Journal of Catalan Studies/Revista Internacional de Catalanisme

[Ressenyes / Reviews]


Kenneth McRoberts. Catalonia. Nation Building Without A State. Oxford University Press. Ontario. 2001. 258 pp. ISBN 0 19 541481 0.
John MacInnes
Universitat de Pompeu Fabra
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. Three historical chapters cover the emergence of Catalan as a distinct romance language in the tenth century and the separation of what was to become Catalonia from the Frankish monarchy by Wilfred the Hairy and the Counts of Barcelona, and take the reader through to the cultural revival of the renaixana in the nineteenth century, the birth of Catalan nationalism as a political movement, the civil war, dictatorship, the 'pactada' transition to democracy and finally the struggle for the Statute of Autonomy under the 1978 Constitution. McRoberts argues that turning the principles of the new 'State of Autonomies' into workable practice in Catalonia required political skill and determination on the part of Convergncia i Uni, helped by holding the balance of power in the Spanish Cortes from 1993 to 2000, along with the Basque Nationalist Party. President Pujol was thus able to draw up 'governability' pacts with the Spanish Socialist Party and subsequently with the Partido Popular which deepened Catalan autonomy. A chapter on the economy discusses restructuring, foreign investment and Catalonia's fiscal defecit, one on 'national reconstruction' examines the decline of Catalonia's 'civil society' institutions and their increasing reliance on Generalitat support, given 'the virtual disappearance of the Catalan bourgeoisie' (p. 137). The politics of language 'normalisation' and its role in education is covered, and the contours of national identity in a nation fundamentally marked by the very substantial in-migration of the 1960s and early 1970s are described using social survey data which show, amongst other things that only a third of the Catalan population, and around a half of CiU supporters themselves agree 'with the fundamental premise of all nationalist discourse, that Catalonia is a 'nation'' (p. 164).

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.