in this era of increasingly sophisticated and pervasive communication technologies, the distance between “virtual” and “real” continues to narrow. Other nations should recognize that Kurdistan truly exists.” 

Seib, The Reality of Kurdistan

However, there are limitations to this new form of nationalism. Diaspora communities often adopt to their new homeland, and bring to the “virtual state” a set of values that differ from those living in other areas.  While they may connect to a sense of Kurdishness, diaspora Kurds may approach individualism differently as a result of growing up in Europe, for example. Are Swedish Kurds are different from Iranian Kurds – can a virtual state exist where unconscious culture between members is so markedly different? Further, diaspora Kurds don’t share in the situation on the ground. Without the shared experience of, say, election in the KRG, can Kurds in the UK really relate to Kurds in Iraq? Add to this the limitation of multiple dialects and the barrier of technology costs, how can all of these different people, while still technically Kurds, be a cohesive community?

While the virtual state may introduce a new kind of imagined community, I don’t think that virtual states are necessarily challenging the primacy of states. What power do virtual states have? I also doubt how cohesive virtual states really are. Needless to say, I’m excited to hear more from Seib on the subject.



One thought on “New forms of nationalism: Virtual States

  1. Virtual states existed long before Skype and television. And the same problems that are attributed to local assimilation now were even more true then. The Jewish people kept their identity across Europe, the Americas, north Africa and the Middle East with out such tools. More so 60 some years after Israel was establish you there is still a wide spectrum of jewishness.
    That is why tend to agree with you that virtual states do not pose real threat to traditional states, because the idea that leads the Kurds just like it led the Jews is not lets be an imaginary community, it is let us determine our faith. And a nation cannot determine its faith with out a territory they to rule over. Daniel


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