Thought and Change

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Thought and Change is a 1964 book by the philosopher Ernest Gellner, in which the author outlines his views on "modernity" and looks at the processes of social change and historical transformation and, perhaps most forcefully, the power of nationalism. Maleŝević and Haugaard argue that the method is the socio-historical method, and Gellner sets out a powerful sociology of specific philosophical doctrines and ideologies, from utilitarianism and Kantianism to nationalism. The chapter specifically dealing with nationalism was later expanded to form the basis of Gellner's most famous book, Nations and Nationalism (1983).

Ernest Gellner Czech anthropologist, philosopher and sociologist

Ernest André Gellner was a British-Czech philosopher and social anthropologist described by The Daily Telegraph, when he died, as one of the world's most vigorous intellectuals, and by The Independent as a "one-man crusader for critical rationalism".

Modernity, a topic in the humanities and social sciences, is both a historical period, as well as the ensemble of particular socio-cultural norms, attitudes and practices that arose in the wake of the Renaissance—in the "Age of Reason" of 17th-century thought and the 18th-century "Enlightenment". Some commentators consider the era of modernity to have ended by 1930, with World War II in 1945, or the 1980s or 1990s; the following era is called postmodernity. The term "contemporary history" is also used to refer to the post-1945 timeframe, without assigning it to either the modern or postmodern era.

Utilitarianism is an ethical and philosophical theory that states that the best action is the one that maximizes utility, which is usually defined as that which produces the greatest well-being of the greatest number of people, and in some cases, sentient animals. Jeremy Bentham, the founder of utilitarianism, described utility as the sum of all pleasure that results from an action, minus the suffering of anyone involved in the action. Utilitarianism is a version of consequentialism, which states that the consequences of any action are the only standard of right and wrong. Unlike other forms of consequentialism, such as egoism and altruism, utilitarianism considers the interests of all beings equally.


They also note that rather than looking at the internal coherence of philosophies, Gellner places them in their historical context. He thus explains their origins and their likely influence. Modernity is considered to be "unique, unprecedented and exceptional", with characteristics sustained by growth of economies and increases in cultural uniformity. [1]

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Siniša Malešević, MRIA, MAE is Full Professor/Chair of Sociology at the University College, Dublin, Ireland. His research interests include the comparative-historical and theoretical study of ethnicity, nationalism, ideology, war, violence and sociological theory. He is author of seven and editor or co-editor of another seven books including influential monographs Ideology, Legitimacy and the New State (2002), The Sociology of Ethnicity (2004), Identity as Ideology (2006) The Sociology of War and Violence (2010), Nation-States and Nationalisms (2013) and The Rise of Organised Brutality (2017).The Rise of Organised Brutality is a recipient of the outstanding book award from the American Sociological Association's Peace, War and Social Conflict Section [1]. Professor Malesevic has also authored over 90 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters and has given more than 120 invited talks all over the world [2]. His work has been translated into several languages including Chinese, Croatian, Persian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, Thai, Turkish, Indonesian, Russian and Serbian. Previously he held research and teaching appointments at the Institute for International Relations (Zagreb), the Centre for the Study of Nationalism, CEU (Prague)- where he worked with late Ernest Gellner -, and at the National University of Ireland, Galway. He also held visiting professorships and fellowships at Université Libre de Bruxelles, the Institute for Human Sciences, Vienna and the London School of Economics. In March 2010 he was elected a Member of the Royal Irish Academy[3]], in December 2012 he was elected associated member of Academy of Sciences and Arts of Bosnia and Herzegovina[4]] and in August 2014 he was elected a Member of Academia Europaea [5]].

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A national consciousness is a shared sense of national identity; that is, a shared understanding that a people group shares a common ethnic/linguistic/cultural background. Historically, a rise in national consciousness has been the first step towards the creation of a nation. National consciousness, at a glance, is one's level of awareness, of the collective, and one's understanding that without "them" there is no "us". It is the mere awareness of the many shared attitudes and beliefs towards things like family, customs, societal and gender roles, etc. This awareness allows one to have a "collective identity" which allows them to be knowledgeable of not only where they are, but how those places and people around them are so significant in that they ultimately make the collective, a nation. In short, national consciousness can be defined as a specific core of attitudes that provide habitual modes for regarding life's phenomena.

Gellner's theory of nationalism was developed by Ernest Gellner over a number of publications from around the early 1960s to his 1995 death. Gellner discussed nationalism in a number of works, starting with Thought and Change (1964), and he most notably developed it in Nations and Nationalism (1983).

Nations and Nationalism is a 1983 book by the philosopher Ernest Gellner, in which the author expands on his theory of nationalism.


  1. Maleŝević, Siniŝa, and Mark Haugaard (ed.), 2007, Ernest Gellner and Contemporary Social Thought, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2007.