The Class Route to Nationhood: China, Vietnam, Norway, Cyprus - and France

Peer-reviewed Journal Article

Tønnesson, Stein (2009) The Class Route to Nationhood: China, Vietnam, Norway, Cyprus - and France, Nations and Nationalism 15(3): 375–395.

Stein Tønnesson suggests to revise theories of nationalism by adding a fourth, class-based, route to nationhood in addition to the three conventional ones (ethnic, civic and plural).

​This essay explores the proposition that China and Vietnam represent a fourth class route to modern nationhood, in addition to the ethnic (German), civic (French) and plural (American) routes. Nation-states emerging along the class route are characterised by an exclusive membership based on social class rather than just ethnicity, living under the same laws or participation in liberation from foreign rule. The essay compares China's and Vietnam's class-based nationalism with the more inclusive labour movement nationalisms of Norway and Cyprus. Then it explains how the class route differs from the French civic route. In the conclusion, the author concedes that the Chinese and Vietnamese class route is perhaps a detour rather than a route of its own, since it leads to inevitable tension between the divisive history of how the nation was formed and the need of its later leaders to include and represent the same social classes that were originally excluded. These leaders and their national storytellers are forced to undertake a redefinition of the national self as ethnic, civic and/or plural in an attempt to recreate national legitimacy, often in competition with more radically nationalist opposition groups.

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Stein Tønnesson

Stein Tønnesson

Research Professor