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A nation is a large group of people with a singular, shared, and commonly-accepted historical identity, usually identified by a common name. Nations are regularly associated with (and in part defined by) territories, and thus are frequently associated with countries. Nations, however, are not the same as countries or states: there are nations without states and there are states that are not coterminous with a single nation. Nevertheless, a nation is often conceived of in terms of a state,[1] and implied sovereignty; all the members of the United Nations, for example, are now sovereign states.[2] Common symbols of nationhood are national anthems, and national flags.

There are at least three influential perspectives that have shaped scholarly treatments of nations and nationality. The statist position, represented by Ernest Gellner, views the nation as an ethnicized state, a territorial-political unit that comes to have a cohesive identity as a result of state indoctrination through institutions like education and industrialization. The ethnicist view, represented by Anthony Smith, emphasizes cultural memory and sees the nation as a politicized ethnic group, a group defined by common culture and purported common descent that comes to be a coherent political unit. Benedict Anderson describes the nation as an "imagined community", a group that conceives of itself as a coherent unit despite the fact that any single member of the group will never even meet most other members[3]. These views are not fundamentally antithetical to one another and may be combined to provide a picture of the nation that becomes somewhat less obscure.


  1. Oxford English Dictionary
  2. United Nations Member States
  3. Benedict Anderson. 2006. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. New York: Verso.