Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Karim Karim and tribalism

I don't know why the Karim Karim reading in particular got me on this train of thought-- there are surely hundreds of scholars who have asserted something along the lines of:

"the roots of the contemporary global system of nation states are to be found in colonialism," as he does in "Chapter 24: Reviewing the 'National' in International communication."

But all I can think as I read that sentence is "ok, sure, but can't you replace 'colonialism' with 'tribalism'?" Groups of human beings have been banding together and fighting each other for territory, resources and power pretty much since we started hunting and gathering, right? Even when tribes lived in peace it was because they respected certain tribal boundaries and codes of conduct. Furthermore, each tribe had oral histories and myths about themselves and their enemies that they passed on to "create their reality through communication," just as we tell ourselves stories about good guys and bad guys over and over and over again through film, journalism, TV, and now the interwebs. Yes, modern technology certainly made it possible for that to occur on a larger scale, but I can't see what has really changed except the size of groups and the scope and scale of their influence.


  1. I agree - tribalism was and still is a very viable force in the world. They are societies in their own rights. However there is a distinctive difference between them and national identities. The nation goes beyond blood ties, the foundation of a tribe. Also, due to colonialism, it can include many different languages, religions and even geographic regions.

    It is also not individually rooted - one can gain or give up citizenship by 'simply' moving to another nation. The nation is defined by the geographical location. It's not that easy of course, but tribes are basically extended families - you can't just leave one and join another. Likewise, moving somewhere else does not necessarily have to ever threaten your kinship in the tribe.

  2. It's interesting that you mention tribes and fighting between groups of humans. It does seem that there has been conflict between different groups since the dawn of mankind, but it also reminded me of the book "Ishmael" by Daniel Quinn, which in part asserts that the major reason for human conflict was when people settled down and started agrarian societies. This is because people needed more land than they did as hunter-gatherers in order to survive and therefore set up boundaries and started fighting each other for ownership of that land. It also discusses how man has used different mythologies to demonstrate that he is the dominant species on earth and also how tribes have specified those myths to demonstrate that they should be the dominant group.
    I don't necessarily agree with Quinn's point that conflict generally arose from settling into landowning agricultural societies, but I do agree with your point (and his) that people have been creating their own mythologies about the world, typically placing their own group as the "good guys" since the beginning of human society as a way to legitimize their rule (in the case of leaders) or desires (if they want to conquer another group for example). This is nothing new, the new media has just put it on a more global scale, meaning that now the United States and other governments/groups have to use its media and their new "mythologies" to win the "hearts and minds" of the groups they want to influence, whether it be either own people or other societies.