Professor Tom Nairn

IAS Fellow at University College, Durham University (January – March 2009)

Tom Nairn has made a significant contribution to studies of nationalism over the last three to four decades, but also made a contribution to political theory more generally. Writing in the London Review of Books, Neal Ascherson stated that Nairn has been ‘for twenty years the dominant political philosopher of his country, and an influence on the ideas of the post-1968 generation all over Western Europe’. Nairn is widely known for developing what would later be named the Nairn-Anderson thesis on British decline, which is much-cited and commented upon, and he has had a definitive influence upon studies of nationalism and politics in Britain and beyond. He is one of the four most widely cited authorities on nationalism in the world today, along with Benedict Anderson, Anthony Smith and the late Ernest Gellner. Through his analytical and translating work, he is credited, together with Perry Anderson, with introducing Antonio Gramsci’s work to Anglophone culture, especially the notion of ‘hegemony’, which has had a major influence on the field of political and cultural studies ever since. Nairn’s influential book The Break-up of Britain (1977) gained much attention for its prediction of the unsustainability of the United Kingdom state and its probable fragmentation into a number of different republics. This text has been central reference for the growing field of nationalism studies and is used in hundreds of university courses across the world. Where The Break-up of Britain refocused studies of nationalism and uneven development, Faces of Nationalism: Janus Revisited (1998) established the field of argument that civic and secular nationalism is a key feature of modernity and not an archaic reaction against it. It is part of his general contribution to fundamentally rethinking the place of ‘nationalism from below’. His much acclaimed books After Britain (2000) and Pariah: Misfortunes of the British Kingdom (2002) continue the argument of The Break-up of Britain, concentrating on the structural tensions associated with Blairism. At the same time, during the last five years working in Australia, Nairn has shifted his focus to the relationship between nationalism and globalization, marked by the publication of Global Matrix (2005), now in translation to Turkish, and Global Nations (Verso, 2006).