SOAS University of London

Department of Politics and International Studies

Politics of Nationalism

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2
Taught in:
Term 1

This module focuses on major concepts, theories, methodologies and academic approaches to the study of nationalism, national identity and nationhood. It begins with an examination of the historical contexts and socioeconomic conditions under which nationalism emerged in the West and subsequently spread across the globe. By familiarising students with the key concepts, theories and approaches to the study of nationalism, the module aims at enabling students to understand the processes which appear to make nationalism a powerful mobilizing and homogenising force and also point to its contingent, shifting and fluid nature. The module focuses on understanding the political contestations underlying the notion of nationalism in various regional contexts.

The first part examines the dominant conceptual perspectives on the emergence and global diffusion of nationalism by focusing on the influence of capitalism, the impact of modernity and the role of colonialism. The second part is an inquiry into the conditions and contexts within which conflicts and contestations occur along ‘nationalist’ markers. It investigates the role of colonial legacy, political institutions, ideological framework and mobilizations led by nationalist entrepreneurs and political elites that shape a variety of separatist movements and challenge the assumed homogeneity of the nation-state. The third part examines the transformation, reconfigurations of nationalism within a globalizing context and explores the relationship between international actors, globalization and the existing ethnonational allegiances.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  • Cultivate a theoretical framework for analyzing the various manifestations of identities that are commonly labelled as ‘ethnic’ and ‘national’
  • Engage in a critical inquiry into these processes in diverse cultural and political contexts
  • Develop a comparative perspective to identify underlying similarities as well as distinctive elements of ethnic and nationalist politics across different political, regional and cultural contexts
  • Gain a broader understanding of the region or countries of their specialisation


This module will be taught over 10 weeks with:

  • 1 hour lecture per week
  • 1 hour tutorial per week

Scope and syllabus

  1. Introduction: Concepts
  2. Approaches: 'primordialism' vs constructivism
  3. Major Theories of Nationalism - I
  4. Major Theories of Nationalism - II
  5. Nationalism under Colonial and Imperial Rule
  6. Postcolonial Nationalisms
  7. Self-determination and Separatism
  8. Globalization and Transformation of Nationalism
  9. Diaspora and Transnational Identities
  10. The Resurgence of Nationalism?

Method of assessment

Assignment 1: Essay 35%
Assignment 2: Essay 65%


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules