Posts Tagged ‘representation’

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’.

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