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Lineages of Political Society

Lineages of Political Society: Studies in Postcolonial Democracy

Partha Chatterjee
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Lineages of Political Society
    Book Description:

    Partha Chatterjee, a pioneering theorist known for his disciplinary range, builds on his theory of "political society" and reinforces its salience to contemporary political debate. Dexterously incorporating the concerns of South Asian studies, postcolonialism, the social sciences, and the humanities, Chatterjee broadly critiques the past three hundred years of western political theory to ask, Can democracy be brought into being, or even fought for, in the image of Western democracy as it exists today?

    Using the example of postcolonial societies and their political evolution, particularly communities within India, Chatterjee undermines the certainty of liberal democratic theory in favor of a realist view of its achievements and limitations. Rather than push an alternative theory, Chatterjee works solely within the realm of critique, proving political difference is not always evidence of philosophical and cultural backwardness outside of the West. Resisting all prejudices and preformed judgments, he deploys his trademark, genre-bending, provocative analysis to upend the assumptions of postcolonial studies, comparative history, and the common claims of contemporary politics.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52791-0
    Subjects: History, Anthropology, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. 1 Lineages of Political Society
    (pp. 1-26)

    It is sometimes said that modern political theory of the normative kind takes place in an ahistorical timeless space where perennial questions about the right and the good are debated. In fact, that is not quite the case. Rather, it would be more correct to say that these normative debates take place in a time-space of epic proportions which emerged fully formed only after the victorious conclusion of an epochal struggle against an old order of absolutist, despotic, or tyrannical power. There is, thus, a definite historical past that is posited by modern political theory as an era which has...

  6. I. Genealogies

    • 2 Five Hundred Years of Fear and Love
      (pp. 29-52)

      When Vasco da Gama arrived on the coast of Malabar in 1498 with four relatively small vessels, he was, it is traditionally said, “looking for Christians and spices.” The latter motive seems obvious to us now, from all that we know of the importance of trade in the European search for sea routes and new continents in the so-called age of discovery. Indeed, soon after the Cape route to Asia was opened up, the composition of the return cargo to Lisbon in the early years of the sixteenth century shows the overwhelming dominance of items such as pepper, ginger, cinnamon,...

    • 3 The Rule of Subjects
      (pp. 53-74)

      There has been much discussion on satyagraha in modern Indian politics. Inaccurately translated into English as “passive resistance,” the idea found its most famous and elaborate expression in the political movements led by Gandhi from the 1920s. But political struggles with similar features can be found in several other types of movements that were not explicitly Gandhian. The historian Sumit Sarkar has shown that, several years before the entry of Gandhi into Indian politics, the political tactics adopted in the Swadeshi movement in Bengal in 1905–9 prefigured many of the techniques of Gandhian satyagraha.¹ Such techniques have also been...

    • 4 Two Poets and Death
      (pp. 75-93)

      Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay, the most renowned literary figure in nineteenth-century Bengal, died on April 8, 1894. Three weeks after his death, a memorial meeting, organized by the Chaitanya Library and the Beadon Square Literary Club, was held at Star Theatre. It was decided that the speakers would be Rajanikanta Gupta, the historian; Haraprasad Sastri, the famous scholar of Buddhism and early Bengali literature; and Rabindranath Tagore, then a young but already much acclaimed poet. Nabinchandra Sen, one of the most respected senior figures on Bengal’s literary scene and a younger contemporary of Bankim in the provincial civil service, was asked to...

    • 5 Tagore’s Non-Nation
      (pp. 94-126)

      In this chapter, we will encounter a somewhat different and far more complex Tagore than the young poet we met in the previous chapter.

      Rabindranath Tagore (1860–1941), poet, novelist, dramatist, essayist, composer, and painter, was a towering figure in modern India’s intellectual and cultural life. His was perhaps the single most influential contribution to the modern national literary and artistic culture of Bengal. Following the award of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913, Tagore was, for some time, a noted presence in literary circles in Europe and the United States. His influence on the cultural life of Bengal...

  7. II. Popular Reason

    • 6 The People in Utopian and Real Time
      (pp. 129-153)

      Imagined Communities was, without doubt, one of the most influential books of the late twentieth century.¹ In the years since it was published, nationalism unexpectedly came to be regarded as an increasingly messy and often dangerous “problem” in world affairs, and over this time Benedict Anderson has continued to analyse and reflect on the subject, adding two brilliant chapters to his highly acclaimed book and writing several new essays and lectures.² Some of these were brought together in 1998, along with a series of essays on the history and politics of Southeast Asia, in The Spectre of Comparisons.³

      Theoretically, the...

    • 7 The Sacred Circulation of National Images
      (pp. 154-164)

      In 1962, India went to war with China over a piece of disputed territory up in the Himalayas. I was in high school at the time and impressionable enough to be swept away by the patriotic fervour. Our cause was right, we believed, because the territory in question was clearly ours: wasn’t there a MacMahon line, drawn on a map solemnly signed in 1914 by representatives of the governments of British India and Republican China? What greater proof did one need to support our claim? Of course, the military campaign went disastrously for India and, along with millions of my...

    • 8 Critique of Popular Culture
      (pp. 165-186)

      In 1992, at a conference to mark a decade of cultural studies carried out by the Birmingham school, Stuart Hall spoke very critically of “the theoretical fluency of cultural studies in the United States.” He was not, he said, demanding that American cultural studies become more like British cultural studies. The problem was not that American cultural studies was unable to theorize power in the field of culture or that it had formalized out of existence the relations of history and politics to culture. On the contrary. “There is no moment now, in American cultural studies,” he said, “when we...

  8. III. Democracy

    • 9 Community and Capital
      (pp. 189-207)

      I must confess that when the debate raged in Anglo-American academic circles some thirty years ago between liberal individualists and communitarians, I found little in it to sustain my interest. It seemed to me an utterly provincial debate, repetitious and largely predictable in its arguments, playing out all over again a set of confrontations with which students of Western political philosophy in the rest of the world had been familiar for at least a hundred years. Today, I think I was perhaps a little too impatient. Had I not been so dismissive of the significance of the debate for the...

    • 10 Democracy and Economic Transformation
      (pp. 208-234)

      The first volume of Subaltern Studies was published in 1982. I was part of the editorial group that launched, under the leadership of Ranajit Guha, this critical engagement with Indian modernity from the standpoint of the subaltern classes, especially the peasantry. In the quarter of a century that has passed since then, there has been, I believe, a fundamental change in the situation prevailing in postcolonial India. The new conditions under which global flows of capital, commodities, information, and people are now regulated—a complex set of phenomena generally clubbed under the category of globalization—have created both new opportunities...

    • 11 Empire and Nation Today
      (pp. 235-252)

      We are often told ‘Colonialism is dead.’ Let us not be deceived or even soothed by that. I say to you, colonialism is not yet dead.” Those were the words of President Achmed Sukarno of Indonesia at the opening of the Asian-African conference in Bandung in 1955. He went on to elaborate:

      I beg of you, do not think of colonialism only in the classic form which we of Indonesia, and our brothers in different parts of Asia and Africa, knew. Colonialism has also its modern dress, in the form of economic control, intellectual control, actual physical control by a...

  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 253-264)
  10. Index
    (pp. 265-278)
  11. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)