Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Guest post by MAHMOOD MAMDANI. This paper is also available at the site of Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR)

Reading Ibn Khaldun in Kampala[1]

“No action resulting from choice is natural.” The Muqaddimah, p. 412

Why would a reading of The Muqaddimah[2]  by teachers and students in the Ph D program at Makerere Institute  of Social Research (MISR) be of interest to a wider audience?  One could put this question differently: why would a reading of a 14th century North African text be of interest to academics in 21st century Kampala?  Both questions belong to a wider reflection on the subject of universalization and particularization as aspects of a single process.  The universalization of particular modes of thought goes alongside the particularization of other modes of thought.  The centuries between the conquest of the Americas and the decolonization movement signified by Bandung witnessed two related movements in the history of thought.  On the one hand, Eurocentric thought was elevated to a universal; on the other, non-European modes of thought were containerized as so many “traditions” of no more than local significance.[3]  An assessment of the intellectual legacy of this period calls for a double task: alongside a critique of Eurocentrism, an exploration of engagements across various non-European modes of thought bounded as so many discrete “traditions.”  This paper hopes to explore the difficulties involved in such an engagement in the period after Bandung.

Let me rephrase the question in line with the dominant African imagination: Why study a late 14th century text today, in sub-Saharan Africa?  I can think of at least three reasons why a study of The Muqaddimah in an African academy is important today.  Most importantly, it provides us with a resource to think of an alternative to Eurocentrism.  If Eurocentrism claims to give us a universal history of reason anchored in Greece, the Muqaddimah offers both a discourse on the human and human reason and calls on us to think of the relation between Greeks and Persians as a way of de-centering Greece-focused Eurocentrism.  At the same time, it raises critical questions about Afrocentrism which has come to identify Africa with sub-Saharan Africa, as the product of a singular experience, slavery, but with a historical archive in Pharaohnic Egypt, not very different from how 19th century Europe fashioned classical Greece into an archive for European civilization.[4]  How do we historicize Africa before the Atlantic slave trade?  As a continent or as different regions?  Both Ibn Khaldun and The Muqaddimah suggest that it may be productive to think of Africa before the period of Atlantic slavery in regional rather than continental terms, and that one such regional imagination would bring together the Mediterranean and West Africa in a single history.

Second, The Muqaddimah has the potential of broadening our understanding of how to use oral tradition as a resource in the writing of African and regional histories.  The use of oral tradition as a source for historical information has been central to debates on the production of a history of Africa.  But these debates have remained confined to the history of stateless societies in Africa.  Ibn Khaldun’s discussion of isnad (the chain of transmission) has the potential of connecting it with a scholarship that has been totally set apart until now. (more…)

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.


Caste and the Writing of History

By Prathama Banerjee

Caste is seen as both the most archaic and the most contemporary reality of India – a persistent but paradoxical presence in historical time. Perhaps for this reason, caste seems to act as a challenge to the writing and teaching of history. This essay seeks to understand the ways in which caste as a category has, for a long time, escaped history as a discipline. It also explores the newer ways in which historians today try to interrogate and renegotiate history itself, in their effort to fashion modes of writing adequate to the workings of caste in India. This essay therefore is as much about history-writing as it is about the category of caste.


The Post-colonial State: The special case of India

By Sudipta Kaviraj

No story of the European state can be complete if it does not take into account its successes/effects outside Europe. Francois Guizot’s classic history of the European state requires a supplement:[1] he tells half the story. His magisterial account presents the picture of the state inside Europe’s own history. But the story of the European state has an equally significant counterpart, a history that happens outside. Outside Europe the modern state succeeded in two senses – first as an instrument, and second, as an idea.


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 (