Archive for the ‘Democracy’ Category

Aditya Nigam

[This essay was first published in the Journal of Contemporary Thought, No 27, Summer 2008]

Nicos Poulantzas once made a distinction between ‘the political’ and ‘politics’ as such. In his rendering ‘the political’ referred to what can be called, with appropriate modifications, the juridical-political level of ‘the state’ (and we can include parties, elections and mobilization), while ‘politics’ referred to political practices (Poulantzas 1968: 37).[1] ’Political practices’ referred in his writings to ‘class practices’ but we can once again, suitably modify the term to include different kinds of political practices along different axes – class, caste, gender, religious or linguistic community and so on. Politics, thus seen, pervades life as such. We can also call it, after Michel Foucault, the micropolitics of power. Politics is there wherever there are power relations. And as feminism once struggled to establish, at this level, the personal is political. That is to say, from relations within the family, to relations between ‘loving couples’ and between parents and children, nothing is free of the relations of power. Indeed, the world has never been the same after that devastating intervention, however much formal political theory may try to ignore it. The great classical distinction between the polis and the oikos, reworked by moderns into the public and the private, seemed to suddenly wither under that attack.

At this stage I would also like to point out that what applies to ‘the private’ domain also holds for the more everyday and local forms of domination and power such as in the ways in which the caste rules operate in the villages or acquire a somewhat modified class/caste form in towns and cities, structuring what appear might to be ‘inter-personal’ relations. We can witness this in the hundreds of daily interactions, say for instance, between middle class families and their domestic employees, or their interactions with rikshaw pullers, vendors and such like. These are certainly not ‘private’ but bear the characteristics of the private insofar as they lack ‘publicity’.


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.


Interview with Ashis Nandy
[Prof Ashis Nandy is a well known social thinker and social psychologist based at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), Delhi. He has been an outspoken critic of science, modernity and secularism. His writings since the early 1980s have been extremely influential, in conjunction with Edward Said’s critique of Orientalism, in exposing the universalist pretensions of Western thought and social sciences. His most important books include The Intimate Enemy, At the Edge of Psychology, Tradition, Tyranny and Utopia, The Savage Freud, Time Warps and The Romance of the State. Nandy’s critique of secularism in the mid-1980s unleashed one of the richest and most hotly contested debates in India – one that continues even today.]

Interviewed by Aditya Nigam, Fellow CSDS, Delhi. The interview was originally conducted for Naked Punch (


Published in International Socialist Journal, UK

India today

Issue: 118
Posted: 31 March 08

Nivedita Menon and Aditya Nigam, Power and Contestation: India Since 1989 (Zed, 2007), £12.99

This book, written by two academics who are also campaigners, offers the best survey of recent Indian history that I have seen.