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The Politics of the Governed

The Politics of the Governed: Reflections on Popular Politics in Most of the World

Partha Chatterjee
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    The Politics of the Governed
    Book Description:

    Often dismissed as the rumblings of "the street," popular politics is where political modernity is being formed today, according to Partha Chatterjee. The rise of mass politics all over the world in the twentieth century led to the development of new techniques of governing population groups. On the one hand, the idea of popular sovereignty has gained wide acceptance. On the other hand, the proliferation of security and welfare technologies has created modern governmental bodies that administer populations, but do not provide citizens with an arena for democratic deliberation. Under these conditions, democracy is no longer government of, by, and for the people. Rather, it has become a world of power whose startling dimensions and unwritten rules of engagement Chatterjee provocatively lays bare.

    This book argues that the rise of ethnic or identity politics -- particularly in the postcolonial world -- is a consequence of new techniques of governmental administration. Using contemporary examples from India, the book examines the different forms taken by the politics of the governed. Many of these operate outside of the traditionally defined arena of civil society and the formal legal institutions of the state. This book considers the global conditions within which such local forms of popular politics have appeared and shows us how both community and global society have been transformed. Chatterjee's analysis explores the strategic as well as the ethical dimensions of the new democratic politics of rights, claims, and entitlements of population groups and permits a new understanding of the dynamics of world politics both before and after the events of September 11, 2001.

    The Politics of the Governed consists of three essays, originally given as the Leonard Hastings Schoff Lectures at Columbia University in November 2001, and four additional essays that complement and extend the analyses presented there. By combining these essays between the covers of a single volume, Chatterjee has given us a major and urgent work that provides a full perspective on the possibilities and limits of democracy in the postcolonial world.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50389-1
    Subjects: Political Science, History, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)

    • ONE The Nation in Heterogeneous Time
      (pp. 3-26)

      My subject is popular politics in most of the world. When I say “popular,” I do not necessarily presume any particular institutional form or process of politics. I do, however, suggest that much of the politics I describe is conditioned by the functions and activities of modern governmental systems that have now become part of the expected functions of governments everywhere. These expectations and activities have produced, I will argue, certain relations between governments and populations. The popular politics I will describe grows upon and is shaped by those relations. What I mean by “most of world” will, I hope,...

    • TWO Populations and Political Society
      (pp. 27-52)

      The classic moment when the promises of enlightened modernity appeared to come together with the universal political aspirations of citizenship within the nation was, of course, the French Revolution. The moment has been celebrated and canonized in numerous ways in the last two hundred years, perhaps most succinctly in the formula, now almost universally acknowledged, of the identity of the people with the nation and, in turn, the identity of the nation with the state. There is no question that the legitimacy of the modern state is now clearly and firmly grounded in a concept of popular sovereignty. This is,...

    • THREE The Politics of the Governed
      (pp. 53-78)

      Let me take you on a quick tour through political society, or at least those parts of it that I am familiar with, because there are many parts about which I know very little.

      Our first stop is along the railway tracks that run through the southern part of the city of Calcutta, not far from where I live and work. A major arterial road flies over the tracks. If you stand on the bridge and look in front of you, you will see high-rise apartment blocks, a ritzy shopping mall, and the offices of a major oil company. But...

    • [Photographs]
      (pp. None)

    • FOUR The World After the Great Peace
      (pp. 81-106)

      When I entered Presidency College, Calcutta, in 1964, Professor Susobhan Sarkar had left for Jadavpur University. But he was by then a legend among students of the college. It is my misfortune that as a student and researcher I only saw him a few times from a distance and never had the chance to know him well. But I noticed among my elder historian colleagues the unmistakable imprint of his influence. Although his best known published writings are his essays on the Bengal renaissance,¹ he was really a teacher of European history. Year after year, it was his lectures on...

    • FIVE Battle Hymn
      (pp. 107-112)

      I consider the attacks carried out in this city on September 11 as heinous and barbaric. I am not one of those who proclaim political nonviolence. As a student of politics in colonial and postcolonial countries, I have become convinced that when the structures of domination in the modern world are so deeply rooted in the ability to deploy massive and efficient violence, it is neither possible nor justified to insist that those who fight against unfair domination must at all times eschew the use of political violence. But I know of no anti-imperialist or anti-colonial politics that will justify...

    • SIX The Contradictions of Secularism
      (pp. 113-130)

      In view of all that has happened in different parts of South Asia in recent months, it is not easy for us at this moment to apply the cold logic of analytical reasoning and talk dispassionately about the prospects of secularism. It is not a time of normal politics in South Asian countries. In some, Afghanistan for example, civil war and external military intervention have uprooted previously existing political structures. Politics there is still being transacted through warfare and it is too early to tell whether stable foundations are being laid for a new political order. We are told that...

    • SEVEN Are Indian Cities Becoming Bourgeois At Last?
      (pp. 131-148)

      Or, if you prefer, we could exclaim: Are Indian cities becoming bourgeois, alas?

      No matter what the underlying sentiment, there are several reasons for asking a question such as this. First, it is evident that there has been in the last decade or so a concerted attempt to clean up the Indian cities, to rid streets and public lands of squatters and encroachers, and to reclaim public spaces for the use of proper citizens. This movement has been propelled by citizens’ groups and staunchly supported by an activist judiciary claiming to defend the rights of citizens to a healthy environment...

  6. Afterword The Ides of March
    (pp. 149-152)

    There is a gnawing sense of inevitability in the way things are moving. The flood is rising inch by inch; the only question is when the dike will burst. Except, this is not a natural disaster waiting to happen. These are events fully under the control of world leaders playing for high stakes. Why is the world being pushed to the precipice?

    To begin with, let us set aside the high-sounding moral reasons for going to war with Iraq. Not even their proponents believe in them, except as linguistic instruments for pushing a diplomatic point. Not only are these moral...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 153-160)
  8. Bibliography
    (pp. 161-166)
  9. Index
    (pp. 167-174)