The Politics of Sinhala Nationalism

by David Rampton, Commonwealth & Comparative Politics, 2011, 49:2, 245-273

Deeper_hegemony_the_politics_of_Sinhala nationalism Rampton

Through a case study of Sinhala nationalism and its impact on ethnic conflict in Sri
Lanka, this article explores the idea that the study of ethno-national conflict
management as well as the wider field of nationalism studies tend to render
nationalism as epiphenomenal and explicable through other underlying political and
socio-economic dynamics. The article contends that nationalism studies needs to
take on board lessons learnt in the social sciences from ontological, post-Gramscian
and Foucaultian studies of power that do not disqualify nationalism as a channel for
political mobilisation. In the case of the literature on Sinhala nationalism in Sri Lanka,
the predominant tendency has been to explain these dynamics as a consequence of
elite instrumentality. In contrast, what is contended here is that it is the ‘deep
hegemony’ of Sinhala nationalism, demonstrated in the mobilisation of the Janatha
Vimukthi Peramuna, that has impacted profoundly on the recurrence of ethnic conflict
and the consistent failure of attempts to broker peace…

In Sri Lanka what is clear is that
Sinhala nationalism has been operative at diverse sites but that the
discourses and apparatuses of nationalism have become articulated into an
enduring social formation where they have attained a hegemonic depth
beyond mere elite instrumentality. This has in turn impacted, through the
inclusions and exclusions in nationalist discourse, upon the emergence of a
reactive Tamil nationalism and upon the ethnic conflict. Although, the
postcolonial history of Sri Lanka has been replete with the potential for ethnic
accommodation and for state reform, it is this hegemonic depth, which has
consistently resurfaced to torpedo negotiated forays seeking the development
of a political solution based on power-sharing and/or consociational

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