The Latin term natio, Elie Kedourie reminds us, originally referred to “a group of men belonging together by similarity of birth, larger than a family, but smaller than a clan or a people [and] applied particularly to a community of foreigners” passing through a city or a village (Kedourie, 1961, p. 13). Over the centuries, the term eventually took on different meanings. Eric Hobsbawm asserts that it was only after the French Revolution in the 18th century that the concept acquired its current denotation, that of referring to “the people” in a positive way. This is when French citizenship became the principle of nationality, denoting individual rights and allowing an individual to declare a sense of belonging to a specific nation. Nowadays, the term “nation” most commonly refers to the people living within a political entity such as a state—a term not to be confused with that of a nation—whereas the term nationalism, as will be discussed, refers to the ideology of this form of communal belonging.
This chapter offers an overview of the field of nationalism studies. First, we will present the major theories of the field regarding the sociohistorical advent of nations and nationalism as well as its focus on meso and microsociological processes. Second, we will discuss the different types of nationalism and the main debating points of the field. Third, we will focus on the principal waves of nationalist movement observed between the 19th and the 21st century.