‘Primordialism’ is an umbrella term used to describe the belief that nationality is a natural part of human beings, as natural as speech, sight or smell, and that nations have existed from time immemorial. This is the view of nationalists themselves and was for some time the dominant paradigm among social scientists, notably the historians. Primordialism also constitutes the layperson’s view of nations and nationalism. The term comes from the adjective ‘primordial’, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as ‘of, relating to, or existing from the very beginning of time; earliest in time; primeval, primitive; (more generally) ancient, distant in time’ and ‘that constitutes the origin or starting point from which something else is derived or developed, or on which something else depends; fundamental, basic; elemental’ (2016). It is generally thought that Edward Shils is the first to have employed the term to describe relationships within the family. In his famous article, ‘Primordial, Personal, Sacred and Civil Ties’, Shils argues that the attachment family members feel for each other stems from ‘significant relational’ qualities which can only be described as ‘primordial’. It is not just a function of interaction; ‘it is because a certain ineffable significance is attributed to the tie of blood’ (1957: 142).
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