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‘Primordialism’ in nationalism studies: theory or ideology?

Nations and Nationalism

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For several decades, the field of nationalism studies has seen an extended debate about explanations of nationalism and about the process of nation formation. An impressive set of labels has been coined to describe alternative approaches. One of the theories that has enjoyed unusual longevity is the approach known as primordialism, which stresses the deep historical and cultural roots of nations and nationalism and assumes their quasi‐objective character. This resilience is surprising because of the difficulty of marshalling evidence to support such a theory, and because of the line‐up of critics who dismiss it. This article explores the recent debate about primordialism. It suggests that authentic versions of primordialism are extremely hard to find in the academic literature, and that primordialism may better be viewed as an ingredient in nationalism than as an explanation of nationalism.