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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 (www.nakedpunch.com).

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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.

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By Aditya Nigam

Introduction

This paper is as much about the postcolonial world as it is about marxism. More importantly, it is about the relationship about the two. I use the term ‘postcolonial’ here to refer to something more than a mere temporal marker – as more than something that comes after the end of colonialism. Rather, it refers to the entire region of the Three Continents (Abdel-Malik 1981) since the beginning of its encounter with colonialism, and through it, their encounter with modernity; it therefore points towards a whole range of conditions that mark it out as distinct from the first world – political, economic, psychological and cultural. If colonialism was the dominant agent of modernity in these societies, it was certainly no the only one. A certain marxism, particularly after the Russian revolution of 1917, became a potent force through which the emancipatory ideals of the secular-modern imagination entered this world. And yet there remains a continuous tension between the high discourse of modernity entailed in it and the existential situation of this world, which becomes complicated by the day.

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