Politics, ‘Political Society’ and ‘the Everyday’
Lineages of Political Society, by Partha Chatterjee, Permanent Black, Ranikhet, 2011. Pages: 278, hardcover, Rs 750.
Over a decade ago, political theorist Partha Chatterjee embarked on what was a novel journey in the history of political thought in India and perhaps, in the postcolonial, non-Western world. Bringing together the results of decades of his own intellectual engagement with Indian politics and the question of subalternity in particular, Chatterjee began articulating a concept that has now acquired wide currency: his concept of ‘political society’. ‘Political society’, in Chatterjee’s hands, was a way of recuperating a sphere of politics that had been a permanent source of anxiety for theorists of Indian (and postcolonial) modernity and democracy – the vast domain that existed outside the designated spheres of modern politics, where the untutored masses made claims on the state and formed their own associations and organizations, unmindful of the formal grammar of rights and citizenship. A crucial part of what defines activities in this domain is ‘illegality’, or, at any rate, non-legality, where the state itself places the law in suspension in order to recognize the claims of the governed. Thus for instance, squatting by the poor on government land that is strictly speaking, encroachment in legal terms and can never acquire the status of a ‘right’, is nevertheless allowed by governments to continue through the recognition of some kind of moral claim of the poor on governments and society at large.
Continue reading Politics, ‘Political Society’ and ‘the Everyday’
Partha Chatterjee’s post, following on Shuddha’s Hazare Khwahishein… is something of an eye-opener for me. I will not enter into a debate with him on his reading of Shuddha’s post as Shuddha and I have had our long online and offline exchanges and I have learnt immensely from these exchanges, even if a core of disagreement persists. I do think, however, that Partha is mistaken in thinking that this is the first time the question of corruption has been discussed on Kafila or elsewhere but since I am not interested in discussing that question here, I will leave that matter aside. I think I have said pretty much what I wanted to say on the movement and the myriad issues related to it and so I am no more interested in going over that territory all over again. Interested readers can see the Kafila archives if they so wish.
What has been an eye-opener for me is the way a certain other Partha Chatterjee has emerged, as soon as his theories were brought face to face with the hurly-burly of politics. The imprint of this other Partha is clearly evident in every word and sentence of this post, but most clearly in the concluding sentence where he claims that the indepdent Left has ‘its populist moment in Nandigram’. This sentence encapuslates the gist of our disagreements. It was this assessment that led Partha to write the essay, ‘Democracy and Economic Transformation‘ where, in some elliptical fashion, his own discomfort with popular politics found expression. That is when he extended the definition of ‘political society’ to say that it was the sphere of ‘management of ‘non-corporate capital’ (of course, by capital and government). That Partha links his discomfort over the Anna Hazare movement to his discomfort over Nandigram, is in my view, a sign of the fact that his idea of ‘political society’ lies in ruins, that it collapsed at the precise moment of its encounter with the popular.
Continue reading In the Ruins of Political Society – A Response to Partha Chatterjee
Carrying forward the debate around Partha Chatterjee’s article in EPW.
by PRASANTA CHAKRAVARTY
In the wake of the development debates around the nation, one witnesses an interesting array of articles—polemical as well as academic—that takes on headlong issues of political intervention by developing the terms of negotiation and deliberation in a certain direction. And that is the story of growing up—that democracy is the story of pragma, of mature understanding of the contestatory space. These are reminders that politics of good intentions is benign self-deception. Worse: it is apolitical, prophetic, self-indulgent.
Continue reading Prasanta Chakravarty – Of Demos, Innovation and Affect
[Political theorist Partha Chatterjee’s work has been the reference point for many contemporary theorizations of politics in India and others parts of the postcolonial world. Chatterjee has recently published an important essay, which we reproduce below. Many friends and colleagues in Kolkata and elsewhere have requested Kafila to provide the forum for this debate, considering the common interest that many of us have in issues raised here. Some reformulations by Chatterjee, especially in the aftermath of Nandigram, call for a more sustained political theoretical reflection. The article also raises issues directly related to questions of rural-to-urban migration that has seen some debate in Kafila lately. – AN]
Economic & Political Weekly
April 19, 2008 [Download PDF]
Democracy and Economic Transformation in India
With the changes in India over the past 25 years, there is now a new dynamic logic that ties the operations of “political society” (comprising the peasantry, artisans and petty producers in the informal sector) with the hegemonic role of the bourgeoisie in “civil society”. This logic is provided by the requirement of reversing the effects of primitive accumulation of capital with activities like anti-poverty programmes. This is a necessary political condition for the continued rapid growth of corporate capital. The state, with its mechanisms of electoral democracy, becomes the field for the political negotiation of demands for the transfer of resources, through fiscal and other means, from the accumulation economy to programmes aimed at providing the livelihood needs of the poor. Electoral democracy makes it unacceptable for the government to leave the marginalised groups without the means of labour and to fend for themselves, since this carries the risk of turning them into the “dangerous classes”.
The first volume of Subaltern Studies was published in 1982. I was part of the editorial group 25 years ago that launched, Continue reading Democracy and Economic Transformation – Partha Chatterjee