Considering Nationalism vs Ethnocentrism

To start off, I would like to provide definitions of both nationalism and ethnocentrism. Both of these definitions were taken from the Oxford English Dictionary.

Nationalism: Advocacy or support for the interests of one’s own nation, esp. to the exclusion or detriment of the interest of other nations. Also: advocacy or support for national independence or self-determination.

Ethnocentrism: Tending to view the world from the perspective of one’s own culture, sometimes with an assumption of superiority; limited as regards knowledge and appreciation of other cultures and communities. Also in a neutral sense: aware of membership of an ethnic group, community, or culture.

Nationalism seems to have two sides: one where it builds community and pride, and the other where it gives nations the opportunity to disregard other nations and the world community. The second side of nationalism is what I would like to compare to ethnocentrism. While ethnocentrism mainly deals with culture, within the “imagined community” of a nation where culture is engrained, the two can be equated. While I am not fully aware of the motivations behind British colonization in South Asia, their treatment of the local citizens and government within that area can be connected to ethnocentrism: the idea being that the British way of life is superior to those they are there to “help.”

As we discussed in class, the second side of nationalism can also lead people to take action against an assumed threat without thorough planning or thought. In the face of tragedy, we raise our flags in resistance and vow to bring down those who threaten us, often without considering how or why they became a threat.

Connecting this to our class content, in Gandhi we were able to see the “good” side of nationalism as India came together to drive out British colonists. Groups who were at odds with one another came together under a shared motivation. While this led to India’s independence, it also put other national issues on the back burner. While they were focused on this one unifying goal, they failed to address the cultural differences that would eventually lead them to separate and turn against each other.

I would not label nationalism as either “good” or “bad.” Like many things, the way it is used and promoted dictates how it is perceived/labeled.


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