Interview with Rogers Brubaker

January 11, 2024

Our wonderful interns interviewed Professor Rogers Brubaker regarding his time at Nationalism Studies. Please find the Interview below:


Last month, we interviewed Professor Rogers Brubaker. Having received his PhD from Columbia University in 1990, Brubaker is a renowned professor at University of California, Los Angeles and specializes in sociological topics including: social theory, immigration, citizenship, ethnicity, race, gender, populism, hyperconnectivity—and nationalism.

Professor Brubaker has a long history with CEU’s Nationalism Studies program. So, we thought he would be the perfect person to speak on our program—and what makes “nationalism” an important field of study that isn’t going away.

Check-out his conversation with one of our students here:

(Some of our questions have been altered for the sake of clarity and continuity.)

Iain: Hi Professor Brubaker, my name is Iain—and I am a 1-year Nationalism studies student. As a part of our social media internship program, I was hoping to ask you a few questions about your field of study and experience with CEU. So, firstly, how did you first get started with CEU's Nationalism Studies program?

Professor Brubaker: In 1993, Ernest Gellner returned to Prague, where he had grown up, to head a new Institute for the Study of Nationalism as part of the recently established CEU (which in its first few years had campuses in Prague and Warsaw as well as Budapest). After Gellner’s death in 1995, as CEU operations were being consolidated in Budapest, the decision was made to establish a Nationalism Studies program, in part as a fitting way of carrying forward Gellner’s legacy. I was a member of the committee charged with searching for the inaugural director of the program. We were fortunate to recruit Mária Kovács, who remained the presiding spirit of the program until her untimely death in 2020. I started coming to Budapest for a week (or occasionally two) to teach in the program in the fall of 1997.

Iain: Interesting! So, how would you describe our program and nationalism more broadly?

Professor Brubaker: Nationalism studies at CEU is broadly defined in terms of topics, disciplines, and regions. In addition to core theories of nationalism, the program embraces a broad range of nationalism-intertwined and nationalism-adjacent topics such as ethnicity, race, region, religion, language, gender, migration, citizenship, globalization, transnationalism, populism, and so on. As an interdisciplinary program, nationalism studies brings together perspectives from history, political science, sociology, anthropology, social psychology, political theory, law, and other fields. Finally, in terms of regions, the program initially had a pretty strong East Central European focus. This made sense when the great majority of students came from the region and were interested in the region. As students have been increasingly recruited from outside the region – and as students’ intellectual horizons have broadened – the geographic focus of the program has broadened as well, and student projects today address all world regions.

Iain: So, given that, what is the relevance and importance of studying nationalism for future students?

Professor Brubaker: Nationhood and nationalism remain central to political, cultural, and socioeconomic dimensions of late modernity (or whatever you want to call the present era). A generation ago, it was fashionable to speak about an emerging post-national world. In retrospect, many discussions of post-nationalism missed the complex ways in which nationalism could not only survive but – in some cases – intensify in the context of economic and cultural globalization. “Nation” remains a potent and versatile symbol, and nationhood remains a fundamental organizing frame.

Iain: What do you think are some of the most interesting questions being asked in Nationalism Studies today—and how do you see the field evolving?

Professor Brubaker: The field has become unsurveyably broad, and my own work in the last decade and a half has taken me away from the “heartland” of nationalism studies into adjacent and more distant fields. So I certainly wouldn’t claim to have a clear picture of how the field is evolving. One interesting recent development – I’m thinking here of the work of Andreas Wimmer, for example – is the return to broad comparative historical questions of the sort of the sort that were crucial in the 60s through the 80s but receded thereafter, in part as a result of the discursive turn in this as in other fields.

Iain: Since we’re a part of the social media internship in the Nationalism Studies department, I have to ask: What connections do you see between nationalist politics and digital media?

Professor Brubaker: I’m not sure there are connections that are specific to nationalism. But all forms of politics have been profoundly transformed by digital media. What I call hyperconnectivity has transformed what we know (or think we know) about the public world and how we come to know it, notably in ways that create a crisis of public knowledge by undermining established knowledge-producing and knowledge-disseminating institutions. It has transformed how we feel about the public world – think for example of how digital media have intensified polarization by amplifying the generation and circulation of moral outrage. And it has transformed how we are governed by introducing new forms of algorithmic governance, including, not least, the governance of public discourse by private platforms, which govern who sees what -- and who can say what -- in the digital public sphere.

Iain: Wonderful! Thank you so much for speaking with us!

If you would like to join us for one of our MA programs in Nationalism Studies—and learn more about the topic from wonderful academics like Professor Rogers Brubaker, you can apply here on our website. To be automatically considered for one of our funding options for the 2024-25 year, you must apply by Feb. 1st, 23:59 CET.

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