Primordialism is the idea that nations or ethnic identities are fixed, natural and ancient. Primordialists argue that individuals have a single ethnic identity which is not subject to change and which is exogenous to historical processes. While primordialists assumptions are common in society and made implicitly in much academic research, primordialism is widely rejected by scholars of nationalism and ethnicity, as individuals can have multiple ethnic identities which are changeable and socially constructed.
Primordialism can be traced philosophically to the ideas of German Romanticism, particularly in the works of Johann Gottlieb Fichte and Johann Gottfried Herder. For Herder, the nation was synonymous with language group. In Herder's thinking, language was synonymous with thought, and as each language was learnt in community, then each community must think differently. This also suggests that the community would hold a fixed nature over time.
Primordialism encountered enormous criticism after the Second World War, with many scholars of nationalism coming to treat the nation as a community constructed by the technologies and politics of modernity (see Modernism).
Primordialism, in relation to ethnicity, argues that "ethnic groups and nationalities exist because there are traditions of belief and action towards primordial objects such as biological factors and especially territorial location".
This argument relies on a concept of kinship, where members of an ethnic group feel they share characteristics, origins or sometimes even a blood relationship. Seen through the Igbos of Nigeria, following what they felt was their origin as descendants of the Jews.
While acknowledging that "primordialism is admittedly not without its own flaws and problems," much like all conceptual and theoretical traditions in the social sciences, political scientist Khalil F. Osman argues that "Primordialism, as an approach that stresses the workings of sub-national loyalties and solidarities operative in the collective consciousness of communities, is still capable of furnishing an epistemological and conceptual tool informing and opening up a unique space for inquiry and into social and political action."
- Modernization theory (nationalism)
- Ethnic conflict
- Jus sanguinis
- Sapir–Whorf hypothesis
- Social constructionism
- The Primordial Tradition
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- Harnischfeger, Johannes, "Secessionism in Nigeria", ECAS 4 conference, Uppsala, (2011)
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- Appadurai, Arjun 1996: Modernity at Large