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The Nation-State and Journalism  

Shakuntala Rao

The concept of nation-state has historically been defined as peoples having some manner of territorial and political self-determination; cultural, linguistic, or religious affinity; and economic independence. Recent forces of globalization have made the nation-state increasingly vulnerable to and dependent on capital, corporations, and/or more powerful states. Such integration of the nation-state in the global world has also led political actors to reverse course and seek ethno-nationalist agendas where differences in race, ethnicity, religion, gender, caste, and other identity markers are used to inflame fears or defend against economic, cultural, and environmental dislocation among a nation’s citizens. Journalists face critical challenges as the nation-state gets reconfigured. These challenges include the rise of new media technology as a force of division and the rise of ethno-nationalism. Research shows that new media platforms expanded not only the definition of who can create content but also the range of topics covered. Positive opportunities, alternately, are undermined by the reality that non-media factors—historical, political, economic, and social divisions—continue to determine not only the diffusion and adoption of new media but also its influence; each nation has its own cultural equations and socio-historical footprints on which new media gets imposed. Journalists, as part of national media systems, increasingly find themselves operating in an environment where they are competing with non-regulated technologies and supra-national information landscape. A core belief propagated by new ethno-nationalists is an anti-media bias, where all news is perceived to be left leaning or “liberal” in nature and content, and therefore open to criticism and censorship. The reprieve from such narratives of ethno-nationalism is the model of global journalism, which makes possible transnational information sharing.

Article

National Identity and Inter-Ethnic Relations in Madagascar  

Faniry Ranaivo Rahamefy and Nhamo A. Mhiripiri

In Madagascar, race- and ethnicity-based thinking is marked by a paradox: it is at the same time ubiquitous and elusive. Day-to-day communications are permeated with racial stereotypes based on ethnicity and class, yet they are so ingrained that they are hard to capture. Moreover, those stereotypes jar with the idea of national unity that is projected by official and readily accessible communications. To begin to understand this paradox between the projected national identity and the plurality of ethnic identities, it is necessary to grasp Madagascar’s unique ethnic predicament. Malagasy interethnic relations are negotiated through the dichotomy Merina/Côtiers. This othering dichotomy, which sets one ethnic group, the Merina, against the Others, the Côtiers, had been constructed and mobilized by the colonial power to serve its interests. Indeed, “Côtiers” is not an ethnic group per se, but an assemblage of all the ethnicities which are non-Merina. There are 18 ethnic groups in Madagascar, 16 of which are discursively regrouped in the category “Côtiers,” with one group geographically close to the Merina being assimilated with them. An essentialization of the Côtier group is therefore operated, as the latter is not an ethnicity in the conventional sense of the word. An effective way to investigate those layers of identification, as well as discursive practices around them, is to subject a corpus made up of purposively chosen speeches by the president of the Republic and of posts from official Facebook dating pages to critical discourse analysis. Such analysis reveals that public speeches are geared toward nation-state building through creation of national heroes, mobilization of history and national artifacts/symbols, and engineering a sense of “common good” around public infrastructures. Those communications are marked by structured absence of ethnic and racial markers. Even if they are aimed to foster a sense of belonging to one nation, they may have the opposite result, as they are predicated on a negation and co-optation of local, racial, ethnic, and classed identities. Such structured absence can also be found in the lonely hearts posts. They contain little reference to ethnic identities. Instead, the most prevalent research criteria for a life partner are skin color (white or light-brown) and religion (Christianity). Despite the absence of clear references to a specific ethnicity, those criteria connote belonging to ethnic groups from the central highlands of Madagascar. Moreover, the high prevalence of Christianity as a search criterion leads one to interrogate the correlation between color and religion, and to determine whether such correlation is indicative of cultural hegemony of specific ethnic groups. Lack of representation of other religions and races reveals deeper systemic exclusion of non-dominant groups, that is, those who are not white or light-skinned Christians. Despite being rooted in the private sphere, those dating posts are therefore symptomatic of deeper structural dynamics which are at the heart of nation-building. Indeed, at least in the Malagasy context, the family, and more specifically the Mother, is at the core of the nation. Ethnic, racial, and classed thinking is therefore scripted in the very foundation of the Malagasy nation.