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Durham University

Open World Research Initiative (OWRI)

Nationalism, Ethnicity and Cultural Diversity in the Digital Age

It has been over 35 years since Benedict Anderson published his seminal Imagined Communities (1983). Much has happened over the past three and a half decades. The development of digital technologies, in particular, has brought about profound changes to many spheres of social life, including media and nationalism. Today’s digitally mediated national ‘imagination’ and people’s sense of belonging to the same nation goes far beyond the reach of Andersonian print capitalism, transforming the very notions of the nation-state and national identity. In recent years, a significant degree of scholarly attention is being paid to topics such as digital nationalism, online populism, digital media and identity formation, cyberspace and transnationalism. What brings together these diverse subjects is the continued, and in fact growing, salience of ethnic identification in multicultural societies, as well as the simultaneous desire to find new ways of boosting social solidarity within them. Surprisingly, though, it is still rare to find more systematic treatments of how digital media are transforming nation-building, ethnic mobilisation, and the fostering of cultural diversity in contemporary societies.

This symposium, organised by Dr Guzel Yusupova and hosted at Durham University on 14-15 March 2019, brings together scholars from different disciplines and research areas, to discuss approaches to understanding the role of digital media in ongoing transformations of nationhood, ethnicity and cultural diversity within and in-between states. We will consider four main themes within this framework:

1. Cyberspace, language and the construction of ethnic and national identity within nation states.

2. Memory wars, cultural heritage and digital negotiations of identity in the borderlands.

3. Digital economy and distant nationalism: the (re)production of ethnic identity online.

4. Citizenship, xenophobia and populism in the digital age.

We will discuss how we can reconsider scholarly ideas on key aspects of ethnic identity, including:

a) linguistic repertoire and language ideologies;

b) negotiations of national and individual memory;

c) practices of ethnic production and consumption;

d) citizenship and sense of national belonging.

The reconsideration of these issues in the context of the twenty-first-century digital revolution should provide us with a better understanding of social mechanisms behind contemporary digitally mediated multi-ethnic states. Ultimately, our aim is to come up with possible explanations of the new normality of ethnically diverse societies in a digital age.

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