Stories of Peoplehood

How can we build thriving political communities? In this provocative account of how societies are bound together, Rogers Smith examines the importance of ‘stories of peoplehood’, narratives that promise economic or political power and define political allegiances in religious, cultural, racial, ethnic and related terms. Smith argues that no nations are purely civic: all are bound in part by stories that seek to define elements intrinsic to their members’ identities and worth. These types of stories can support valuable forms of political life but they also pose dangers that must be understood if they are to be confronted. In contrast to much contemporary writing, Stories of Peoplehood argues for community-building via robust contestation among sharply differing views. This original argument combines accessible theory with colourful examples of myths and stories from around the world and over 2,500 years of human history.

• Shows how ‘stories’ of a common history and culture are used to bind nations together. An important contribution to debates on identity, citizenship and nationalism. • Illustrated by examples from around the world, notably the history of competing conceptions of national identity and citizenship in the United States from the American Revolution to the present • Rogers Smith is a leading US political scientist and political theorist, and this book is successor to ‘Civic Ideals’ (Yale 1997), which won six prizes across three academic disciplines


Introduction: on studying stories of peoplehood; Part I. Explaining the Political Role of Stories of Peoplehood: 1. Elements of a theory of people-making; 2. The role of ethically constitutive stories; Part II. Constructing Political Peoplehood in Morally Defensible Ways: 3. Ethically constitutive stories and norms of allegiance; 4. A pioneering people.


‘Rogers Smith’s fresh and incisive intervention in debates about national solidarity exemplifies the combination of historical depth and theoretical acuity that have made Smith one of the most respected and influential political scientists of his generation.’ David A. Hollinger, University of California, Berkeley, author of Postethnic America

‘Rogers M. Smith is the most original political scientist of his generation. His previous scholarship has transformed understanding of the American political tradition. In Stories of Peoplehood: The Politics and Morals of Political Membership, Professor Smith achieves a comparable revision of the idea of nationalist sentiment. In a book of formidable erudition and learning, Smith succeeds brilliantly in reviewing the vast literature on nationalism, reformulating it into a highly innovative and important thesis about peoplehood and demonstrating the analytical purchase of the derived ‘ethically constitutive stories’ as an approach to building better societies. Written in elegant prose, Smith’s argument is illustrated with a dazzling array of examples, historical and contemporary, imagined and real. Many social scientists declaim the need for scholarship engaged with real political and social problems but few succeed as impressively as Rogers Smith does here. This is political science for our times, applying rigorous analysis to compelling moral challenges. I cannot recommend the book too strongly to social scientists, political theorists and historians. Desmond S. King, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of American Government, University of Oxford