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Lineages of Political Society: Studies in Postcolonial Democracy Partha Chatterjee Columbia University Press

30th June 2012 History Books 3 Comments

Partha Chatterjee is one of the most important writers and theorists of our time, a voice as fresh and original as it is powerful and necessary.

(Nicholas Dirks, Columbia University, author of The Scandal of Empire: India and the Creation of Imperial Britain )

Partha Chatterjee is honorary professor of political science at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta, and professor of anthropology at Columbia University. His books include Empire and Nation: Selected Essays; The Politics of the Governed: Reflections on Popular Politics in Most of the World; A Possible India: Essays in Political Criticism; and The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories.

Partha Chatterjee, a pioneering theorist known for his disciplinary range, builds on his theory of “political society” and reinforces its salience to contemporary political debate. Dexterously incorporating the concerns of South Asian studies, postcolonialism, the social sciences, and the humanities, Chatterjee broadly critiques the past three hundred years of western political theory to ask, Can democracy be brought into being, or even fought for, in the image of Western democracy as it exists today?

Using the example of postcolonial societies and their political evolution, particularly communities within India, Chatterjee undermines the certainty of liberal democratic theory in favor of a realist view of its achievements and limitations. Rather than push an alternative theory, Chatterjee works solely within the realm of critique, proving political difference is not always evidence of philosophical and cultural backwardness outside of the West. Resisting all prejudices and preformed judgments, he deploys his trademark, genre-bending, provocative analysis to upend the assumptions of postcolonial studies, comparative history, and the common claims of contemporary politics.

Partha Chatterjee is one of the most important writers and theorists of our time, a voice as fresh and original as it is powerful and necessary.

Lineages of Political Society: Studies in Postcolonial Democracy (Cultures of History)

The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories

[This] is a work of magisterial erudition, the product of a mind working at the fullest command of its critical and creative powers . . . destined to become a landmark, not just in its field but in that most important of histories which is the evolving narrative of our self-awareness. — The Calcutta Telegraph

In this book, the prominent theorist Partha Chatterjee looks at the creative and powerful results of the nationalist imagination in Asia and Africa that are posited not on identity but on difference with the nationalism propagated by the West. Arguing that scholars have been mistaken in equating political nationalism with nationalism as such, he shows how anticolonialist nationalists produced their own domain of sovereignty within colonial society well before beginning their political battle with the imperial power. These nationalists divided their culture into material and spiritual domains, and staked an early claim to the spiritual sphere, represented by religion, caste, women and the family, and peasants. Chatterjee shows how middle-class elites first imagined the nation into being in this spiritual dimension and then readied it for political contest, all the while “normalizing” the aspirations of the various marginal groups that typify the spiritual sphere.

While Chatterjee’s specific examples are drawn from Indian sources, with a copious use of Bengali language materials, the book is a contribution to the general theoretical discussion on nationalism and the modern state. Examining the paradoxes involved with creating first a uniquely non-Western nation in the spiritual sphere and then a universalist nation-state in the material sphere, the author finds that the search for a postcolonial modernity is necessarily linked with past struggles against modernity.

The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories

  • 3 responses to "Lineages of Political Society: Studies in Postcolonial Democracy Partha Chatterjee Columbia University Press"

  • Never
    14:49 on June 30th, 2012
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    Pranab Chatterjee wisely cautions us to remember that there are ways of expressing nationalism that differ from the Western models. With examples from literature and history the author helps us explore the “inner” spiritual or cultural world of Bengalis in colonial India, a world they tried to keep safe and distinct from the “outer” world of British-imposed politics. The writing in places is a bit vague, but the reading is worth the effort to remind us that wisdom does not begin and end in the West.

  • Monkeyface
    11:05 on July 1st, 2012
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    Chatterjee is a typical `postmodern’ scholar, and he has a rather jargon-filled and oblique writing style. In some cases, knowledge of Indian and Bengali history, to say nothing of familiarity with contemporary Bengali society and the intricacies of the caste system, would seem to be required to truly understand certain sections of this book. Also, while Chatterjee states that his argument is meant to clarify (to some extent) the conditions of nations, nationalism and society/communities in the postcolonial states of Asia and Africa, his examination is almost exclusively restricted to Bengal in India. There is nothing wrong with this as such, since he deals with the area with which he is most familiar. However, one of his principal underlying themes is a (rather persuasive) criticism of European or `Western’ scholars for mis-applying European philosophies and sociological models to non-European, postcolonial societies, and he seems to commit the same error by assuming that his Bengali example can be used to explain circumstances in the vast, diverse lands from the western shores of Africa to southeast Asia.
    Nevertheless, “The Nation and Its Fragments” is a very strong argument against simply assuming that nationalism, postcolonial development, industrialization and modernity itself in India (or elsewhere in the so-called `Third World’) are simply following `models’ already formulated in Europe/America. Chatterjee’s most important point is perhaps his call for scholarship on postcolonial societies to commence from completely different fundamental assumptions, rather than trying to force upon it outside (read European) `scientific’ models.

  • buda gecerr
    4:47 on July 2nd, 2012
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    The text is one of many in the field. It is asking to be accepted in the domains of the (white Western) colonial overlord, while, at the same time, attempting to mount a palace coup. These ex-colonials, who so eloquently plead from the “margins” are really to be pitied. They are NOT on the perameter; they are right there at the center, with Homi B Babha and Stewart Hall etc

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