In the 21st century, political borders appear to be blurred denting the Westphalian understanding of the concept ‘nation-states.’ With the increase in the internet communications, a new generation seems to be carving their own identities which are different from national identities. According to the report of wearesocial, nearly 1 million internet users have been found to be adding up daily during April 2018 – April 2019.   By 2019, it was found that 58% of the total population of the world uses the internet, and with regard to phone connections, it is 102% of the total population. Of the total 7.7 billion population, 5.1 billion have access to mobile phones, 4.4 billion have access to the internet, 3.5 billion have social media accounts, and 3.3 billion are mobile social media users. This heavily changes the social behavior and reflects the emergence of a new society – the Information Society, a community different from what they have traditionally been. The human society seems to be flowing into the times of constructing new imagined communities.


The rapid digital technology development giving rise to hybrid digital technologies such as Blockchain and Artificial intelligence (AI), illustrates the highest possibilities of globally or regionally centralized data structures and borderless opportunities for global citizens. Even if viewed from the politico-economic perspective, most of the startups find their investors not in their respective state or country, but from various parts of the world. For example, all unicorn startups of India are funded by foreign investors (apart from their seed funding). The highest paid employees are employed not in the government but in the private sector. This shows that power over the economies of society is largely vested with private companies than with the state. Elites of the society in India have gone to such an extent that they act independent of the state for their necessities such as security, water supply, and education. The most momentous development of the contemporary era, precisely, is an apparent waning of the nation-state – its inability to withstand countervailing forces of the 21st-century, and its evident loss of influence over its citizens. The probability of transnational communities challenging the Westphalian nation-state system appears inevitable. Rana Dasgupta espouses that the nation-state has lost its control over the national apparatus and is bound for a revolutionary change as a system.


... next stage of the techno-financial revolution will be even more disastrous for national political authority. This will arise as the natural continuation of existing technological processes, which promise new, algorithmic kinds of governance to further undermine the political variety. Big data companies (Google, Facebook, etc) have already assumed many functions previously associated with the state, from cartography to surveillance. Now they are the primary gatekeepers of social reality: membership of these systems is a new, corporate, de-territorialized form of citizenship, antagonistic at every level to the national kind. And, as the growth of digital currencies shows, new technologies will emerge to replace the other fundamental functions of the nation-state. 


Waning of national sovereignty                     


Conceptually, Benedict Anderson’s ‘Imagined communities’ provided a different perspective of the nation-state. It establishes that technologies like print capitalism and mass media together strengthen the imageries of nationhood – of the public belonging to a single nation. Based on the same, it should not be surprising if the internet based technologies would bring a new psychological belongingness that is separate from the nation-state.


This is seen more in democracies and the major reason for the transformation of imagined communities is un-restricted, and borderless digital communication. The complex interdependence of nation-states on their economy, enhanced transportation technologies, multinational companies, and transnational migration have changed the discourse on the nation-state. As the internet and advanced communication technologies bring in socio-technical iterations within the society, people are getting hinged onto interest-based identities rather than nation and sentiment-based. Citizens are no longer attached to one nation, but can move across the world and opt for any other citizenship, provided they accord to the procedures of the opted state. This is mainly attributed to the growing nature of jobs and operations of companies. An employee can work in the United States and the support staff could be in India. The person might as well move to Vietnam to coordinate with the manufacturing supply chains. The company's market would be totally on another continent, like Africa. This is the nature of what could be termed “global citizenship”. The pledge of nationalism of these citizens can be to any country irrespective of their birthplace. Such phenomenon would be overt once the internet becomes ubiquitous.


Another example – the fire in the Amazon forest, was problematized lately only when the international community put the pressure on President Bolsonaro. The immense amount of opposition to Bolsonaro’s apparent anti-environment stance has been very much visible in social media. In addition, the mounting pressure from international NGOs, as well as the international public’s resentment prompted criticisms against Bolsonaro by various states across the world. This provided very little maneuverability for Bolsonaro’s government and prompted them to problematize the issue.


Who pressurized Brazil? Is it a nation? Of course not. The pressure was imposed by the global social media, and it subsequently triggered  the responses of other nations.. It can be concluded that this pressure came from an imagined community that believed in protecting the Amazon forest and conserving the global climate stability. This community shared the same concerns, even though as individuals they were unknown to each other. Yet, they had the power to change the stance of the President of Brazil.


Where can these imagined communities be found? Are they spread across the world and in every nook and corner of a nation-state? Certainly not. These imagined communities backed by the internet can only be seen in urban areas. Accordingly, the argument of imagined communities influencing the policy decisions at the national and international level appears to be inadequate . But, some of the renowned scholars like Benjamin R. Barber had observed that cities, not nation-states, are the drivers of the economy. .


Cities challenging the agency status of the state


Cities build what German sociologist, Ferdinand Tonnies calls as Gesellschaft association. It is defined as an impersonal society where the importance is given to the individual rather than social groups. This leaves individuals relatively free from kinship, families, caste, and hierarchy. For example, cow vigilantism is difficult to be seen in Indian cities but are largely in existence in rural areas. Yet it has become a national issue on which opposition has raised its campaigns and media runs its prime time shows.  The strong sense of public or a civic sense, is more in cities than in rural or suburban areas, as the importance of the public spaces is realized more in cities. The growth of information communication technologies and the internet have contributed to the development of these attributes of cities. In the present day, solutions to the problems can be found not just within the country but elsewhere in the world and easily accessed. Urban spaces can also form a common identity anchored on the similar socio-economic functionalities. Accordingly, it can be argued that the transformed imagined communities or internet based social imageries would start from the urban areas and then it would find its way to the rest of the societies.  




Even though with all the statistics, imagined communities remains a hypothesis. Internet communication is still in making. It is not the final product and thus, no theory can be built on it. It is similar to what telephone was in 1920, when it was used for broadcasting purposes but not micro-level communications.


Moreover, private companies are always anchored to any country and operate within their own ethos. Thus, even though they establish their business trans-nationally, their major contribution would be to their own nation. Along with this, the emergence of populism across the world appears to have created a backward trend in globalization. Even the internet which has been argued as the harbinger of changed imagined communities, comes with its ability to create fissures based on information bubbles, and is a great concern for the globalists. With the restrictions imposed by COVID-19 pandemic, one might conclude that nation-states are going to be the sole type of entities in the international system and the world would move backwards towards re-nationalization.


Whatever might be the current trend, it is beyond any doubt that internet and global data flows are creating new boundaries for individuals. In the arena of politics, the concept of power itself is changing. James Susskind has tapped the research niche and tried to explain the change taking place within the concept of power. But, his research did not dwell into how imagined communities would levitate alongside the traditional communities in altering the power structure. However, the rate of change of internet-based applications provides enough data to say that imagined communities have taken a new form and the ball is in the court of governments to accept this change and have a structural reformation accommodating the new imagined communities.


Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are personal.