Language, ethnicity, and the nation-state: on Max Weber’s conception of “imagined linguistic community”

Theory and Society 47 (4):437-466 (2018)
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Methodological nationalism in sociological theory is unfit for the current globalized era, and should be discarded. In light of this contention, the present article discusses Max Weber’s view of language as a way to relativize the frame of the national society. While a “linguistic turn” in sociology since the 1960s has assumed that the sharing of language—linguistic community—stands as an intersubjective foundation for understanding of meaning, Weber saw linguistic community as constructed. From Weber’s rationalist, subjectivist, individualist viewpoint, linguistic community was a result of social actions, not a prior entity as assumed by German metaphysical organicism (and historicist holism). Indeed, Central Europe in Weber’s era was a battlefield of linguistic nationalism(s); in contrast to the national societies of the Cold War period, national borders were unstable and ultimately the multiethnic empires of the region were dismantled after World War I into ethnolinguistic nation-states. Experience of this contemporary reality brought Weber to the core of the relationship between language and politics: A language community is an imaginary one demarcated not by language itself but by conscious opposition against outsiders, with monolingual contexts within borders created artificially by homogenizing policies like linguistic standardization and national education—the first modernity of language. In this way, Weber felt, language can be a means to domination.



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References found in this work

Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Wissenschaftslehre.Max Weber - 1924 - Revue Philosophique de la France Et de l'Etranger 98:151-152.
World Risk Society.Ulrich Beck - 2009 - In Jan Kyrre Berg Olsen Friis, Stig Andur Pedersen & Vincent F. Hendricks (eds.), A Companion to the Philosophy of Technology. Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 495–499.
Why Does Language Matter to Philosophy?Ian Hacking - 1975 - New York: Cambridge University Press.

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