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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2001, Vol. 4 No. 1 .


Social Preconditions of National Revival in Europe
Miroslav Hroch

New York: Columbia University Press, 2000
220 pp. Index. Pb.: 11.00; ISBN 0-231-11771-x



In the thirty years since this classic work on nationalism was first published and the fifteen years since the English language edition was released, the study of nationalism has undergone considerable evolution on both theoretical and empirical fronts. Nevertheless, Hroch's work remains a seminal work in the field and is released here with its 1985 text intact, accompanied by a new preface from the author.

Few would argue that the strength of Hroch's argument lies in its theoretical construction. In the forward to the new edition, he suggests that, rather than attempting to develop a new theory of nationalism, his goals were "far more modest: to determine just which social circumstances were favorable for the successful spread of patriotic feelings among the broad masses of the population" (xi).

Whatever Hroch's "modest" goals, his analysis is noteworthy for its use of the comparative method and his success at evaluating the conditions surrounding the acceptance of national agitation by non-dominant ethnic groups in eight "smaller nations." His conclusion that exchange relationships among various segments of society are at the root of this phenomenon (particularly for the petty bourgeoisie, who he suggests functions both as a "prospective vehicle for national consciousness" and a "potential source for the ruling class" (137)) is borne out by the framing of his argument and the evidence he cites.

Hroch's argument dovetails nicely with other explanations of nationalist awakening that were published in the early to middle 1980's (Gellner, Breuilly, et al.) and helped to develop a new context for research in this field. This generation of scholarship ascribed new roles to development, communication, and social mobility in the emergence of national movements. Hroch, however, specifically discounts both primordialism and the power of ideas as explanatory forces in the mobilization of national groups, suggesting instead that economic and social relationships lie at the heart of these movements.

However elegant the construction of his argument, though, Hroch's analysis does fall short in its ability to account for alternative explanations, particularly in his narrow treatment of some key components of the argument. For example, he avers that social communication as a product of the marketplace predominates (and predates) other important forms of communication, most notably those which emerged from the development of educational systems (174).

In the preface to the new edition, Hroch speaks to several issues that he concedes as having received incomplete attention in the text. At the same time, he provides some context to what others have perceived as an over-reliance on Marxist ideas in his approach. The shortcomings alluded to in the preface and in this review are minor quibbles, however. Hroch's book provides scholars with a well-conceived explanation for the emergence of national movements that both serves as a methodological blueprint for further inquiry and provides insightful conclusions in its own right.

While the study of nationalism has "moved on (along with the author, as Hroch notes)," this book rightly retains its status as an innovative and enduring text.


Andrew Duttlinger
Political Science




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