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Ethnic and national identities (Part 2)

July 7, 2009

5. Claims to cultural distinctiveness should never be taken at face value – they should be investigated empirically. Around the globe, nationalists with secessionist aspirations will claim a unique ‘culture’ for their region, one radically different from that of the rest of the state. Yet if we take culture to mean a people’s ‘total way of life’ , in the contemporary world the onus is on nationalists to prove that their ‘nation’s’ urban culture is markedly different from the urban culture of cities in other parts of their shared sovereign state. At best we are likely to find interesting variations on common cultural themes as we travel, say, the length of Britain or the breadth of Spain. The really marked cultural breaks are to be found between states that are separated both geographically and historically, e.g. between Britain and Spain, and even more so between Britain and Costa Rica or Mongolia. (A common history of Empire and colonial settlement reduces the cultural distance: in many respects Britain and New Zealand are culturally and emotionally closer than Britain and Germany, even when these two latter countries share a common geographical space and economic union).

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