Other recent research: Ethnic exclusion and wars | Ethnic boundary making | Boundaries in social networks

Nation-state formation and diffusion


Negotiating nationhood: A game theoretic model of the rise of the first nation-states

The first project is pursued together with Clemens Kroneberg, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Mannheim. Classical theories of nationalism either emphasize the role of a hegemonic, militaristic and centralizing state in generating nationalist imaginaries and identities, or that of popular sentiment emerging in the wake of the print revolution and the Enlightenment. Going beyond this divide, we conceive of nationalism as the consensual outcome of a negotiation process between state elites, counter elites, and the population at large. Integrating separate strands of literature, we consider three possible outcomes of this negotiation process: nations, ethnic groups or populism. We formally model these forms of classification and closure as outcomes of a negotiation process involving state elites, counter elites, and the population at large. The model is the first to combine an exchange-theoretic approach to preference formation with a game-theoretic model of interaction. Assuming social closure along classificatory lines, actors negotiate those social classifications that allow the most advantageous exchange of taxation against public goods, and military support against political participation, all the while offering a good fit in terms of cultural similarity. The model is calibrated with historical data on the distribution of these resources in France (1300 to 1900) and the Ottoman Empire (1500 to 1900). We show how actors negotiate nations, ethnic groups or populism depending on degrees of state centralization, mass mobilization and civil society organization. Establishing a middle ground between historical narratives and macro-sociological structuralism, the paper specifies actor-centered mechanisms that link political modernization to these different collective sentiments and modes of social closure.

The paper was published by the American Journal of Sociology 118(1):176-230, 2012 and can be downloaded here here. It won the Anatol-Rapoport Prize from the Modeling and Simulation Section of the German Sociological Association in 2012.


The global diffusion of the nation-state

The historical circumstances that led to the rise of the first modern nation-states are quite distinct from the processes that led to its further diffusion across the globe. To test this and other arguments about the rise of the nation-state, I have teamed up with Yuval Feinstein, a graduate student in UCLA's department of sociology. We test key aspects of modernization, diffusion, and historical institutionalist theories with a new dataset that contains information on 145 of today’s states from 1816 to the year when they achieved nation-statehood. Event-history analysis shows that a nation-state is more likely to emerge when a power shift allows nationalists to overthrow or absorb the established regime. Diffusion of the nation-state within an empire or among neighbors further tilts the balance of power in favor of nationalists. We were unable to find evidence for the effects of industrialization, the advent of mass literacy, or increasingly direct rule, which are associated with the modernization theories of Gellner, Anderson, as well as Tilly and Hechter. Nor does the growing global hegemony of the nation-state model predict individual instances of nation-state formation well, as Meyer’s world polity theory would suggest. We conclude that the global rise of the nation-state is driven by proximate and contextual political factors situated on the local and regional levels, in line with historical institutionalist arguments, rather than by domestic or global structural forces that operate over the long durée.

This paper was published in the American Sociological Review 74(4), 2010 and can be downloaded here. It won the best article award from the Comparative HIstorical Section of ASA in 2011.


Networks of alliances and the boundaries of the nation

In this paper, I argue that the reach of political networks in the early days of nation-state formation determine where in the social landscape the boundaries of national belonging will be drawn, i.e. who exactly counts as member of the nation and who will be asigned to an ethnic "minority". The paper examines the exceptional case of Switzerland and shows that the cross-ethnic nature of those political alliance networks that rose to power after the 1848 civil conflict explains why the nation was conceived as multi-ethnic and why the language question never rose to prominence in Swiss history. This paper builds a bridge between the nation-state projects and the ethnic boundary making projects pursued in parallel.

The paper was published by Nations and Nationalism 17(4), 2011 and can be downloaded here.


Nationalism and the decline of empire

This chapter is co-authored with Wes Hiers, a graduate student in UCLA's sociology department. We address the question of whether nationalism is a major cause of imperial break-down--as I have argued for some time--or whether it could be the consequence of the fall of empire, as recently suggested by historians. We go about this task in four steps, the first three using quantitative data that cover most of the world since 1816. In the first step, we simply analyze the temporal relationship between the transition from empire to nation-state and the foundation of nationalist organizations and find that in the overwhelming majority of cases, the latter precedes the former. We then proceed to a more fine-grained analysis and ask whether these nationalist organizations were perhaps inspired by imperial retreat from other parts of the empire, such that a partial imperial breakdown would further fuel the flames of nationalism elsewhere. No such effect emerges, however. In the third step, we determine whether nationalist mobilization is a cause for the individual transitions from empire to nation-state observed in the history of today’s countries and find this to be the case, even if we take a host of other factors into account (including the weakening of empire through wars). In the fourth and most important step, we go beyond these coarse quantitative analyses and shift to empires as units of analysis, asking in how far nationalism caused imperial collapse. Discussing the demise of the Ottoman, Habsburg, French, British, Portuguese and Soviet empires, we distinguish between the varying degree to which nationalist movements contributed to each imperial collapse and the extent to which each transition was due to other, unrelated factors, including a voluntary retreat of the empire or a breakdown of empire due to defeat in international wars. We find that in all cases of imperial collapse, nationalist movements played an important role, and sometimes the crucial one. There is little evidence—with a handful of exceptions such as the Central Asian republics and some African countries—for the idea that imperial breakdown produces nationalist movements or the nation-state without a previous agitation for it.

This paper has been published as a chapter in volume edited by John Hall and Sinisa Malesevic and can be downloaded here.