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Keynote Address at The Ninth Annual South Asia Graduate Student Conference, University of Chicago, April 5, 2012.

Translation as paradigmatic of any conversation, and every act of translation as shot through with power relations – this understanding is now very much part of a certain common sense arising from a formidable body of scholarship. One point of departure from here is in the direction of seeing translation as a hermeneutic project of understanding, an ethical project of destabilizing the Self through engagement with the Other; another is in the direction of recognizing the constitutive misreading underlying any project of translation.

Today, taking on board much of this work, I would like to reflect particularly on another aspect of translation – as a project of rendering intelligible. What are the limits to this project? Who seeks intelligibility? Who evades it or simply in daily quotidian ways, by-passes its operations? Is the quest for mutual intelligibility implicit in all social interaction? But more critically – is this very assumption of the possibility of mutual intelligibility complicit in projects of power?

I will lay out four stories that speak to these questions in different ways – the story of Arabic philosopher Ibn Rushd and his encounter with the Greek philosopher Aristotle (also known, in an act of translation of a more banal kind, as Averroes and Arastu in each other’s cultures); the story of the ignorant schoolmaster, Jacotot, as told by Ranciere; the story of The Spirit Eaters, a piece of performance art recently enacted by the artist Subodh Gupta in Delhi; and finally, the story of the struggle of practising psychoanalysts in India to establish proper masculine subjectivity in Freudian terms. (more…)

Presented at conference organized by  Department of English (Delhi University)  February 14, 2011. The title of the  conference was “Postfeminist Postmortems?  Gender, Sexualities and Multiple  Modernities”.

Cross-posted on kafila

To paraphrase Anthony Appiah’s famous and oft-quoted question – Is the post of postfeminist the post of postmortem? That is, as in postmortem, does “post” mean definitively over, after, having transcended, gone beyond? To those who would answer “yes”, those privileged young women who float through their empowered lives in the wake of over a century of feminist struggles but disown their own heritage, to them I can only say – I’ll be a post-feminist in post-patriarchy. Or – not for a long time yet, baby.

But my answer to that question is “no”. I understand the post of postfeminism in the sense that Laclau and Mouffe understand their postmarxism. That is, post-feminist as indicating “having passed through” that body of thought; having lived through, experienced, feminist theory and politics in such a way that the terrain one now inhabits has been decisively transformed; but alsopost-feminist in the sense that in the course of this passage new objects have been configured that the old feminism could not have seen, or recognized.

It is in this kind of postfeminist moment that I locate my presentation today.


By Nivedita Menon

Foucault has had enormous and wide-ranging influence on Indian scholarship, (and scholarship on India), but I am going to focus here only on one concept – governmentality. This concept has implicitly and explicitly shaped some very significant work trying to understand the shape, form, nature and content of “modernity” in India. I will take up two such bodies of work: first, a debate among a number of scholars (largely historians) about the nature and impact of colonial intervention in the 18th and 19th centuries, and second, Partha Chatterjee’s take on the idea of governmentality, through the lens of which he reworks, in the context of postcolonial democracy in India, conventional political theory understandings of the civil society/political society distinction.


By Nivedita Menon

(This paper was originally delivered as a public lecture in December 1999 at the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore as part of a series called State of the Discipline in the Social Sciences jointly organized by NCBS and Centre for the Study of Culture and Society, Bangalore.)

Why does political science call itself a “science”? The tag of “science” is an aspiration towards the high reaches of verifiability, quantifiability, systematization and applicability to “real life” which are seen as characterizing the natural sciences. Standard text-books on political science, for instance the excellent series produced by IGNOU, make a claim for the label of “science” because political analysis is about the study of “political reality”, while “political philosophy” for example, is partial because it excludes “practical aspects.” Further, behavioural and post-behavioural approaches are characterised as “modern”, as opposed to “traditional” historical and normative methods. It must be recognized that here, “traditional” means traditional within the discipline – which is itself modern. “You would come across the claim,” the student is told, “that approaches which are identified as modern, are considered more scientific.” Despite all the critiques of the fact/value dichotomy that was brought into social analysis by the behavioural revolution, the presumed (and desired) link between science and transformation continues to inform the self-styled social sciences. Society is to be studied in scientific ways, in order that it can be effectively transformed in accordance with scientific values.