Skip to main content Accessibility help

Anticolonial Nationalism From Imagined Communities to Colonial Conflict

  • Julian Go (a1) and Jake Watson (a2)


Nationalism in the modern world began in European metropoles but spread throughout the world system in the form of anticolonial nationalism. While many studies have explored the former, this essay systematically examines the latter. Based upon an original database of 124 cases, we test multiple theories that might account for the origins and spread of anticolonial nationalism. We adjudicate between cultural-cognitive approaches emphasizing the discursive bases for national imaginings on the one hand and, on the other, theories that emphasize political-economic dynamics and elite conflict. Our time-series regression analysis suggests that while cultural-cognitive approaches best account for the initial wave of anticolonial nationalism, from 1700 to 1878, theories stressing political-economic dynamics and elite conflict explain anticolonial nationalism in the later wave, from 1879 to 1990. The analysis suggests that theories of nationalism need to be attentive to the historical specificity of their claims.

Le nationalisme dans le monde moderne a émergé dans les métropoles européennes mais s’est rapidement répandu à travers le monde sous la forme d’un nationalisme anticolonial. Si le premier a été exploré par de nombreux travaux, cet essai propose d’examiner de façon systématique le second. À partir d’une base de données originale de 124 cas, l’article met à l’épreuve plusieurs théories qui pourraient expliquer les origines et la propagation du nationalisme anticolonial. Sont particulièrement discutés les mérites relatifs d’une part, des approches culturelles et cognitives centrées sur les bases discursives de l’imaginaire national et, d’autre part, les théories qui mettent l’accent sur la dynamique politico-économique et le conflit des élites. L’analyse de régression en séries chronologiques suggère que, si les approches culturelles et cognitives rendent mieux compte de la vague initiale de nationalisme anticolonial, de 1700 à 1878, les théories soulignant la dynamique politico-économique et les conflits d’élites expliquent de façon plus convaincante le nationalisme anticolonial de 1879 à 1990. L’analyse suggère que les théories du nationalisme doivent être particulièrement attentives à la spécificité historique de leurs affirmations.

Entstanden in den europäischen Großstädten der Neuzeit hat der Nationalismus sich weltweit sehr schnell zu einem antikolonialen Nationalismus entwickelt. Da dem ersten bereits zahlreiche Studien gewidmet wurden, untersucht dieser Beitrag systematisch den zweiten. Aufbauend auf einer ursprünglichen Datenbasis von 124 Fällen analysiert diese Studie mittels verschiedener Theorien die Entstehung und die Verbreitung des antikolonialen Nationalismus. Der Schwerpunkt liegt hier auf der Untersuchung der Verdienste der kulturellen und kognitiven Interpretationsansätze aufbauend auf einer diskursiven, nationalen Vorstellungswelt einerseits und auf Theorien, die politisch-wirtschaftliche Dynamik und den Konflikt zwischen Eliten thematisieren, andererseits. Die Regressionsanalyse chronologischer Serien legt nahe, dass, während kulturell-kognitive Ansätze besser den Ursprung des antikolonialen Nationalismus (1700-1878) darstellen, die Theorien basierend auf politisch-wirtschaftlicher Dynamik und Elitekonflikten treffender den antikolonialen Nationalismus der 1879-1990er Jahre beschreiben. Die Untersuchung verdeutlicht, dass Nationalismustheorien der historischen Besonderheit ihrer Behauptungen größere Beachtung schenken müssen.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Anticolonial Nationalism From Imagined Communities to Colonial Conflict
      Available formats

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Anticolonial Nationalism From Imagined Communities to Colonial Conflict
      Available formats

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Anticolonial Nationalism From Imagined Communities to Colonial Conflict
      Available formats



Hide All

Alphabetical author listing. The authors thank Elyas Bakhtiari, Jessica Simes, anonymous reviewers for EJS, and the editors of EJS for their helpful suggestions and guidance.



Hide All
Agnew, John, 1989. “Nationalism: Autonomous Force or Practical Politics? Place and Nationalism in Scotland,in Williams, Ch. and Kofman, E., eds, Community Conflict, Partition and Nationalism (London, Routledge).
Allison, Paul, 2014. Event History and Survival Analysis (Los Angeles, Sage).
Anderson, Benedict, 1983. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism (London, Verso).
Anderson, Benedict, 1992. Long Distance Nationalism: World Capitalism and the Rise of Identity Politics (Amsterdam, Centre for Asian Studies).
Anderson, Benedict, 2006. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism, Revised Edition (London, Verso).
Anderson, James, 1986. “On Theories of Nationalism and the Size of States,” Antipode, 18 (2): 218-232.
Armitage, David, 2005. “The Contagion of Sovereignty: Declarations of Independence since 1776,” South African Historical Journal, 52: 1-18.
Armitage, David, 2009. The Declaration of Independence: A Global History (Cambridge, Harvard University Press).
Ballantyne, Tony and Burton, Antoinette M., 2014. Empires and the reach of the global, 1870-1945 (Cambridge, Belknap).
Barreto, Amílcar A., 1998. Language, Elites and the State: Nationalism in Puerto Rico and Quebec (Westport, Praeger).
Bayly, C. A., 1998. “The first age of global imperialism, c.1760-1830,” Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 26 (2): 28-47.
Beck, Colin, 2011. “The World-Cultural Origins of Revolutionary Waves: Five Centuries of European Contention,” Social Science History, 35 (2): 167-207.
Beck, Nathanial, Katz, Jonathan N. and Tucker, Richard, 1998. “Taking Time Seriously: Time-Series Cross-Section Analysis with a Binary Dependent Variable,” American Journal of Political Science, 42(4): 1260-1288.
Boahen, A. Adu (ed.), 1985. General History of Africa VII: Africa Under Colonial Domination, 1880-1935 (Paris, UNESCO).
Boswell, Terry, 1989. “Colonial Empires and the Capitalist World-Economy: A Time Series Analysis of Colonization, 1640-1960,” American Sociological Review, 54(2): 180-96.
Breuilly, John, 1982. Nationalism and the State (Chicago, University of Chicago Press).
Breuilly, John, 2013. The Oxford Handbook of the History of Nationalism (Oxford, Oxford University Press).
Chatterjee, Partha, 1993. The Nation and its Fragments (Princeton, Princeton University Press).
Coleman, James, 1954. “Nationalism in Tropical Africa,” The American Political Science Review, 48 (2): 404-426.
Duany, Jorge, 2001. The Puerto Rico Nation on the Move: Identities on the Island and in the United States (Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press).
Eley, Geoff and Suny, Ronald, 1996. Becoming National: A Reader (New York, Oxford University Press).
Fieldhouse, D. K., 1982. The Colonial Empires: A Comparative Survey from the Eighteenth Century (London, The MacMillan Press).
Furedi, Frank, 1994. Colonial Wars and the Politics of Third World Nationalism (London, I.B. Tauris).
Gellner, Ernest, 1983. Nations and Nationalism (Ithaca, Cornell University Press).
Go, Julian, 2011. Patterns of Empire: the British and American Empires, 1688 to the Present (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).
Go, Julian, 2016. Postcolonial Thought and Social Theory (New York, Oxford University Press).
Goebel, Michael, 2015. Anti-Imperial Metropolis (New York, Cambridge University Press).
Goldstein, Joshua S., 1988. Long cycles: prosperity and war in the modern age (New Haven, Yale University Press).
Goswami, Manu, 2004. Producing India (Chicago, University of Chicago Press).
Greenfeld, Liah, 1992. Nationalism. Five Roads to Modernity (Cambridge, Mass./London, England, Harvard University Press).
Henige, David, 1970. Colonial Governors (Madison, University of Wisconsin Press).
Herb, Guntran and Kaplan, David H., 2008. Nations and Nationalism: A Global Historical Overview, 4 vol . (Santa Barbara, ABC-Clio).
Hiers, Wesley and Wimmer, Andreas, 2013. “Is nationalism the cause or consequence of the end of empire?,” in Hall, John A. and Malešević, Siniša, Nationalism and War (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press: 212-254).
Howe, Stephen, 2002. Empire: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, Oxford University Press).
Lawrence, Adria, 2013. Imperial Rule and the Politics of Nationalism: Anti-Colonial Protest in the French Empire (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).
Li, Xue and Hicks, Alexander, 2016. “World Polity Matters: Another Look at the Rise of the Nation-State across the World, 1816-2001,” American Sociological Review, 81 (3): 596-607.
Lieven, Dominic, 1995. “The Russian Empire and the Soviet Union as Imperial Polities,” Journal of Contemporary History, 30 (4): 607-636.
Lieven, Dominic, 2002. Empire: the Russian Empire and its Rivals (New Haven, Yale University Press).
Malešević, Siniša, 2013. “Making Boundaries and Fighting Wars: Ethnicities, Nation States and Empires.” European Journal of Sociology, 54 (3): 513-520.
Meyer, John W., Boli, John, Thomas, George M. and Ramire, Franciso O., 1997. “World Society and the Nation-State,” American Journal of Sociology, 103 (1):144-181.
Mitchell, Brian R., 1988. British Historical Statistics (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).
Mitchell, Brian R, 1993. International Historical Statistics: The Americas 1750-1988 (New York, Stockton Press).
Mitchell, Brian R, 1998. International Historical Statistics: Europe 1750-1993 (New York, Palgrave-MacMillan).
Motyl, Alexander, 2001. Encyclopedia of Nationalism. Volumes I and II (San Diego, Academic Press).
Osterhammel, Jürgen, 1999. Colonialism: A Theoretical Overview (Princeton, Markus Wiener Publishers).
Rothberg, Robert, 1965. The Rise of Nationalism in Central Africa (Cambridge, Harvard University Press).
Singer, David, 1987. “Reconstructing the Correlates of War Dataset on Material Capabilities of States, 1816-1985,” International Interactions, 14 (2): 115-132.
Singer, J. David, Bremer, Stuart, and Stuckey, John, 1972. “Capability Distribution, Uncertainty, and Major Power War, 1820-1965,” in Bruce Russett, Peace, War and Numbers (Beverly Hills, Sage: 19-48).
Slate, Nico, 2012. Colored Cosmopolitanism: The Shared Struggle for Freedom in the United States and India (Cambridge, Harvard University Press).
Smith, Anthony, 1986. The Ethnic Origins of Nations (Oxford, Blackwell Publishers).
Strang, David, 1991. “Global Patterns of Decolonization,” International Studies Quarterly, 35 (4): 429-454.
Tir, Jaroslav, Schafer, Philip, Diehl, Paul F., and Goertz, Gary, 1998. “Territorial Changes, 1816-1996,” Conflict Management and Peace Science, 16: 89-97.
Wallerstein, Immanuel, 1974. The Modern World-System (New York, Academic Press).
Wallerstein, Immanuel, 2004. World-Systems Analysis: An Introduction (Durham, Duke University Press).
Wimmer, Andreas, and Feinstein, Yuval, 2010. “The rise of the nation-state across the world, 1816-2001,” American Sociological Review, 75 (5): 764-790.
Ziltener, Patrick, Künzler, Daniel, and Walter, André, 2017. “Measuring the Impacts of Colonialism: A New Data Set for the Countries of Africa and Asia,” Journal of World-Systems Research, 23 (1): 156-190.



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed