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Review of McRoberts (2001) Catalonia: Nation Building Without a State

August 8, 2010

Kenneth McRoberts. Catalonia. Nation Building Without A State. Oxford University Press. Ontario. 2001. 258 pp.

Reviewed by John MacInnes, Universitat de Pompeu Fabra and University of Edinburgh

Kenneth McRoberts has rendered English speaking students of Catalan politics a great service with this study of Catalan society and politics, based not only on primary and secondary sources in Catalan, Spanish, French and English, but also upon an impressive range of interviews with key political actors and social scientists based in Catalonia. […]

The book is easily the best study of Catalonia available in English, and does a remarkable job of synthesizing a wealth of material into a concise, comprehensive and clear overview. One of its strengths is that it goes beyond description to analysis. McRoberts argues that the Catalonia’s experience is less well known than it should be because it is a ‘stateless nation’ within Spain. As such he sees it as a good example of the way ‘historical forces’ underlie nationhood, as an exemplar of civic nationalism in an economically successful progressive region and as a potential precursor of ‘region states’ in an era of globalisation. Catalonia also shows the limits of stateless nationhood, given that many Catalans ‘reject outright’ the ‘basic tenets’ of Catalan nationalism, that normalisation of Catalan has had only a mixed success, and that ‘the Spanish experience would suggest that it is difficult to maintain asymmetrical arrangements if there is no recognition of the underlying multinationalism that makes them appropriate. … Even the limited sovereignty of a formally federal state seems to remain out of Catalonia’s reach given the continued strength, if not resurgence, of a Spanish nationalism that rejects the claims of the historic nations within Spain and an endemic suspicion of federalism throughout much of Spain’s political leadership.’ (pp. 190- 91). The fact that this reviewer would take issue with each of these judgements, and in particular the idea that Catalonia lacks a ‘state’, merely demonstrates the relevance and liveliness of this study.

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