NASTAC - Work Package 2

This work package analyzes how nationalism transformed the state in Europe following the French Revolution. The main effort has been concentrated on analyzing how nationalism triggered border change in Europe and how internal and external warfare resulted from nationalism. Research addressing the first task has produced two papers that trace the influence of ethnic nationalism on border change in Europe and beyond.

The first one has the title “Nationalism and the puzzle of reversing state size” and is co-authored by Cederman, Girardin and Müller-Crepon. Based on extensive spatial computation of historical maps on state borders and ethnic settlement areas both in Europe and worldwide (see Work Package 4), the paper comes to the conclusion that nationalism triggered a decline in average state size. It does so by conceptualizing and operationalization specific border-change processes relating to ethnic nationalism, such as secession, unification and irredentism. The paper provides evidence based on an aggregation of these processes over time both in Europe and worldwide.

In the second paper, “Shaping states into nations: The effects of ethnic geography on state borders,” Müller-Crepon, Schvitz and Cederman offer a more general analysis of how ethnic nationalism affected state borders over time, again with the main focus on Europe complemented by additional analysis covering the rest of the world. Introducing an innovative Probabilistic Spatial Partition Model, this study is able to overcome problems haunting the existing literature by offering a truly counterfactual and systemic approach to border drawing processes. This paper reinforces the conclusions of the first paper by showing that nationalism creates pressures to redraw political borders along ethnic lines.

As a follow-up project, we are currently working on a third paper, “Right-peopling the state: Explaining assimilation, forced displacement and genocide in Europe, 1855-2020”. This project considers to what extent states shaped the ethnic map, rather than the other way around. First, we postulate that state attempts to homogenize populations were most likely in states where one group was large enough to claim titular status. Second, states were more likely to target groups seen as potential security threats, based on their ties to rival states, their geographic concentration or the perceived risk of losing territory inhabited by the group. The results of our analysis will contribute to our understanding of endogenous nation-building processes that have shaped today’s ethnic map and continue to drive ethnic cleansing today, such as that of the Rohingya in Myanmar and the Uighurs in China.

Currently, our research concerns the link between nationalism and conflict. Based on a new compilation of conflict data as described under the heading of World Package 1, we are producing two papers in this area, one revisiting Myron Weiner’s famous article on the “Macedonian syndrome,” which postulated a two-level process linking internal and interstate conflict in areas with overlapping ethnicity. While the literature has rarely considered such linkage, we have already generated suggestive results that reflect irredentist processes whereby interstate processes influence rebellions and vice versa, in both cases involving irredentist groups. These phenomena seem to be focused mostly on the Balkans, but future analysis will tell if these findings can be generalized to the rest of the world.

The second paper on conflict analyzes the role of “backward-projected” nationalism. While the nationalism literature is dominated by “modernist” accounts that depict nations as being “invented,” we use the Abramson state border data dating back to 1100 in order to investigate whether nationalist conflict behavior responds to deeper historical legacies characterized by losses of home rule and/or unity potentially dating back centuries. Our research has already produced promising results that such reversals putting an end to “golden ages” increase the risk of political violence, thus casting doubt on radical forms of modernism/constructivism. These findings are thus potentially of significant theoretical importance.

The paper on “golden ages” and conflict has profited from a study of ethnic groups’ fractionalization, which originated from a previous project on irredentism funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation. This study, which is forthcoming as an open-source publication in the American Journal of Political Science with the title “Redemption through Rebellion: Border Change, Lost Unity and Nationalist Conflict“, was co-authored by Cederman, Rüegger and Schvitz. Since the research was completed with funding from the current ERC, and has directly inspired our conflict studies both theoretically and empirically, we list it as one of the first publications coming out of the NASTAC project.