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Anthony D. Smith

For other people named Anthony Smith, see Anthony Smith (disambiguation).
Anthony D. Smith
Born 1939 (age 80–81)
Education Oxford University (BA)
Employer London School of Economics
Title Professor Emeritus

Anthony D. Smith (born 1939) is a British ethnographer who is Professor Emeritus of Nationalism and Ethnicity at the London School of Economics. He is considered one of the founders of the interdisciplinary field of nationalism studies.

Smith took his first degree in Classics and Philosophy at Oxford University and his master's degree and doctorate in Sociology at the London School of Economics.


Smith's best-known contributions to the field are the distinction between 'civic' and 'ethnic' types of nations and nationalism, and the idea that all nations have dominant 'ethnic cores'. While Smith agrees with other authors that nationalism is a modern phenomenon, he insists that nations have pre-modern origins.

He is a former student of the philosopher and anthropologist Ernest Gellner, but did not share his view of nationalism in the long run. He created an approach of nationalism he called ethnosymbolism, which is a synthesis of modernist and traditional views on the subject.


Smith argues that nationalism draws on the pre-existing history of the "group", an attempt to fashion this history into a sense of common identity and shared history. This is not to say that this history should be academically valid or cogent - indeed, Smith asserts, many nationalisms are based on historically flawed interpretations of past events and tend to overly mythologise small, inaccurate parts of their history. Moreover, Smith reasons that nationalistic interpretations of the past are frequently fabricated to justify modern political and ethnic positions.

Nationalism, according to Smith, does not require that members of a "nation" should all be alike, only that they should feel an intense bond of solidarity to the nation and other members of their nation. A sense of nationalism can inhabit and be produced from whatever dominant ideology exists in a given locale. Nationalism builds on pre-existing kinship, religious and belief systems. Smith describes the ethnic groups that form the background of modern nations as "ethnie".

Nations and nation-states

When speaking of nation-states Smith notes, "We may term a state a ‘nation-state’ only if and when a single ethnic and cultural population inhabits the boundaries of a state, and the boundaries of that state are coextensive with the boundaries of that ethnic and cultural population."[1]

Smith defines nationalism as, "“an ideological movement for attaining and maintaining autonomy, unity and identity on behalf of a population deemed by some of its members to constitute an actual or potential ‘nation’.”[2]

A nation, meanwhile, is “a named population sharing a historic territory, common myths and historical memories, a mass public culture, a common economy and common legal rights and duties for its members”. Ethnies are in turn defined as “named units of population with common ancestry myths and historical memories, elements of shared culture, some link with a historic territory and some measure of solidarity, at least among their elites.” [- See Smith, Nations and Nationalism in a Global Era (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 1995): p. 57]. The boundaries of an ethnie can be quite recognisable even when not all of its characteristics appear at the same time. It is, in other words, not a question of a smallest common denominator.[citation needed]

Anthony D. Smith states that even when nations are the product of modernity, it is possible to find ethnic elements that survive in modern nations. Ethnic groups are different from nations. Nations are the result of a triple revolution that begins with the development of capitalism and leads to a bureaucratic and cultural centralization along with a loss of power by the Church. Smith, however, maintains that there are also many cases of ancient nations and therefore cannot be considered a modernist.

Selected publications

Year Title ISBN
1971 Theories of Nationalism 0-7156-0555-0 (1st ed.)
0-7156-0584-4 (2nd ed., 1983)
1983 State and Nation in the Third World 978-0-7108-0199-9
1986 The Ethnic Origins of Nations 0-631-15205-9
1991 National Identity 0-14-012565-5
1995 Nations and Nationalism in a Global Era 0-7456-1018-8
1998 Nationalism and Modernism 0-415-06340-X
1999 Myths and Memories of the Nation 978-0-19-829684-3
2000 The Nation in History 0-7456-2580-0
2003 Chosen Peoples: Sacred Sources of National Identity 0-19-210017-3
2004 The Antiquity of Nations 0-7456-2745-5
2008 Cultural Foundations of Nations: Hierarchy, Covenant and Republic 1-4051-7798-5
2009 Ethno-symbolism and Nationalism: A Cultural Approach 978-0-415-49798-5


  1. ^ Less than ten percent of existing states meet these criteria. Smith, Anthony D. Nations and Nationalism in a Global Era (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1995), 86.
  2. ^ Leerssen, Joep, National Thought in Europe, Amsterdam University Press, 2006, p. 15.

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