Origins And Features Of The Modern Nation-state

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The origins of the modern nation-state can be found in Europe during and after the period of absolutist monarchies. In 1500, there were about 150 independent political entities in Europe: by 1900, there were 25. Gianfranco Poggí (1990, p. 19) has defined the modem nation-state as:

An organization or set of organizations … [where] political power must be vested and exercised through a set of purposefully contrived arrangements – a body of rules, a series of roles, a body of resources – seen as concerned with and committed to a distinctive, unified and unifying set of interests. This definition is missing one important concept … the common welfare; this will come later with other big transformations of the paradigms.

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Other features of the modern nation-state are that:

  1. In its sovereign possession of political power, it is clearly differentiated from other organizations (churches, corporations, political parties, trade unions, etc.) within that territory, who constitute the various branches of civil society;
  2. lt possesses a monopoly of legitimate violence within that territory, but has also engaged in the ‘pacification of life within the state’s boundaries’ (Calhoun, 1997, p. 67) that enable it to provide populations with peace and security from non-state, or illegitimate, forms of violence: and principles.
  3. lt is sovereign within its own defined territory, possessing the unique capacity to police its own borders, collect taxes and duties within that territory, and administer populations through the provision of economic, social and other resources:
  4. lt possesses territorial jurisdiction, or ‘exclusive control over a portion of the earth – its territory, over which it routinely exercises jurisdiction and law enforcement, and whose integrity it is committed to protecting against encroachment from any other political power.

There are some other factors that were coexisting with the modern nation-state:

  • • The capacity to exercise sovereign power entailed improvements in the administrative capacity of states and the rise of bureaucratic forms of organization.
  • • Broader measures to develop national economies and enhance overall prosperity
  • • Long-distance trade which eliminates face-to-face interactions.
  • • Recognition of cultural dimensions of nationhood and national identity.

These 3 points agree with Held (2006) which says that government exists to safeguard the rights and liberties of citizens who are ultimately the best judges of their own interests … the government must be restricted in scope and constrained in practice in order to ensure the maximum possible freedom of every citizen.

Nationalism could be defined as a distinctive form of imagining collective identity and social solidarity associated with the modern nation also could be the fusion between culture and polity. Nationalism includes boundaries of the territory, or population, or both, Indivisibility, sovereignty, culture and communication.

Nationalism have been linked with wars, racism, colonialism, feelings of superiority of one nation over another, and the driving out, segregation or extermination of other races and ethnicities in the name of a racially and ethnically homogeneous nation. On the contrary, Mao Zedong fused anti-colonial nationalism and Marxism in ways that would have global implications like the notion “Third World”.

Schudson (1994, pp. 68-74) identifies the mass media, in both print and broadcast forms, as being among a number of cultural policy instruments that the nation-state consciously uses for the integration of national populations.

The dynamics of national development in post-colonial states after WWII was driven not only by domestic factors but by the global geopolitical context of the “Cold War” between the US and its allies in one side and the Soviet Union and its allies on the other. While the Cold War there was direct transmission of propaganda around the world and also development of communications infrastructure, media industries and professions.

In the beginning national development was associated with the transition from ‘tradition’ to ‘modernity’, as marked by indicators such as urbanization, higher agricultural productivity, higher rates of economic growth. The belief that the Western Path of development was a universal model that pointed the way to overcoming poverty and backwardness, and was available to all societies and cultures, was unequivocal.

The influence o Max Weber in modernization theories can be seen in their understanding of social change; change happened in the first instance at the level of mental states of individuals, and then radiated outwards to the wider social order. Also Rogers (1964) declared that mass media played a complementary role to interpersonal channels of communication, by promoting the diffusion of innovations, promoting higher levels of literacy, and generating more positive attitudes towards the process of social change.

From the late 1960s, modernization parading faced a growing crisis. Development communication theorists themselves worried that the promised “revolution of rising expectations” was turning into a “revolution of rising frustrations”.

In the wake of the crisis of the modernization paradigm, there was a significant rethinking of development communications goals, strategies and modes of engagement with local communities, there was a turn towards participatory communication. Development know focuses on communities over nations, while communications is not seen any more as a straight path.

There are clear affinities between modernization and globalization, particularly around the notion that access to communications media increases the extent to which people are exposed to different ideas and cultures from other parts of the globe, and hence more likely to question ideas that are based upon tradition customs and convention.

It has been the case that greater engagements of NGOs in development strategies, and the turn from top-down directives to multi-stakeholder engagement, are consistent with broader turns in global governance. Participatory communications theories can broadly align with globalization.


  1. Flew, T. (2018) Understanding Global Media [Second Edition]. Palgrave Macmillan, London.  


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