Monday, April 21, 2008

Racism and nationalism do shape the internet

Racismreview has posted an interesting discussion of Castell's Power of Identity, discussing the relation between the internet and white supremacy groups in the US. The blogger argues that Castells' analysis is weakened by his focus on a particular white supremacy group. "White supremacy in the information age is global, and quite self-conscious" writes the blogger.

Interested in the internet from a slightly different perspective, that of nationalism, I find the analysis interesting and salient in pointing out the role of the internet in the formation of racial identities which transcend local (read national) boundaries. While racismreview is concerned with how race becomes ignored as a dynamic of power in this analysis of the internet, I'm more interested with this idea of creating transnational identities and communities, and how this has been juxtaposed with the disappearance of the nation, as a category of imagining social organization. However, nationalism studies has longed argued that there is no inconsistency between nationalism and universalism - in fact, nationalism implies universalism, it rests on the assumption that the nation is a universal category. The disagreement starts with deciding what are the nations and their 'natural' boundaries.

But when it comes to the internet, and the ways in which it becomes involved in building transnational communities and ties, I am surprised by how this is analyzed in the absence of any consideration for the ways in which a nationalist thinking is also present in the discussion.

Take for instance this recent interview with Bill St. Arnaud from Canarie and the comments on the CBC Spark blog. Talking about internet in Canada, St. Arnaud remarked that although we were being number 2 in the world in terms of broadband, we have fallen behind because we no longer invested in infrastructure. He also talked about how restricting access to the net -- within the context of the net neutrality/ net throttling debate -- is in fact affecting the presence of Canadian cultural content (because people's creativity is affected by not being able to download/upload stuff and thus produce more content).

The interesting thing for me is how the national trope is being invoked in talking about the internet, in raising boundaries which would create a space of legitimacy for a particular type of action. While the discourse of nationalism is a very flexible discourse of legitimacy, which can be used in support of a variety of (sometimes contradictory) legal actions, the mere fact that it is invoked contributes to what Michael Billig (1995) called the reproduction of the idea of the nation in a very banal manner.

Photo credits: jared


Third Tone Devil said...

I think there is quite a bit of writing on nationalism on the Internet, actually. Long gone are the heady Appaduraian days when thought transnational or ungrounded identities are going to replace nationalism. In particular, several articles have been written on the role of the Chinese Internet in and outside China in promoting nationalism. (I actually have a blog dealing with that, at I wonder if this has been done in the context of Eastern European nationalisms. There are certainly some very vigorous Hungarian nationalist sites.

thinking about difference said...

any specific references would be appreciated. thanks!

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