Nation versus Micro-Nation

We believe that a Micro-Nation is simply a small Nation, perhaps because of its small geographical territory, or its small population.

But what makes a nation a Nation, or a micro-nation into a Micro-Nation?

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, part of the definition of ‘nation’ is:

“A community of people composed of one or more nationalities and possessing a more or less defined territory and government; A territorial division containing a body of people of one or more nationalities and usually characterized by relatively large size and independent status; A tribe or federation of tribes (as of American Indians)”.

Source: [accessed 18/08/2022].

In many cases, the concept of a Micro-Nation is downplayed, especially by mainstream websites and books. After all, governments and those who claim to be in power wouldn’t want ordinary, tax-paying citizens of ‘recognised’ states to be declaring independence.

Britannica online encyclopedia opens their article on “micronation” with the following statement:

Micronation, entity that claims to be an independent state but whose sovereignty is not recognized by the international community…. Micronations vary significantly in form, motivation, purpose, and seriousness. The loosely defined concept of a micronation appeared in the late 20th century to describe a growing phenomenon of small-scale pretention of sovereignty.”

They go on to claim that ‘microstates’ like Lichtenstein or Vatican City are legitimate by virtue of their international recognition, and they give examples of some self-declared micro-nations, such as Redonda and Sealand, citing their alleged illegitimate claims to sovereignty.

Source: [accessed 18/08/2022].

Of course, what they fail to mention is that sovereignty and legitimacy of a nation (including a micro-nation) is a subjective concept – and they don’t consider the relevancy of the question: by whose rules is a nation considered sovereign and recognised?

In an openly published text entitled “Nationalism, Nationhood and Secession“, Andrews and Saward, both of Open University, write in Chapter 4 (“What is a Nation?“), according to commonly accepted theories, a nation must fulfil three criteria to be ‘objectively‘ considered a nation:

  1. The population of the nation must have some form of common culture, values or shared identity (self-hood),
  2. The nation must have a defined geographical territory,
  3. The nation must have some form of government or method of representing itself both internally to its members and externally to other nations (political ideology).
  4. [I would add a 4th objective criterion which appears to be implied in mainstream texts – a nation, but especially a state, must be internationally recognised by other recognised nations or states.]

However the authors argue that ‘subjective‘ definitions of nations, encompassing self-determination, language, culture, symbolism and the rights of groups of people, who imagine they are part of a defined nation and act accordingly, also come into play.

Andrews makes the point that “From a subjective point of view, history, religion and language, for example, still count, but awareness and acceptance of a claim that X is a nation among the people of the supposed national group – a real consciousness that this is a group and I am part of it – is the crucial ingredient.”

The authors note that many subjectively-based theorists have come to the general conclusion that, to respect the variety of groups who claim statehood or to be nations in their own right, when a group imagines and claims they are a nation, who are we to say they are not? For example, Norman (1991), quoted in the text, states: “Ultimately, communities are nations when a significant percentage of their members think they are nations”.

Finally, the authors summarise their findings in the following four points:

  • “There are two main approaches to the definition of nation, the objective approach and the subjective approach.
  • The subjective approach is generally favoured by theorists.
  • Symbolic and imagined aspects of nationality are important.
  • ‘Nation’ as a word and a label is still evolving, and being applied in new contexts.”

Source: [accessed 18/08/2022]. You can download a copy of their open-source text here [republished 07/12/2021, PDF, 37 pages].

Often, the terms ‘state’, ‘nation’ and ‘nation-state’ are used interchangeably. But they are separately defined entities, according to Rock of Pennsylvania State University, in an article entitled “State, Nation and Nation-State: Clarifying Misused Terminology“:

“A State is an independent, sovereign government exercising control over a certain spatially defined and bounded area, whose borders are usually clearly defined and internationally recognized by other states.”


“A nation is a group of people who see themselves as a cohesive and coherent unit based on shared cultural or historical criteria. Nations are socially constructed units, not given by nature. Their existence, definition, and members can change dramatically based on circumstances. Nations in some ways can be thought of as “imagined communities” that are bound together by notions of unity that can pivot around religion, ethnic identity, language, cultural practice and so forth.”

Source: [accessed 18/08/2022]. You can download a copy of the article here [PDF, 2 pages].

It’s clear therefore that we shouldn’t insist on narrow interpretations of ‘nation’ and ‘micro-nation’.

Indeed, even the United Nations and various official international organisations and conventions include “self-identification” as a key characteristic for indigenous groups, many of whom consider themselves to also be nations or micro-nations.