Foreign Affairs: In today's world, evidence of globalization is everywhere. As you yourself mention, we are even seeing the rise of "superbrands" such as the EU and CNN. Yet you are the first person to really articulate the notion of the brand state. What led you to do so and how did you first come up with the idea?
Peter van Ham: Over the last few years, I've studied the changing nature of European politics. This is a political landscape where classical notions such as sovereignty, power-politics, and even the "national interest" are losing their traditional centrality, especially within the EU. In my book European Integration and the Postmodern Condition (recently published by Routledge), I've outlined a novel conceptual approach using the catch-all term of postmodernism as my theoretical guideline. Although postmodernism is discredited in some academic circles as vacuous mind-candy, there remains much to be said for taking a postmodern, unattached, and more lighthearted look at how European society and politics are changing. This also implies that one has to think up new words and concepts for processes and developments that are unprecedented and often revolutionary. The brand state is just one of these new concepts which we need. It may not fit in any clear theoretical framework, or any other established approach to understanding what's going on in Europe and beyond. But I think that may be just as well since bringing hammer and nail to fix your personal computer tends to be both frustrating and useless; bringing traditional modern concepts to bear on contemporary European politics is equally rewarding.
When did the notion of the brand state first come up? Every student of politics knows that the modern state is a quite recent invention and an "imagined community" based on a mythical sense of belonging among people. In order to stay in the same place, the state has to adapt itself continuously, using nationalism to charge the emotional batteries of its citizens. The state has always used the
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