Benedict Anderson arrived at his theory because he felt that neither Marxist nor liberal theory adequately explained nationalism.
Anderson falls into the "historicist" or "modernist" school of nationalism along with Ernest Gellner and Eric Hobsbawm in that he posits that nations and nationalism are products of modernity and have been created as means to political and economic ends. This school stands in opposition to the primordialists, who believe that nations, if not nationalism, have existed since early human history. Imagined communities can be seen as a form of social constructionism on a par with Edward Said's concept of imagined geographies.
In contrast to Gellner and Hobsbawm, Anderson is not hostile to the idea of nationalism nor does he think that nationalism is obsolete in a globalizing world. Anderson values the utopian element in nationalism.
According to Harald Bauder, the concept of imagined communities remains highly relevant in a contemporary context of how nation-states frame and rescript their identities in relation to domestic and foreign policy, such as policies towards immigrants and migration. According to Euan Hague, "Anderson’s concept of nations being ‘imagined communities’ has become standard within books reviewing geographical thought".
Even though the term was coined to specifically talk about nationalism, it is now used more broadly, almost blurring it with community of interest. For instance, it can be used to refer to a community based on sexual orientation, or awareness of global risk factors.