Studies on South Asia and its literature in India, Europe, and the United States; contributed articles.
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The U.S. South is a distinctive political and cultural force-not only in the eyes of Americans, but also in the estimati
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This volume examines the long and complex history of the Greco-Roman tradition in South America, arguing that the Classi
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Forcing a fundamental rethinking of the Asian American elite, many of whom have attained top positions in business, gove
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The interplay between knowledge and religion forms a pivotal component of how early modern individuals and societies und
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This is one of the earliest books to present a collection of writings on the effects of globalization on India and India
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Situated between the Greek, Indian and Persian scientific traditions and modern science, the Islamic scientific traditio
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Ichnology is the science of marks, tracks, trails, traces structures and other sources of evidence of biological activit
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READINGS This series from Three Essays Collective focuses on those works of scholar ship which touch upon issues of contemporary concern.They address a wide range of themes in history, society, politics, culture, education and media. South Asian themes would predominate, but not exhaust, the scope of these publications. Titles in this series would familiarise readers with the current debates in their respective fields, even as they enlarge the field of enquiry.
OTHER T I T L E S Aijaz Ahmad, On Communalism and Globalization: Offensives of the Far Right (NewEdn.) Archana Prasad, Against Ecological Romanticism: Verrier Elwin and the Making of an Anti-Modern Tribal Identity Ashraf Aziz, Light of the Universe: Essays on Hindustani Film Music Barbara Harriss-White, India’s Market Society: Three Essays in Political Economy Biswamoy Pati, Identity, Hegemony, Resistance: Towards a Social History of Conversions in Orissa, 1800-2000 KN Panikkar, An Agenda for Cultural Action and Other Essays Kristoffel Lieten, Views on Development: The Local and the Global in India and Pakistan Mukul Dube, The Path of the Parivar: Articles on Gujarat and Hindutva Meera Nanda, Breaking the Spell of Dharma: Three Essays Omar Khalidi, Khaki and the Ethnic Violence in India: Army, Police and Paramilitary Forces during Communal Riots Radhika Desai, Slouching Towards Ayodhya: From Congress to Hindutva in Indian Politics (New Revised Edn.)
Shereen Ratnagar, The Other Indians: Essays on Pastoralists and Prehistoric Tribal People Sunil Kumar, The Present in Delhi’s Pasts Vasudha Dalmia, Orient ing India: European Knowledge Format ion in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries Vijay Prashad,The American Scheme: Three Essays
F O R T H C O MI N G
Amar Farooqui, Opium and the Making of Early Victorian Bombay Angana Chatterji, Violent Gods: Hindu Nationalism in India’s Present— Narratives from Orissa Michael Witzel, The Aryan Question, Pro and Contra Patricia Jeffery and Roger Jeffery, Confronting Saffron Demography: Religion, Fertility, and Women’s Status in India Shubh Mathur, The Everyday Life of Hindu Nationalism: An Ethnographic Account, 1990-94 Sunil Kumar (ed.)> Demolishing Myths or Mosques and Temples?: Readings on History and Temple Desecration in Medieval India Vidya Bhushan Rawat, Popular Culture and Daily Life in Ayodhya Zaheer Baber, After Ayodhya: Communal Conflict and the Intellectuals
R emapping K no w ledge
R e m a p p in g K n o w led g e The Making of South Asian Studies in India, Europe and America 19th-20th centuries
Three Essays C O L L I C T I V I
Z D S
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IX ' Oelhi I/I7/0C»
Introduction Jackie Assayag and Véronique Bénéï
South Asia,“Made in the USA”: Cultural Transfers, Universities and the Intellectual Diaspora Jackie Assayag
Nations, Diaspora and Area Studies: South Asia, from Great Britain to the United States Véronique Bénéï
Subaltern Studies as Post-Colonial Critique of Modernity Jacques Pouchepadass
When has the entire earth ever been so closely joined together, by so few threads? Who has ever had more power and more machines, such that with a single impulse, with a single movement o f a finger, entire nations are shaken? Johann Friedrich Herder, 1774
The issues of translation and circulation of people and cultures have become increasingly central to critical reflections on modernity and its universalising processes. The exchanges of goods, ideas, knowledges, and migrations of various human populations, particularly those occurring from Asia to the West, are rather old phenomena. The kind and amount of traffic, as well as destinations and objectives have obviously varied over time. Since the late 19th century, migratory population flows have been increasingly directed towards Britain and America (and, to a lesser extent, Canada and Australia), with a growing preference towards the US today. If, in the beginning of the 20th century, migration towards the US principally originated from West European countries, it mostly concerned Asian and Latin American populations in the 1980s. An influx of Asian and Latin American immigrants followed the scrapping in 1965 of a law enforcing national immigration quotas. From 1990 to 2000, the US recorded the highest wave of
immigration in its history and the fastest migratory rate in the world (a 57% increase). According to the 2000 census, there were 31.1 million, out of a total population of 281.4 million, Americans who were born outside the US or whose parents were born outside the US. This migratory trend is intricately connected to the multifaceted process usually called“globalisation” today, which can be approached from sociological and historical perspectives respectively. For the sociologist Ulrich Beck, ‘globalisation' refers to one of three processes (2000:9-11): that of “globalism”, as the liberal ideology of the world market and of its domination of the political, social and cultural spheres; that of “globality”, acknowledging that we have long been living in a world society whilst emphasising the lack of spatial divisions premised on a principle of unity or of cohesion today; and “globalisation”, as a process in which sovereign nation-states are undermined in their prerogatives, and infiltrated by multinational actors organised in networks and following strategies appropriate to specific identities. Whichever of these three meanings is to be preferred, globalisation is certainly no recent phenomenon. For some historians (see Hopkins 2001 ), it is at least 500 years old (with the Spanish conquest of America), whilst for others, it even goes back to 5000 years ago (with the development of large commercial networks in Antiquity). Recent studies have especially highlighted the importance of non-western forms of globalisation, for instance in China, South Asia, Africa and the world of Islam, and the need to decentre the analysis and remap the geography of the topic. Furthermore, some historians classify the various forms of‘globalisation’ under the four labels of‘archaic’,‘proto-’,‘modern’ and ‘postcolonial’, whilst others confine the term to the process starting in the 1970s initiating a period of crisis for ‘global
liberalism’ and marking its ‘ultimate triumph’. Whatever the case may be, it is also important to bear in mind that the processes of integration which accompanied any form of globalisation were interrupted by phases of ‘deglobalisation’, for instance, between 1914 and 1950. Globalisation is not governed by an iron law of linear progress. Today, the disputed category of ‘globalisation’ commonly subsumes a set of complex entangled processes involving at least six dimensions: geographical, economic, political, technological, cultural and ecological. The geographical expansion and ever greater density of international trade, together with the global networking of finance markets, the growing power of transnational corporations, and the new international division of labour must be seen in relation to the stream of images flowing from the culture industries as well as the ongoing “revolution” of information and communications technology which have furthered space-time compression. This politico-economic conjuncture has been accompanied since the 1980s by the re-organisation of the geo political world order (‘new world order*). This has allowed a more polycentric world and a “postnational” politics to emerge, in which civil societies and transnational actors are growing in number and in power alongside institutions. Concomitantly, universal demands for human and minority rights and the (lip service paid to the) principle of democracy have drawn unprecedented attention to an array of questions: the transformation of life-styles, the weakening of the welfare state and of the foundations of domestic economies, national identities in the transnational public space, the status of refugees and asylum seekers, and world poverty. Yet, since the events of September 11,2001, the US has given renewed prominence to the question of national powers, even conflating imperial interests with foreign and internal policy, thus
leading to the creation of a ‘new new world order'. Such developments have climaxed throughout the wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq of 2002 and 2003 respectively. Both, these geo-political developments and the persisting universal demands, have been felt in academic fields, especially in the social sciences. In the last two decades, the emphasis in mainstream social sciences has dramatically shifted: from the languages and lifeworlds of the disenfranchised, subaltern consciousness, and “postorientalism”, new topics and objects of inquiry have emerged underscoring the agency of the social actors of “postcoloniality” and “multiple” or “alternative modernities”. Not only have the socalled “Other” cultures ceased to be confined to other parts of the world but, with the overcoming of spatial and temporal distances inherent in technological globalisation, human diversity and cultural differences have taken on new significance. Social scientists now put themselves in the same frame of reference as their objects of study. At the same time, the remapping of social science knowledges and their boundaries have occurred, thanks to the political engagement of social groups that for a long time had been merely “observed”, and because of the wider social spread of information and international academic collaboration and competition. The so-called “Others” are now playing a crucial part in setting distant cultures in relation to each other, within a framework that is more critical and heuristic. The academic geopolitics of the relations between “East” and “West” have consequently been radically redrawn; and there is reason to think they will continue to be so in the years to come. In sum, the new configuration taking place in the field of social sciences has been accompanied by a change in the structure of research and academic institutions in the West, with increasing internationalisation and inclusion of “Third World” scholars. The
accrued presence and visibility of these “travelling scholars” in Western institutions has helped in reconfiguring the international division of intellectual labour. These scholars have thus constituted the postcolonial scholar’s presence in “the West” as a phenomenon worthy of analysis. In particular, they have raised the question of the impact of their work on research both on the “West” and the “non-West”. Among them, scholars of South Asian descent, both in India and Western academic institutions, have played a crucial role. Some of these issues were also addressed in a recent volume devoted to the intellectual South Asian diaspora and nomadic theories in the new age of globalisation. This volume documented some of the complexities and the variability of the relationships between culture, people, power and knowledge by reflecting on the field of‘South Asian social sciences’ and by providing thirteen essays on ego-history (Assayag & Bénéï 2003). These complexities were addressed “from withirï’by travelling scholars of South Asian origin who provided an account of the transformations occurring in South Asian studies across Europe, India and the United States. Rather than forming a cohesive “school”, their affective and cognitive experiences of the “translation” of and passage between cultures provided divergent, even discordant voices, particularly on how the intervention of scholars of South Asian descent in Western academic institutions has redistributed the playing cards of many intellectual and theoretical debates. These scholars varyingly engaged with issues of (post)colonialism (Akhil Gupta), Orientalism (Vasudha Dalmia), imperialism, localised and globalised capitalism and related interrogations on vernacular and national scholarship (Ramachandra Guha),gender domination and knowledge (Urvashi Butalia, Purnima Mankekar), mobile people and itinerant cultures, as well as area studies and disciplines - especially history and anthropology.
What the present dossier sets to explore is the background to such reconfigurations of knowledge and redistributions of power. In particular, it seeks to document the constitution of bodies of knowledge on South Asia spanning two centuries ( 19th—20th) and to provide a genealogy of the institutionalisation and transfor mations occurring in the long run in South Asian studies across Europe, India and the United States. Three points are specifically addressed: the cognitive construction of South Asia in the American university system; the exploration of relations between national identities and respective traditions of research on South Asia in Great Britain and the United States throughout the 20th century; and a reflection on ‘Subaltern studies’, an Indian series which has now become a major entry point into postmodernist ideas, not only in the field of South Asian social sciences, but also in cultural studies, postcolonial studies and South American studies. First, Jackie Assayag provides evidence of cultural translations between England (its imperial and liberal model of education), India (seen in religious and philosophical terms), and Germany (with its philological and seminar traditions). Anthropologists and Sanskritists played a decisive role in setting up research centres and organising academic institutions. Various phases in institutionalising South Asian studies centres over the 19th and 20th centuries corresponded to successive reorientations in American international and domestic policies: missionary work, Orientalism, geopolitical involvement in WWII, the Cold War, conflicts between disciplines and immigration pressures, and the reappraisal of area studies programmes occurring through the debate opposing rieoconservatives and advocates of multiculturalism. Today, the undergoing academic changes must be situated within the frame if globalisation and trans-national phenomena, particularly since the September 11 events.
“Travelling Scholarsm When W. Norman Brown was president of the Committee on Indie and Iranian Studies of the American Council of Learned Societies, he organized a meeting of this group, on 26 April 1946, with the intention of proposing the establishment of a research centre in the town of Banaras. He published a report on this question in 1951, also mentioning the town of Pune in Maharashtra - the Rockefeller Foundation established its programme there for languages and linguistics at Deccan College in 1954 - but also Delhi, the capital, which was supported by the United States Ambassador.23The model for this research centre was inspired by the American schools in Athens, Rome, Jerusalem and Baghdad, as well as the École Française d’Extrême-Orient, the seat of which was at that time in Hanoi, Indochina. The project for the creation of a centre in India also benefited from the support of Richard Park and Milton Singer, while Henry Hart, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin, elaborated a similar project with the support of the Carnegie Foundation. The idea had in feet been in labour for quite some time. Combining these two projects to form a single entity, subsequently accepted by the American and Indian governments, W. Norman Brown and Henry Hart met with Richard Park and Milton Singer to decide on the name of the centre, which became the American Institute for South Asian Studies. This appellation was, however, rejected by Pakistan because of its national independence and its Muslim identity. The cherished idea of American researchers in the “South Asian area”, confused with the civilization of the subconti nent, came up against the modern principle of reality of nations. What officially became, on 4 October 1961, the American Institute of Indian Studies (AIIS), the charter of which grouped together fourteen educational institutions in the UnitedStates,was first located in Pune, in 1962,and temporarily directed by D.D. Karve,
South Asia, "Made in USA”
former principal of Ferguson College in that town, which was a stronghold of erudite Brahmans. W. Norman Brown provided the supervision of this consortium of universities from Pennsylvania, Milton Singer was vice-president and Henry Hart, secretary. In 1963, the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC), a federation of a dozen research universities, began and developed a programme of “travelling scholars” which authorized anyone with a diploma from these institutions to study at any of them according to research needs, in particular linguistics. It was restructured in 1967 on the basis of a broader recruitment and an “integrated” (that is, multidisciplinary) conception of studies. The system allowed of a comprehensive, regular and large circulation of researchers, both in the American academic space and between the United States and India.24 For its part, the American Institute of Pakistan Studies (AIPS) was only created in 1973 (on the model of the AIIS) because of the political instability in that country. The consortium of the AIPS initially included twenty-two researchers, and the universities of Duke, Columbia and Harvard were the main institutions involved. In 1970, the “Programme of the Urdu Language in Pakistan” was begun at the University of California, Berkeley, with an office in Lahore, in 1974. This establishment encouraged a large number of students to study in situ Urdu literature and all aspects of Muslim culture in the subcontinent.25
Research Policy and Financing The infrastructure thus put in place of course changed the parameters of the study of India in the United States. But the functioning of this system of teaching and research activities would not have been possible without the godsend that one customarily calls “Title VI”, and above all “Public Law 480”.
"Title W' It is difficult today to imagine the emotion caused by the launching of the first satellite into space by the Soviets in 1953. Nevertheless, “Sputnik”was well and truly the cause of the promulgation, in 1958, of a law, the National Defense Education Act (NDEA), which promp ted the orientation of“(cultural] areas”or so-called “critical subjects” (not without mixing them with ulterior political motives). For the study of India, that meant the development of teaching and research in modern languages, anthropology and the other social sciences. Corresponding to the American geopolitical strategy of “containment”, in an Asia where India was the only democratic country, political studies of parties and elections increased significantly. In fact, the administrators of the US Office of Education invited researchers to apply and compete for financing under Title VI of the NDEA in order to establish centers of languages and specialized area studies in the nine major regions of the world identified by that law. During the period of greatest financial support, there were no less than one hundred centers of that type with endowments. Out of these, between 1969 and 1976, sixteen were centers for the study of languages and cultural areas in South Asia under Title VI. This period corresponded to the massive arrival of Indian researchers in the American academic field. The employment market was thus opened to them, but offered temporary (and inferior) posts for the teaching of vernacular languages (less wellpaid than their Euro-American colleagues). In the meanwhile, the university audience also changed, with an increasingly numerous South-Asian American public.26As an aside, and more generally, in the same period of the 1960s, the Ford Foundation endowed the University of Chicago alone the sum of 5.4 million dollars to develop area studies.
South Asia, "Made in USA"
In 1965, the Higher Education Act (HEA) succeeded the NDEA of 1958 and, under the same Tide VI, continued its support of this type of research centers. But with the financial constraint imposed by the constantly increasing war effort in Vietnam, as well as the correlative disillusionment marring studies in international relations, the belle époque of heavy financing for area studies came to an end in 1976. However, in 1980, a legislative amendment re-qualified the centers of the National Resources Centers (NRCs) with a broader mandate and stricter competition criteria for three years. Of all the NRCs, nine were chosen to become centers for South Asian study one of which, moreover, was shared by two universities. In 1996, the chosen institutions were as follows: the University of California at Berkeley (which was financed by the NDEA Title VI of 1959), the universities of Chicago ( idem), Pennsylvania (idem), Cornell (1960), joined by Syracuse (1985), Austin (I960), Washington (HEA Title VI in 1974), Virginia (1976) and Columbia (1977). Even if the foundations have never acknowledged the Cold War character of international and area studies, the military need for intelligence had always been the secret weapon for title VI lobbyists.27
"Public Law 480” As of 1954 the United States provided India, at that time facing famine conditions, with millions of tonnes of wheat and food grains. India paid its bill in rupees, in 1961. That year, under the amendment “Public Law 480” of the eighty-third Congress, millions of rupees were made available to American agencies and institutions for a series of educational projects and research programmes. The Committee for Indian Studies also exerted pressure to receive funding for a programme to develop documentary resources devoted to South Asia destined for twelve libraries - ten university
libraries, the New York Public Library and the Library of Congress in Washington. An office was set up in Delhi to serve as a relay and purchasing centre, the staff of which were linked to regional representatives so as to procure in situ, on the basis of twelve research “items”, publications and other documents in different vernacular languages of the country. These documentary resources were subsequently distributed according to the orientation and specialization of American university libraries. Ultimately, thirty universities participated in this programme, which was later extended to include Nepal and Sri Lanka.28 Because of the non-convertibility of the rupee on the world market, the so-called “PL 480” funds could not be exported. Over the years, interests rose considerably and, as a consequence, India’s contracted debt to the United States also greatly increased. This money could only be employed to conduct scientific or educational activities on Indian soil, and only a fraction of the total amount was spent. Concern grew among Indian officials because, in 1971, the Americans detained one fifth of the nation’s monetary reserves; this fraction increased daily as a result of the interest. A number of observers underscored how hazardous it was for part of the country’s public treasury to be controlled in such a manner by a foreign power. Thus, PL 480 became a major political and psychological problem for India. During the administration of Richard Nixon’s government, the problem was regulated and the debt balanced. The ambassador to India, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, proposed to India that 2.2 billion rupees be written off and only 1.1 billion retained for the use of the American government. The sum grew less over the years. It is thought that by 1998 the entire sum had been spent.
South Asia, “Made in USA”
The Geopolitics of “Area Studies” The financial situation favourable to American research in South Asia was administered in the framework of the new university and research policy declared to be in the “national interest”: that of area
studies. The latter was systematized in the American universities in the course of the 1960s, following the independence of former European colonies. Subsidies thus increased in number and became larger due, in particular, to financing from the Ford Foundation, which ordained this type of research, for example, through the Foreign Area Fellowship Programme in New York. Even if cultural imperialism readily cloaks itself in philanthropy, the sponsorship of research was always conceived of, upstream, as an instrument of social control in the regional situation. “The major problem of our times is to attend to wealth in a manner so as to preserve the harmonious and brotherly links between the rich and the poor”, as the magnate Andrew Carnegie wrote in his essay, The Gospel o f
Wealth, published in 1889.29 The effect of self-fulfilling prophecies never fails to surprise. The objective was politically clear, for both internal and external reasons. After World War II, research programmes in area studies of the Social Science Research Council and the American Council of Learned Societies (SSRC/ACLS), as well as the programmes of the National Science Foundation (NSF), wanted to put an end to the parochialism of the American social sciences and of the “humanities”, compartmentalized by disciplines and focussed on Euro-American realities. This re-orientation also claimed to teach an ideal of citizenship holding for the Cold War period (even though it implicitly renewed the link between liberal education and empire, such as was established in particular by John Stuart Mill for the British Raj). In 1947, Robert Hall of the University of Michigan wrote in his official report:
Area studies are regarded by many as an important and highly desirable step in educating a better citizenry (...) It is possible and, in our time, highly desirable that we have diffused through our population large numbers of citizens who know relatively much of the character, aspirations, resources, and problems of at least one foreign area and its people [... ] These people should have great influence in the moulding of enlightened public opinion concerning our foreign relations. They should do much to break down the barriers of ignorance, mistrust and prejudice, and the provincial orientation of public thinking.30
During the conference on “The Study of World Areas”, in 1948, Charles Wagley, an anthropologist from Columbia University, defined the objective of “area studies” as the development of a “universal social science”. This concept readily assumes tinges of Eurocentrism, or even the idea of “white supremacy”, as is attested by the quote from Joseph C. Furnas with which Robert Redfield, ardent defender of area studies, concludes his well-known book,
The Primitive World and its Transformation, published in 1953: For generations the western world has bitterly blamed the western man for the crime of not understanding the savage. It never seems to occur to anybody that, other things being equal, it could be equally fair to blame the savage for not understanding the western man. Since that would obviously be absurd, the two sets of cultures are unmistakably on different levels, a statement that can be made without specifying higher and lower. Western man has something which neither the preliterate nor any of his ancestors possess or ever did possess, something that imposes the privilege and complicates the duty of intellectual integrity, self-criticism, and generalized disinterestedness. If there is such a thing as the white man’s burden, this is it.31
South Asia, “Made in USA”
The policy of area studies during the Cold War period was coordinated by the central government, which set up a network of different state institutions according to a comprehensive plan intended to identify the “scientific” priorities concerning the socalled Third-World countries. The regional zones were mapped on the basis of arbitrary criteria, ethnic (Kurds), religious (Islamic world), linguistic (the Bantu African area), racial (Melanesia, black Africa), or according to values such as “honour and shame” (Mediterranean world) or sociological categories such as “hierarchy” (South Asia) or “centralized chiefdoms” (Polynesia). This corresponded more to foreign policy preoccupations based on stereotypes than to analytical and critical approaches. Recently, an “Inner Asia” was created, distinct from East Europe and Soviet studies, on the one side, and from the Middle-East and China, on the other; a rather mysterious zone, if one does not recall that this artefact was contemporary with the war in Afghanistan and apprehensions as to a mounting power of the so-called “Islamic Republics”in the regions adjacent to what was then the Soviet Union. Is Afghanistan part of South Asia, the Middle East, or Central Asia? What common features unite Burma and the Philippines as parts of Southeast Asia? Is Eurasia a meaningful unit?32 Since the 1980s, “Islamism” has taken over from the Cold War in the representation and administration of area studies, even though it had initially been instrumentalized by the United States through the assured financing by Saudi Arabia in exchange for the monopoly of political control in the region. The Department of State called upon all government departments, from information services to ambassadors posted abroad, to collect documentary resources, former collaborators, specialists, experts or consultants, to effectuate a “brain drain” corresponding to defined techno-scientific or politically determined requirement. As was seen in the case of India,
the country adjacent to the nerve-centre of Islamism, namely Pakistan, it was owing to the repayment of the food debt contracted in the 1950s that research in this region developed, competencies were accumulated, waves of immigration increased. Let us also underscore how the divisions into so-called zones of“civilization”, implying religious zones, upholds the old Orientalist prejudgement of an essentially Hindu India, a bias which informs the departments of South Asian area studies. Exeunt, therefore, the Muslims from India, although settled in the subcontinent for more than a thousand years; exeunt again the Muslims by and through whom (namely the Mughals between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries) India has become what it is; exeunt, finally, the Muslims who today constitute the second largest Islamic community in the world. In fact, the study of Indian Muslims rather tends to take place in centers devoted to Islamic civilization which are dominated by specialists of the Middle-East and the Arab world, that is, by those who devote their work to one fifth of the world’s Islamic population. Thus, whoever is interested in Indian Muslims must work in the framework of the “South Asian Islam and the Greater Muslim World” programme of what is known as the “triangular consortium”, financed by the Rockefeller foundation, of the universities of Duke (at Durham), North Carolina State (at Raleigh) and North Carolina (at Chapel Hill), none of which is empowered to devote itself to Hindus. As if the multi-secular, anti-Mohammedan Christian and old European fear of the Ottoman, henceforth comprised by the modern terror of fundamental or radical “Islamism”,33 were to continue to foster both the great division between monotheist and polytheist religions and the conception of one India exclusively informed by Hindu civilization, that in which purity was hand in glove with “Aryanness”, the spectre which has haunted the studies of this region since their inception.
South Asia, “Made in USA"
The strength of South Asian studies in the United States can be measured by the continued support they received over a period of several decades, and the multidisciplinary programmes founded bn the concept of area studies. The period 1979-86 shows a highly productive activity, with the organization of “workshops” and colloquia, financed by the South Joint Committee of the Social Science Research Council. For its part, the South Asia Political Economy Project (SAPE) arranged for the holding of fourteen conferences, some of which were co-financed by the Indian Council for Social Science Research (ICSSR) in Delhi and the Ford Foundation, with additional funds from the NSF. The objective was to go beyond a purely economic approach and to view economic processes more closely in their particular contexts. It was a matter of understanding the rationality or irrationality of the social actors
in situ, the social, and more, cultural logics at work in, but above all, outside the economy. For this reason anthropologists were sought, or researchers with anthropological preoccupations, in phase with “the indigenous conceptual systems as basis for the understanding, explication and interpretation of institutes and behaviour in South Asia”, to employ the official wording (quoted by Dirks, ibid.: 38). The conception is strictly speaking Malinowskian:“comprehend the point of view of the native, his relation to life and his vision of the world” (Malinowski 1963:25). Faced with the offensive of the multidisciplinary programmes on a regional basis, which were numerous and costly, the “noble” disciplines became increasingly defensive, particularly in the social sciences, or assumed a sovereign indifference, as in economy. These disciplines were, moreover, careful to recruit researchers working mainly in the Third World, notwithstanding their purely rhetorical and ultimately incantatory appeals to comparatism. Paradoxically, the weakness of South Asian studies even in such disciplines as
sociology, political science or economy was reinforced by the organization of multidisciplinary programmes defined on the basis of a circumscribed study in the fashion of areas studies. It is dear that the offensives against this notion aimed at restoring the empire of disciplines coming under the social sciences (against all so-called “cultural”approaches). Curiously, the appearance of Edward Said’s fierce attack, Orientalism (1978), which did much to hypostasize the latter as the Occidental Satan, undermined from within arguments favourable to studies inscribed in the circles of area studies. And, his “anti-Orientalist” argument proved to be all the more efficacious as it was relayed by the anti-establishment studies of the “minorities”. In the 1980s, a gulf opened between researchers opting for the Orientalist approach and the “theoreticians” of the “humanities” or practitioners of the social sciences, to the point of structuring the declared war between two types of Asianists: the Sanskritists and the “modernists” (Goldman 1998: 507).34 The model set in motion by W. Norman Brown to import European Orientalist researchers (mainly Germans and Dutch) to the United States having been put in abeyance, the imminent disappearance of the Orientalist approach can be foreseen, considering the advanced age of the representatives of the latter, as well as the absence of recruitment for this type of post. Since the 1980s, the concept of area studies has been the subject of comprehensive criticism, within and without the profession, owing to the diffusion of anthropology in the media. First, because of the excessive specialization which it entails, generating exotica; second, because they are primarily concerned with description, as opposed to the “nomothetic” or the theory building and generalizing character of the core social science disciplines; third, because they partitioned the world in regions, territories, cultures, ethnic groups and languages - all essentialized.
South Asia, “Made in USA”
Finally, because, according to the reactionary rhetoric of neo conservative (anti)intellectuals,35it fosters the “revolution”of critical multiculturalism, synonym of“de-occidentalization”. Its relativism led to the abandonment of any idea of reference to the cultural standard defining “Americanness”, by which the Euro-American type is understood. Multiculturalist teaching, to which the relativist model of the anthropology of cultural areas contributes, is perceived as a re-appraisal of the historical order established by means of“antihegemonic accounts”, of “counter myths and counter narrations”, but also through the celebration of “dominated cultures”, “subalterns” and of the “voiceless” to fight against the “regime of truth” at the service of the “particular interests”, namely of mainstream America.36 Conversely, it is into this current that the “communitarianist” partisans of the politics of identity and self esteem readily cast anthropology, insofar as it professes to confine culture and people in the “iron cage” of an anachronistic locality.37 Even among minorities or academics and intellectuals who think of themselves as in diaspora, the supporters of a withdrawal of identity to a single ethnic group, the “communitarianists”, opposed the defenders of “hybridity” (Bhabha 1994) and of “creolization” (Hannerz 1992) in a henceforth “transnational” (Hannerz 1996) or “globalized” and “post-national” (Appadurai 1996) world.38 The idea that all cultures and all rootings are intrinsically good and worthy of respect is still held to forbid the thought of social linkage and even endanger the future of America.39 This is a conceptual undermining which has been fabricated since the 1980s by academics speaking in the name of victims belonging to the minorities (Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, women, lesbians, gays, etc.) and which reinforces the compensatory policy of affirmative action which claims to mitigate the handicap even in the universities. A work of moral corruption of the American youth, the instigator, if
not the conspirator of which is the foreign body of French intellectuals, who can do nothing about it: “It is Derrida’s fault, it is Foucault’s fault”, according to the moral crusade set in motion by the neo-conservatives nearly two decades ago;40 the partisans of the status quo ante are customarily fond of sacrificing scapegoats to the ideology of conspiracy.41 One must all the same recognize that, as far as compulsory education is concerned, few things have changed in the United States, except that the under-representation of minorities in doctorates awarded has worsened since the 1970s.42 And, after the bright interval of the period of area studies, academic prestige has returned to the noble standard disciplines; it is better to be an anthropologist in a department of anthropology than in a centre of area studies, and the same holds for history or sociology.
Globalizing Social Science and the Academe Such a supposed Balkanization and far-fetched reappraisal of consensual national identity is confused with the contesting of the “canon”, that is, the corpus of works hallowed by tradition, as well as with the ideal of meritocracy attributed to the founding fathers (which, however, never existed in the United States!). But this *
national consensus appears to be all the more obsolete in that the present world is “delocalized” and is in the grip of multiple, varied and contradictory “global processes”. One must, therefore, adapt: from the financing strategies of the SSRC/ACCS in the 1970s, to questions raised by the globalization of flows, exchanges and communication, and to the emphasis placed on the study of world processes (Kearney 1995; Assayag 1998b). However, one should be wary of thinking that this re-orientation is due only to politicians, in particular from the Department of State. It was abundantly fostered by academic criticism of area studies and multiculturalism,
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including of course the advocates of universal disciplinary knowledge. It was so also by critics of “Orientalism”, supported by teachers and researchers who favoured the interdisciplinary knowledge of “transnational” approaches which were powerfully relayed by communitarianist students and lobbies. Since 1992, globalization has again entered the “area studies” and the Weltsanschauungumade in the USA”thus seems to gradually shift towards a focus on seven or eight major “civilizational areas” dear to Samuel P. Huntington (1996).The Harvard professor, widely heeded, forecasts that these areas will clash increasingly along the lines separating them during a period, which one is fond of referring to across the Atlantic, as an era of“globalization”. A number of signs indicate that American political “science” is presently being re shaped in these terms. On the one hand, at the beginning of the 1990s, a large part of the budget for university research moved from the Department of State to the Department of Defense, which gave rise to virulent controversies among American researchers. On the other hand, beginning 1995, the SSRC/ACLS and the NSF promoted “field study” in a single place, but (contrary to “area studies”) this applies “to processes, tendencies and phenomena which transcend any given area”. This re-orientation aims at discouraging a concep tual “globalization” which “floats in history and space”, to use expressions from a report by Ken Prewitt, the director of the SSRC (quoted by Lederman 1998:432-433); particular manifestations of globalization are always mediated and shaped by local histories, structures and dynamics. But one point to note is that Prewitt’s positivistic vision was essentially rejected with the sudden appointment of the sociologist Craig Calhoun to replace him in 1999. Even if Calhoun shares an interest in global comparison with Prewitt, he is a critical theorist closely identified with Habermas studies in the US, as well as an array of social theory linked to social
movements, violence, ethno-religious conflict, and the like. So the turn-around at SSC in 1990-2000 provides a useful reminder that a critical social science/social theory/area studies community remains very strong in the US, despite the fireworks being made by the neoconservatives. At the end of the millennium, the main task for “soft” social scientists, especially historians and anthropologists, was supposed to be twofold.43 Firstly, to build a new kind of knowledge: “global in reach and local in touch”, according to the partisans of “contextsensitive social sciences” for whom globalization could swamp area studies but in an emerging formation of global social science that includes a cultural studies agenda, and all the multi-cultural voices of race, class, gender, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orien tation, and such. It seems to be the framework within which the Ford foundation and SSRC propose to reconfigure area studies. Secondly, to internationalize collaborations within area studies in order to break it out of its old formation within the national territo riality of the US academy, in recognition of the increasing trend of internationalization within the scholarly community (Abraham and Kassimir 1997). Area studies institutions in the US began with the official intention of furthering US power in each world area. Today, it has moved toward the expansion of world academic networks with the arrival in the US of scholars from every part of the world who now form the cutting edge of area studies. In the meantime, many American scholars travel, live, and study abroad, themselves experiencing what it feels to be at home in the diaspora. Unfortunately, the millennium was not the End of history... After the destruction of the Twin Towers and the crusade for the “Axis of Good” and against “Axis of Evil”, the big policy issues have been defined by intellectual neoconservatives (who are not linked even by moderate republicans, let alone democrats or independents)
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on cultural matters and area studies. So the philanthropic ideas of both “open [ing] the social sciences” (Wallerstein 1996) to the whole world and Western and non-Western scholars now respectively living at home in the interconnected diaspora, pertain to a brave academic utopia. One even suspects that such an institutional dream might become the new disguise of western triumphalism or a component of, and support to US hegemony - a new cunning of history? After 9/11, intensive intellectual debates were launched about the performance of intelligence agencies, the crisis of information and knowledge, but also the issue of expertise regarding area studies. The jingoistic neo-conservatives were very angry against the “pro-Arab and pro-Muslim blindness” of the Islamologists for their incapability to predict the crisis (with the exception of Bernard Lewis). For instance, Martin Kramer, from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (a pro-Israelite lobby), demanded that the Congress end the funding of Title VI because of “the failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America” (2001) whereas Daniel Pipes denounced the “extremists on Campus” in the New York
Post (06/25/02); and both have the ear of some powerful people (like vice-president Cheney). So then the 9/11 saw the triumph of “anti orientalists” (including the anti-anti-orientalist Edward Said) and the defeat of defenders of the “democratic approaches” to non western societies and cultures, i.e. those scholars who, during the Clinton era, contributed to huge research-programmes about “globalization”,
“secularization”, and “human rights”. These programmes were funded by the optimistic US administration in order to accompany and to understand the transition of the new world order to “democracy”, “civil society”, “public space”, “secularity”, within Muslim countries and authoritarian political regimes following the fall of the USSR and the collapse of Eastern Europe.
Today, indeed, the political agenda has changed. For the Capitol, the State Department and the Pentagon: “Islam is the issue”, as was communism during the Cold War. The main dramatic problem is now to secure the national home territory by containing “radical Islamism” in America and everywhere else. Actually, everything is different, but little is changed. In 2002, the Congress decided to increase funding for regional studies and languages, under Tide VI, which was yet violently under attack after September 11. The aim is to know much better all the US’s enemies and every “rogue state” where “terrorists”are living and propagating the hatred of America. All in all, there has been a strong continuity of the US institutional politics over four decades. Area studies were very alive and considered useful during the Cold War period on behalf of “dissuasion-containment-balance (of powers)”, even if the research agendas have expanded further. In the “age of globalization”, the area studies are surviving well thanks to the new slogan: “prevention-containment-unilateralism”. Today as yesterday, the American “superpower” seeks a geopolitics better informed about the New Brave New World in gestation. Although the US foreign policy focuses more on the Afghanistan, Iraq and Israel I Palestine conflicts than on the issue of Kashmir, South Asia is also a definitively sensitive zone in the future to come, for politicians as well as for social scientists. It is the most highly populated region as the world approaches 2020.
NOTES 1One can read the reflections of Pierre Bourdieu (1990) on what he terms the effects of “allodoxia”. 2This idea obviously draws its inspiration from the brilliant work of Karl Polanyi (1983), published in 1944.
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3 For a comparison with the construction of the “object” India in France, see Jackie Assayag (1998a). 4 One may want to remember the words of President Clinton during his inaugural speech, on 20 January 1993:
. .each generation of Americans
must tell itself that it is American". 5“Multiculturalism”in the US is less a unified ideology than a social reality; the ordinary fare of cultures which separate groups whose political condition in the social or ethnic “community” rests on racially different experiences; on the genesis of American pluralism, see Olivier Zunz ( 1987). 6 The acronym NRI is ironically interpreted as “Not Real Indians” by those remaining in South Asia! 7 For a deconstruction of the “PC” polemic, including its translation in France, one can read the articles by Christopher Newfield (1993), Éric Fassin (1993,1994) and by Denis Lacorne (1994). 8 One obviously thinks of the work of Samuel P. Huntington (1996). Cf. also the politico-religious sociological article by Ronald F. Inglehart (1999). 9 For a general presentation, one can refer to the article by Jackie Assayag (1998b). As the theorist of regulation Robert Boyer (1997) points out, one is witnessing less a “globalization” as a “triadization” (North America, Europe, South-East Asia) on the basis of “entangled configurations” and “glocalizations”, according to recent jargon. 10 This genealogy of research on the area of South Asia would not have been possible without the enormous documentary work done by Maureen L.P. Patterson (1998) from which I have drawn a large am ount of information. 11 Thanks to technical innovations for the conservation of ice taken from the lakes of Massachusetts, Frédéric Tudor, a young entrepreneur from Boston, traded from South America to South Asia. In 1833, a cargo of one hundred tonnes of ice arrived in Calcutta, the supply of which was provided throughout the year, beginning in 1840; it was then the turn of Bombay and Madras. His trade was, moreover, officially encouraged by the government of the Indian Empire, which entirely eliminated import duties to be paid on his precious merchandise. Subsequently, his establishments multiplied in the large ports of the region: in 1850, he had warehouses in Rangoon, Galle and Singapore, as well as Hong Kong, Manila, Batavia and
Sydney (Bernard Kapp,‘Frédéric Tudor, le roi de la glace’, Le Monde, 26 April 2000: vi). 12 On socio-religious reform movements in India in the nineteenth century, one can refer to the summary by Kenneth W. Jones (1989); regarding what is known as the “Bengali Renaissance”, one can read David Knopf (1969). 13 Concerning these questions, one can refer to the presentation by Anthony J. Patel in his work on Gandhi (1997). MThis is confirmed, for the case of South Asian studies, by the analysis of Laurence Veysey (1965) concerning the emergence of the American university. Research conceived on the German model took place alongside “liberal” culture, imitated from England. It was as much a matter of educating gentlemen as scholars. 15Area Studies has been institutionalized in US universities in two distinct types of units: Area Studies Departments, and Area Studies Centers, Institutes, or Programmes. Institutionally, the former have often shrunk and become increasingly marginalized and embattled; in contrast, the latter have been far more successful because of being structured and understood as venues for cross-disciplinary discussions, debates, programs and projects (Szanton, forthcoming). 16 This institutional information is drawn from the article by Maureen L. P. Patterson (1987). 17 For a presentation of both the man and his work, one can read the introduction in Rosane Rocher (Brown 1978). 18 This text from W. Norman Brown, as well as the next, and a considerable amount of the information which follows, are taken from the article by Nicholas B. Dirks (2002). 19 This institutional research model was imported to France by a Harvard graduate, born in Austria, Clemens Heller, who turned to the Ford Foundation in 1949, and by Fernand Braudel who, in 1955, made a study trip (financed by the same foundation) to most of the centres of area studies at American universities (Mazon 1988:119-125). In this context, Louis Dumont founded, with the support of the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme (financed to one third by the Ford Foundation), after his appointment as Directeur d’étude at the Vie section de l’École Pratique des Hautes Études (EPHE), in 1955, a centre which became the Centre
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d’Études de l’Inde et de l’Asie du Sud (CEIAS), in 1967 - ‘a research unit associated with the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRSEHESS)’. One should also take note of the important role played by the American Daniel Thorner, who was named Directeur d’étude at the Vie section, in June 1960. During his stay in Bombay, where he worked with the father o f Indian economic planning, P.C. Mahalanobis, for the Indian Statistical Institute of Calcutta, Daniel Thorner met the economist Charles B ettelheim . After 1952, the beginning o f the cam paign o f Senator M cCarran (under the aegis o f McCarthy), in which the A m erican universities were made responsible for the Communist victory in China (!), prevented his return to the United States (communication from Alice Thorner, 15 May 2000). 20 According to Nick B. Dirks (ibid.), the percentage of anthropologists among all disciplines in Asian studies was 9.6 percent in 1991; that is, according to area studies, 5 percent for China, 6.5 percent for North and East Asia, 14 percent for India, 25 per cent for South-East Asia. 21 While in South-East Asia the dominant discipline is history, in South Asia, religion and philosophy are more dominant than anywhere else, followed by history, political science and anthropology. Whereas SouthEast Asia is a favoured area of American anthropologists (always efficient in the vernacular languages) and historians, the giant India in South Asia tends to remain a philosophical, religious, Sanskritic and immobile land, almost eternal. For a consideration of South Asia area studies, cf. Charles Hirschman, Charles Keyes and Karl Hutterer, eds. 1992, in particular the article by Benedict Anderson (in ibid,: 25-40). Let us also note the new tendency which consists in combining South Asia and South-East Asia in a single centre, as at the universities of Michigan, Berkeley and Austin. 22 David Price examined instances in which American social scientists, in particular anthropologists, worked for military and intelligence agencies (2000a, 2000b, 2002). 23 In fact, language centres were set up in several towns in the subcontinent, at Lahore, Pune, Mysore, Madurai, Calcutta, etc. 24 A number o f American citizens had, of course, travelled to India since independence to conduct surveys, research, studies and all types of work under the auspices o f several dozen programmes and institutions, in particular the well-known Fulbright programme. But from 1947 to 1960
only 534 researchers, from students to professors, had benefited therefrom (Patterson 1998:28-29). 25 The American Institute for Bangladesh Studies (AIBS) was created in 1989, and in 1995 the American Institute for Sri Lanka Studies (AISLS), both under the aegis of the Council of American Overseas Research Centres (CAORC), a body which combines the American government and private foundations with the goal of “speaking with one voice” for the financing of research and documentation in foreign countries. 26 On this subject one can refer to Rosane Rocher (1994) and Véronique Bénéï ( infra , in this volume); cf. also the bibliography of the former on “South Asian American Studies” (1995). 27 When Ronald Reagan tried to kill the Department of Education, Caspar Weinberger, Secretary of Defense, protected international and area studies. 28 Responding to our question:“According to which criteria are the ordered books chosen?”, the person responsible for the South Asian area o f the library at the University of Chicago said: “We buy all of them!". 291 take this quote from the work by Brigitte Mazon (1988: 35), who provides details of the financing of French research by A m erican foundations between 1920 and 1960. 30 This report is entitled Area Studies. With Special Reference to their
Implications fo r Research in the Social Sciences (New York, Committee on World Area Research Program, Social Science Research Council, 1948). One can also refer to the quotes and the discussion of this report by Vincente Rafael (1994) and Dipesh Chakrabarty (1998). 31 The quote is taken from the book by Joseph C. Furnas, The Anatomy o f
Paradise, New York, William Sloan Associates, 1953. 32 Regarding these conventional and arbitrary divisions and boundaries, cf. Akhil Gupta and James Ferguson (1997: 7-11) and David L. Szanton
(2002). 33 This text, for the most, was written before the 9/11 events. 34 Thus, at the University of Pennsylvania, a Festschrift to the Orientalist Wilhelm Halbfass, directed by Eli Franco and Karin Preisendanz (1997) responded explicitly to a collective volume coordinated by Carol A. Breckendrige and Peter van der Veer (1993) which quite favourably
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evaluated the impact of the works of Edward Said in the field of South Asian studies. A report on area studies, commissioned at the University of Pennsylvania by the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) in the late 1980s, concluded that the notion of area studies had become obsolescent in view of a world in the process of “transnationalization”. 35 The appellation was coined by Peter Steinfels (1979); cf. François Weil (1992), Éric Fassin (1994) and Denis Lacorne (1997: chap. 7). On the success met by these works, see Allan Bloom ( 1987), Roger Kimball ( 1990), Dinesh D’Souza ( 1991 ), an Indian who arrived in the United States in 1978 and is author of a hagiography of a celebrated fundamentalist evangelist, Jerry Falwell, who entered as adviser to the White House. 36 Y k reproduce a sample of the multicultural glossary, a potpourri which is moreover essentially Western in its sources o f inspiration: Henri Lefebvre, Jean-François Lyotard, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, etc. 37 The argument was widely received, under the designation “allochrony”, following the publication of the book by Johannes Fabian (1983). 38 For a critical approach of these globalisms, see Anna Tsing (2000). 39 This is the topic of the work by the historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (1991), which had an enormous impact in the United States. 40 It was the Secretary of Education and former director of the National Endowment for the Humanities, William Bennett, ideological spearhead o f the conservative revolution of Ronald Reagan, who launched the offensive; cf. Éric Fassin (1993,1994). 41 On the tradition of “paranoid style” and the hidden-hand mentality in the US, one can read Daniel Pipes’ well-known book (1997). 42 The first observation is clearly established by Gerald Graff (1993); the second is supported by statistical data collected by Éric Fassin (1993, 1994). 43 For an interesting description and reflection on the recent transfor mations of the nature of “area studies” in the age of globalization see David Ludden, < http://www.sas.upenn.edu/-dluden/areastl.htm> and Chttp:/
I w w w .sas.upenn.edu/-dluden/GlobalizationAndAreaStudies.htm > (2001). I thank Bob Hefner for his comments and remarks on area studies in the 2000s.
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Nations, Diaspora and Area Studies South Asia, from Great Britain to the United States
I I I
N A T I O N S , D I A S P O R A AND AREA STUDIES S OUTH ASI A, FROM GREAT B R I T A I N TO THE UNI TE D S T AT E S
Those o f us in India who have come under the delusion that m ere political freedom will m ake us free have accepted their lessons from the West as the gospel truth and lost their faith in Humanity. Rabindranath Tagore, Nationalism in India (1916).
In 1925, A.K. Shah, a young well-to-do Indian from Bombay disembarked at Southampton, England. His voyage of several months led him to London, where he was to study Persian and Sanskrit. In 1960, his youngest son, Mohan, in his turn set off to study, in the United States. But, in contradistinction to his father, and like many others from his generation, he would setde in the host country. In 1987, his youngest child, Mina, enrolled in a course in South Asian civilization offered by the Department of South Asian Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. This department is not the only one of its kind; it is one of the numerous centres existing in North American universities devoted to area studies pertaining to the entire world, the first of which was created in the 1940s.
The manner in which area studies were established in the first half of the twentieth century in the New World may appear surprising on many counts. Not only did Germany, of all European countries, play a prominent role at the turn of the last century in the development of the model for university studies in the United States (Hutchins 1953). What is more, German philologists, in particular Sanskritists, were at the origin of the development of Oriental studies and of what would become area studies on South Asia. How is one to explain the absence of Great Britain in this scientific dispensation, the long-standing imperial position of which made it a potential partner in the “non-Occidental” adventure of knowledge? Although borrowings, transfers and accommodations characterize not only the formation of nation-states, but also that of the “scientific traditions” which accompany them, the factor of national adherence assumes an importance in the latter which is seldom evaluated. This essay wishes to contribute to the study of the relationships between “research tradition” and the construction of a national citizenship in the course of the twentieth century. It focuses on one area study, South Asia, and the related “national traditions”of British and American area studies.1The subject lends itself all the better as it was in relation to the defence and protection of the nation that these studies came to existence; the observation and understanding of other peoples were thought to best ensure a forewarning of the latter. Thus, at the height of its imperialist ascent in the world, the United States was the first to create these university departments in an attempt to combat diverse “threats” (Assayag, this volume). According to quite another logic, it was also a surge in national consciousness which favoured the lasting formation of this type of studies in Great Britain, although it never attained to a comparable importance there.
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The history of the A.K. Shah family, on the other hand, prompts one to consider the very evolution of research subjects, not only in terms of content, but also as regards their definition. Academics from the Indian subcontinent are now in the position of observers in Western institutions. Concomitantly, subsequent to a significant current of immigration from the same subcontinent to the United States, arose a demand related to the teaching of the knowledge previously constituted on South Asia. Such a demand was couched in the multiculturalist terms of American society. Furthermore, the renewed study of this body of knowledge is sometimes attuned to the Hindu nationalist movement2 among certain members of the Indian diaspora. A further reason, therefore, to seek to understand the relationship between research traditions and nationalisms.
The British Nation and Orientalist Studies Although chairs for Arabic have existed since the seventeenth century at Oxford and Cambridge, and although the“Second British Empire” was in the process of formation as of the latter half of the eighteenth century (Bayly 1989), it was only at the beginning of the nineteenth century that the East India Company saw the need to train colonial agents. It was a question, as the American historian Bernard Cohn frequendy noted (1987,1996), and others after him (Dirks, Breckenridge and Van der Veer, etc.), of helping officers acquire the cognitive tools, instruments and techniques required to administer the conquered territories. To this purpose, specific institutions were created.3 Future British officers were inculcated with a general Western culture in which literature and the sciences were predominate and to which were added courses in “the history, languages, habits and customs of the people of India” (quoted by Philips 1967b: 9). The study of Indian languages included both the classical (Persian and Sanskrit) and vernacular languages. To this
was added the study of (the rudiments of) law,uof the precepts of the Christian faith” and of the “British [sic] Constitution and law” (Trautmann 1997:113-117).4 Most of these institutions did not survive the direct transfer of possessions from the trading company to the British crown in 1858. One of the main places for the training of officers for the Indian Civil Service, towards the end of the nineteenth century, was the Indian Institute at Oxford University, founded in 1883. But it was only a few decades later, when the Empire extended to the furthermost bounds of the globe, that the principles of Marquis Wellesley, Governor-General of India from 1796 to 1804, concerning the provision of training to British officers, once again attracted government attention.5Following many reverses in connection with World War I, the School of Oriental Studies (SOS) was created in London, in 1917 (Philips 1967b).6 Its mission was to provide an education in the principal languages of the Near East, India, Malaysia and Burma, China and Japan, as well as west and east Africa. The emphasis was to be placed on a practical education intended for those about to depart overseas as representatives of government, trade or religious missions. When, thirty years later, the School of Oriental Studies became the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), its main clients were still the Foreign and Colonial Offices, the officers of which were sent there to study languages (classical and vernacular) and history. On the same benches, colleagues from the Colonial Service and the Indian Civil Service also learned law. The organization of studies of non-Western societies in Britain is curious in several respects. In the first place, the modalities and content of university education remained, generally speaking, remarkably little affected by the growth of the British Empire in Asia and Africa until the 1930s. The SOS was one of the first university institutions to give attention to its potential role within
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the Empire. Nevertheless, from its creation, the project failed to gain the political support of all members of the British government and it had to function with a budget lower than that originally proposed; these difficult beginnings presaged a perilous financial situation which continued beyond the first decades of its existence.7Although the institution benefited from a regained interest as of the 1960s, its history remains until today punctuated with pecuniary difficulties. In the second place, notwithstanding these diverse misfortunes, the SOS developed quite rapidly the principle of “regional” departments; from the 1930s, with the aid of the Rockefeller Foundation, teaching and research were re-organized in eight departments.8 Six were devoted to the study of languages and cultures, one to the “history of Oriental law” and one to phonetics and linguistics. The six “regional” departments covered, respectively, ancient India and Iran, modern India and Ceylon, South East Asia and the Indonesian Archipelago, the Far East, the Near East and Africa. However, as we shall see, these regional departments did not plan their courses according to area studies. In the third place, it was at the very time when the British Empire began to break up that interest waned both politically and institutionally in a general plan of area studies in Britain. On a political level, the“significant national role”envisaged by its founders for the institution (were a new world conflict to break out after the Great War) did not suffice to convince the ruling authorities to grant the institution appropriate operating funds. A similar situation was to prevail in the years preceding World War II. In 1937-1938, the best officials - notably in the War Office - could hardly be convinced, by repeated warnings by those responsible at the SOS, nor by the attempts of the new director, Ralph Tbrner. The latter wanted to undertake thorough changes in anticipation of the demand for competent agents should Great Britain become involved in a war in
Asia and Africa. He also considered that great changes in those continents were probable in the post-war period, and that the “West” would still play a leading role in them. He expressed himself on this point in terms of a nationalist, neo- and post-colonial rhetoric: Nationalism is experiencing a significant increase in all the eastern and African countries, and the peoples of these coun tries expect great economic, industrial, commercial and agri cultural development. They will take aid from the West for this, but not in the outmoded spirit of submission to authority” (quoted by Philips 1976b: 38).
This rhetoric is in keeping with that adopted by the government in London at the close ofWorld War II; more than authoritarian control, it was the free acceptance of economic dependence which would make it possible to preserve, if not the earlier form, at least the benefits of the spirit of the Commonwealth. In Ralph Turner’s view, Britain should therefore prepare itself for an active role in the new geopolitical and economic balance, and it was the mission of the British Orientalist institution to help it to do so. The official proposals presented by the SOS to the Foreign Office and the War Office did not bear results until October 1947, once Great Britain had entered the war against Japan, shortly after the invasion of Malaysia and Singapore.9 The efforts o f the institution were eventually to be felt several years later; the ruling authorities of the country concluded that it was necessary to provide British universities with centres for Oriental and African studies. In 1945, the report of the commission presided over by the minister for India and Burma, Lord Scarbrough, proposed the creation of proper university departments on the model of American area studies. Priority was given to the study of not only languages, but also the “corresponding cultures”, by means of history, law and
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anthropology. However, only the SOS benefited from the necessary funds; in keeping with the recommendations of the Scarbrough Report, it proposed the enlargement of the six departments which already existed. Strangely enough, considering the contacts which had been made since that period with American financing institutions, the SOAS did not pursue the development of a model of area studies, but worked towards a strengthening of the disciplines, in particular of the history department. Of course, staff of the “regional” departments increased, mainly those of India, Pakistan, Ceylon, the Near East and Far East. But the strengthening of the disciplines continued until the 1950s, with two key moments, in 1947 and 1949, respectively; against the will of numerous teachers who were anxious as to the possible consequences of the process of regional subdivision, law and anthropology - until then attached to other departments - were constituted in an autonomous manner (the latter by the ethnologist of the Himalayas, Christoph von FtirerHaimendorf). The creation of the departments according to discipline facilitated both their acceptance in the British university milieu and tbe maintenance of high academic demands. And once these decisions were taken, it became impossible, “even if it were desirable”, to accept area studies as a conceptual framework in which to define all the activities of the SOAS. During the 1950s, the institution was therefore devoted to the consolidation of the departments of the humanities, law and anthropology. Needless to say this development was contrary to what took place during the same period (1945-1954) in the United States; the SOAS formed new departments according to disciplines at the time the first American area study departments were founded.
Almost a decade later, British institutions in turn set about developing such studies according to the model elaborated in the United States, with which university exchanges had already been practised for thirty years. In 1960, a new report presented by the Hayter Committee recommended the development of Asian Studies (mainly other than linguistics) and social sciences, such as economics, political science, sociology and geography (Philips 1967a). The objective was to establish adequate infrastructure in the selected universities. The SOAS had already begun to train experts on Asia in various disciplines of the social sciences, thanks to funding from the Ford, Leverhulme, Nuffield and Rockefeller Foundations. In addition, study centres coupled with university departments were created. Spread throughout Great Britain, they were geographically specialized: Japan went to Sheffield, China to Leeds, South East Asia to Hull, the Near and Middle East to Durham and Oxford and, in 1964, South Asia to Cambridge. The Centre of South Asian Studies at Cambridge accommodated studies on India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Himalayan kingdoms and Burma. At that time, all the newly established programmes offered courses likely to attract a large public among the Bachelor of Arts students. Thus, at the SOAS, programmes linking the learning of a language to the study of anthropology or history were offered beside courses in classical linguistics (Arabic, Chinese, etc.); the only other comparable school at that time in Great Britain was the School of African and Asian Studies at Sussex University. In 1966, the SOAS introduced four area centres corresponding to the main regions of Asia. Their purpose was to provide training in research and to organize comparative studies on national and international levels. Less than fifteen years later, the Centre of South Asian Studies at Cambridge was to also developits expertise on other regions of Asia,
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such as Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, the Philippines and Hong Kong. However, the fact remains that if Cambridge University still exerts an intellectual influence on studies of South Asia in the United Kingdom,10 with a centre possessing considerable budgetary and documentary resources,11it does so thanks to the position of those responsible for its departments in the disciplines, notably history. A comparable institutional situation is to be found at Oxford University, despite a long-standing tradition in Orientalist studies, a monumental documentary fund and a background in studies in Oriental languages and religions provided by the Oriental Institute. On the one hand, the Centre for Indian Studies of St Antony’s College appeared only in 1983, with the financial aid of the Indian government; on the other hand, the numerous courses provided on South Asia are not always grouped in a single institution and continue to be provided on the basis of the large disciplines, that is, by the departments of history and anthropology in coordination with Queen Elizabeth House and the Inter-Faculty Committee for South Asian Studies. The model of studies founded on cultural areas, which was developed in the United States in the course of its hegemonic expansion in the world, was thus “re-imported” and accommodated in the British nation12with a very relative fortune. While transfers continued to take place between the United States and Britain during the next decades, area studies remained a poor cousin of the humanities and social sciences. A recent report indicates their minimal financing, notwithstanding announced priorities, and a “lack of substantial funding” for the study of “entire regions of the world”. The principal sponsor for research, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), is in addition accused of favouring a social
science almost exclusively focussed on the United Kingdom and Europe (Werbner 1999).
Empires, Nations and Migrations While nationalist concerns are undeniably a determining factor in the constitution of area studies, both in the US and in the UK, it should be remembered that Great Britain was at the time not only a nation but also an empire. It is, in fact, in terms of this dialectic that the development of Oriental studies must be understood. The report of the senate of London University, presented in 1927, which concluded on the necessity to “continue the school [the SOS] on healthy financial foundations”, elsewhere states that it is a question “of not only a university but an imperial concern” (Philips 1967b: 21). It was to a large extent to attract British students to nonOccidental studies that area studies in Great Britain were born, whilst those who had until then most “benefited” [sic] from Oriental studies were the (former) citizens of the Empire. The British Empire had established educational institutions in its overseas territories, often with the priority to provide for the training of its own officers, but also, at different periods and in some colonies, to train a local élite “in the Western fashion”. The latter were to serve as intermediaries and communicate with the rest of the local population. Thus, the first Indian universities were partially modelled on their British counterparts (Basu 1974,1982; Kumar 1991,1996; Viswanathan 1989). They also developed their own specificity (Rudolph and Rudolph 1972; Hasan 1998) by dint of constant negotiation and diverse adjustments (Crook 1996). Even today, the British colonial heritage is not an empty word; examinations at numerous English-medium élite schools in India are still governed by the Cambridge Board of Exams. India is thus the only country in Asia in which an uninterrupted educational
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tradition has existed for one and a half centuries. It is this heritage which, since the nineteenth century, has favoured the immigration of “imperial subjects” belonging to the upper classes of the British
Raj to the fold of the “British mother”, in order to pursue a professional and/or humanist education. From its inception, the School of Oriental Studies received students from throughout the world, thus inaugurating a broader tradition of “academic hospitality” and making Great Britain the precursor of the United States. From 1927-1928, it counted 115 students from overseas and in 1936-1937,174, representing almost 40 percent of the total of428 students enrolled in the school. During this period, students in Indo-Aryan [sic], Indian history, Indian law, Arabic and Persian, were almost all from the Indian Empire [sic] and from Ceylon. This fact gave rise to the tart comment from one of the directors:“It was ironic that it would be students from overseas rather than from Great Britain who, during numerous years and until quite recently, most benefited from the existence of the School” (Philips 1976b: 25). The tension between this tradition of “academic hospitality” which, although it underwent successive reversals, nevertheless has been maintained until today,13 and the necessity felt by some to prepare Britain to occupy a predominant geopolitical position subsequent to the transfer of powers from the British Empire to the Commonwealth, led the directors of the SOAS to adapt the model of area studies to the institution. But, in order for the British nation to be able to contribute “to the development of countries in the process of accession to independence”, it had not only to be in a position to educate the élite of those countries, but also to avail of competent
British personnel. As seen above, this was the constant concern of the directors of the SOAS, in spite of sometimes very parsimonious official financial support. Until the early 1960s, the directors of the
Orientalist institution successively deplored the low number of “local” candidates. The number of British undergraduate students fell from fifty-five in 1947-1948, to twenty-two in 1956-1957, and in 1960-1961 represented only 9 percent of the 217 students from all countries combined. Faced with the concern to train British national agents, the Ministry of Education and Science and the Ministry of Overseas Development took certain measures in the late 1950s. Aided financially by the Leverhulme Trust and in collaboration with secondary school educational authorities, they organized an awareness programme -in particular among sixth formers- in order to awaken vocations among “British boys and girls of good quality and aptitude”. A few years later, the Hayter Report also expressed a growing interest in the study of modern and contemporary Asian and African societies, in which it saw the means to attract English youth to education pertaining to non-Western countries. The report recommended to this purpose the inclusion of history, law and anthropology as well as the “major social sciences”, that is, economics, politics and sociology. Geography, already a component of the school curriculum, was added as an incentive. The concomitant decline of the British Empire together with the American hegemonic expansion are certainly remarkable, as is the initially converse treatment of the question of area studies by these two powers. Great Britain hesitated to form specialized domains of study of the modern non-Western world at the time that its international geopolitical importance was waning; conversely, the United States developed the university resources of an academic hegemony concomitantly with its geopolitical ascent. It was only later that Britain granted the necessary means to overcome its institutional belatedness.14It should be noted, however,
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that this delay would never really be made good, above all because area studies continue to occupy a position subordinate to studies more directly concerning the British Empire (or, now, the Commonwealth) and are conducted in departments of the disciplines (history, primarily). This movement - as much intellectual and cultural as geopolitical and economic - between Great Britain and the United States also translates a long-standing rivalry to divide up the world. Concerning the Indian subcontinent itself, the hegemony of the former was contested by the latter in the first half of the twentieth century, on the academic and institutional level as well as politically. Academically and institutionally because, for example, area studies were also developed in India according to a hybrid model resulting from successive local adaptations of British and American “traditions”.15 Politically, because although area studies owe their creation in Great Britain to the relationship which the British nation maintained with its Empire, the latter was nevertheless as much determined by its relation to the American geopolitical ascent. Following a movement to strengthen the disciplines in the 1940s and 1950s, area studies were instituted in the 1960s, not only to arm the British nation “against” its dividing Empire, but also to re negotiate its geopolitical position in the world in the face of American expansion. Again, although the British academic heritage favoured a (relative) emigration of the populations of the Indian subcontinent to England during the British Raj and until independence (1947), it was precisely from the 1960s when area studies were instituted in Britain that numerous students from South Asia began to turn towards the United States, and no longer towards Britain. This is as true of candidates for the liberal professions as of high-level scientists. Of course, these general tendencies do not involve a
definitive break with the British tradition of “academic hospitality” with respect to students and intellectuals from the former Empire, as is evidenced by the distinct growth in the number of South Asian students of the “second generation” at Oxford and Cambridge» as well as London (the“golden triangle”), in the last twenty years.16Be that as it may, members of the Indian well-to-do classes today feel much more attracted towards the United States when it comes to pursuit of university education, whether aimed at professional or academic training.
South Asian Studies in the USA: NewAudiences, New Knowledge, Different Teachers In the 1960s and 1970s, emigration to the United States of Indian “professionals” (medicine and engineering) was favoured by the combination of two policies, one in India and the other in the United States (Bhagavan 1994). The first was the promotion of education in science and technology with Indian independence. The second was the opening, during the Cold War, of American borders - better known as the brain drain - to experts in fields of the hard sciences (Rocher 1995) which would enable the Americans to ensure the support of first-rate experts “so as to combat the evils of Communism”.17 Three or four decades later, children from the second generation of this immigration (or those, born in India and later schooled in the United States, forming what is called the “1.5 generation”) are seen attending American universities. Two phenomena converge to give greater visibility to (South) Asian communities in some parts of the United States. On the one hand, there is the emergence of well-to-do classes on American soil from among the descendants of immigrants from South Asia and from the East (Indians and Chinese, Koreans, etc., respectively), whose children are now of the age and have the means to pursue a
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university education. On the other hand, there has been a distinct increase in the attendance at American universities of students who, owing to the development of capitalist economies in Asian countries, have come to pursue higher studies in the United States. In principle, they reside there only for the duration of their studies. The University of California, Berkeley, near San Francisco, illustrates these two phenomena. Because of its location near the Pacific Ocean, it receives large numbers of students from East Asia. In 1998, they represented 40 percent of the total student body and came for the greater part from China, Japan and Korea.18 This percentage has regularly increased over the past twenty years and includes immigrants of the “first generation”, those from the “1.5”generation and from the “second generation”. At Berkeley, as at numerous universities, students of South Asian origin belong largely to the latter category. In South Asian studies, they comprise the largest part of the contingent of students attending courses in languages and civilizations, as well as in history or anthropology. For a large number of them, the choice of these courses expresses a curiosity about the region or the country from which they originate. This interest shown by some of the South Asian students from the second generation assumes the appearance of a“search for one’s roots”.19 However, this is seldom reflected in the pursuance of a course of studies entirely devoted to South Asian studies; the particularity of the North American academic system,20 that is, the principle of “major/minor” specialization, offers the possibility of combining with the main subjects a very different secondary course of study. It enables a student whose “major”, for example, is engineering to pursue a“minor”in civilization or language courses. This is precisely the choice made by a growing number of students belonging to the new generations of South Asian origin; in so doing, they sacrifice neither prestige nor the security conferred by the so-
called “professional” studies. Thus, at the Universities of Texas, Austin, and Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, the first “customers” registered in South Asian languages in the 1990s were for the most part enrolled in such fields as medicine, business, engineering, etc. (Rocher 1995). On the other hand, the attendance of civilization and language courses as a “major”, which is more recent and still limited, indicates a professionalization in social science studies or in “South Asian studies” and testifies to a larger economic basis of communities originating from the Indian subcontinent and settled in the United States;21 it has the effect of reducing parental pressure on the following generations and opening professional perspectives other than the directly lucrative careers - particularly of the liberal professions - such as university professions which are seen as less profitable.22 The increased attendance since 1995 of students from South Asia in programmes of the “South Asian area studies” is notable both at the University of Texas and at the University of Pennsylvania, in particular in language courses (for example, Punjabi, and Gujarati). Courses on Indian civilization also meet with great success among this population; the Indian cultural history course at the University of Pennsylvania registered a record number of enrolments between the spring of 1994 and 2000, with 48 percent of the students being of South Asian origin and 23 percent from other regions of Asia, representing a total of 71 percent “Asian students” (Rocher 1994). What appeared to be, in the early 1980s, a phenomenon confined to a few North American universities, such as Michigan at Ann Arbor, where 80 percent of the students already came from the immigrant milieu, has now become an academic truism in centres of South Asian studies (Dirks 1999). Faced with the demographic pressure of students of whom a majority are South Asian Americans, it has appeared necessary to
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teachers in departments of South Asian studies in the United States to reconsider their courses, which were originally destined for Western students “short of exoticism” (sic). These teachers must now take into consideration “young people who struggle to recover the cultural heritage from which they have been separated by a primary and secondary school curriculum that remains western and Eurocentric” (Rocher 1994:94). The question arises as to how this new type of audience is received in these departments. How do the teachers or educational authorities manage what is evidently more than a “simple” academic interest? What impacts do these students seeking a past, a history and a culture have on the courses, their content, the viewpoints of teachers, and the sociological composition of the teaching profession itself? What are the demands of these students and what responses do they obtain, if any? The situations are too disparate to allow of a single response and the tendencies too recent to be easily analyzable. Nevertheless, in the departments of some American universities, including those most reticent to take these transformations into account, there have existed for several years courses in culture and civilization intended especially for Americans of South Asian origin who are desirous of “discovering their roots”.23 These courses are sometimes provided by Sanskrit teachers, which at the same time puts an additional shine of Orientalist legitimacy on their institutional authority. However, the new courses have hardly called into question the hierarchy between Sanskrit and vernacular languages, inscribed in the very constitution of these departments. In fact, only in the United States are the “classicists of South Asia” directly at the origin of the formation of the model of area studies (Assayag,this volume; Dirks 1999; Goldmann 1998).24 In this manner, they continue to exercise dominance over other disciplines, even in departments of South Asian studies. Given such an institutional model, the vernacular
languages were always considered to be less noble than Sanskrit. It is certainly no coincidence that the first professors of South Asian origin to be employed taught these courses and most of them occupy precarious jobs even today. Ttoo decades ago, university teachers from South Asia - other than economists - began to be recruited in disciplines belonging to the social sciences, on the basis of contracts which could give way to permanent posts. A comparable phenomenon is observable in the case of other minorities from Asia or Africa as regards all disciplines. Thus, at the University of California, Stanford (Palo Alto), between half and two thirds of the teachers (as the students) in East Asian studies are of East Asian origin, and this is the case not only for languages, but also for anthropology, history and political science. If South Asian studies in the 1960s and 1970s were largely Western-centric in Europe as well as in the United States (in the latter they were a very WASP affair in their beginnings), the subsequent transformations have led to the question: “Who can teach South Asia?” (Dirks 1999).It is in the midst of these previously exclusive institutions that the word“autochtonous”has now acquired legitimacy by virtue of its very origin. This legitimization by “localization”, as bemoaned by some university teachers from outside South Asia, has sometimes had the effect of devalorizing all other sources of teaching, particularly in the eyes of students of South Asian origin; some of them demand that courses in the social sciences, and not only languages, relating to South Asia be taught exclusively by teachers of South Asian origin.
South Asia in the USA: From Area Studies to Diasporic Studies The sociological recomposition of the field of South Asian studies in the United States raises several questions. First, does this
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recomposition produce real and lasting effects, whether on the modalities and contents of the language and civilization courses, on the methods and paradigms employed in the different disciplines involved in area studies, or else? In other words, does this redefinition lead to a different way of thinking about and working on South Asia? What is the impact of“subalternist”and “postmodernist” currents? Secondly, it is noteworthy that this sociological recomposition is not isolated; it is to be contextualised within the framework of a broader consideration of minorities at university level. Afortiori, it is to be seen in relation to the multiculturalist context of American society. Without entering into the complex history of multiculturalism in the United States and its multiple tensions, we need to consider its implications at university level, notably in relation to area studies,ethnic studies and, more recendy.diasporic studies. Despite a greater visibility of “South Asian scholars” and the more “ethnic” recomposition of the student body, the teaching content of the disciplines other than linguistics or civilization has scarcely been affected. The effect of the greater presence of these teachers would be almost nil. Some of them even acknowledge their “assimilation”. Others, along with students from South Asia, consider the domination exercised by representatives of an Orientalist and conservative tradition, which refuses to reconsider the modes of production of knowledge related to this “area study”, to remain too oppressive. Yet others, who previously experienced a restrictive Indological tradition in European countries, are surprised at the similarity they encounter among their American colleagues. Let us note in this context that some of these colleagues are economists or political scientists; economics was not affected by postmodernism and political science was the least affected of the American social sciences.25 These academics are quite obviously situated poles apart
from the linguistic turn which produced an effect foremost on literary studies (most often English) and reinforced cultural studies which were initially undergirded by a critique of modern capitalistic society.26 The distinction in American universities between “humanities” and “social sciences”, among which are anthropology and sociology, is important; it makes it possible to establish a parallel between the reaction of area studies departments (at least on South Asia) as they were confronted with the need to reconsider their field in view of recent sociological and epistemological transformations, and the reaction to postmodern theories pervading universities. While the humanities have “watertight” disciplines such as philosophy, they also include institutions where North American writers and French philosophers met (Gallagher 1997:140-141); this is reflected in the literature accorded pre-eminence today by university editors. Humanities departments, traversed by postmodern tendencies in the wake of the intellectual current of New Literary Criticism (ibid.), were also the main seats of the diffusion of these currents (Hollinger 1997: 346). The same departments also introduced, after having borrowed it from cultural anthropology, a “culturalist”perspective in the social sciences in the United States; cultural sciences in fact colonized, with variable fortunate effects, the American social sciences. This explains the adoption by the latter of a notion which had become central for the former: that of “identity” (ibid.). As surprising as it may appear when viewed from Europe, with the exception of England, this colonization gave rise more to hostile reaction than to expressions of open hospitality among the practitioners of the North American social sciences. One finds this to be particularly true of anthropology whose difficult relationship with cultural studies was always emphasized at the expense of
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possible interests in common research.27 For the rest, contrary to the presupposition inferred from the image of a “de-constructed” or “de-structured” anthropology conveyed by North American editorial production, the institutional division of the majority of anthropology departments in the United States remains that of a triple (or quadruple) Boasian alliance: cultural (and social), physical, linguistic and archaeological anthropology. Training for the profession of anthropologist continues to combine each of these disciplines in varying degrees. At the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia), every student in the department must acquire rudiments of archaeology and physical anthropology.28 The fact remains that cultural studies are consonant with the multiculturalist policy in the United States; those studies invested the academic field with the notions of “community” and“identity”, coupled with that of “minorities”which already existed in the public sphere of American society. Their appearance in the universities followed the civil rights movement in the early 1960s - with which the demands of the hippies joined forces - and resulted in the creation of ethnic studies,29spearheaded by the black minority and sustained by the Chícanos. More recently, the “Asian minority” also developed a model of ethnic studies. Above all, the multiculturalist policy gained in scope owing to the emergence of a middle class among these communities and their arrival on the American campuses, in the 1970s as regards the oldest of them. Of course, it is necessary to relativize the perspective which would make of the United States the haven of multicultural ism and minority claims, civic as well as academic. In the country of affirmative action, minorities are not a privileged class. At university, for example, they have become the target of conservatives who accuse them of wanting, under the pretext of political correctness, to subvert the established order of the “canon” in the humanities, and of lowering
standards.30 The rhetoric of multiculturalism and of identity representation remains, however, strong in university milieux. Thus, in area studies pertaining to South Asia, the demands on the part of students from the subcontinent have increasingly been formulated in these terms, as have the demands for financial assistance coming from the universities, to which individual donations or community funds made up of contributions from members of the South Asian diaspora in the United States respond. The examples of the Universities of California, Santa Cruz, Rutgers and New York State, at Stony Brook, are illustrative of this. This policy of nationcommunity-culture has begun to besiege prestigious universities such as Berkeley, Michigan (Ann Arbor) and Columbia (Dirks 1999). Along with the increased visibility of the aforementioned minorities and communities in the North American academe, the emergence of ethnic studies was followed by diasporic studies.31 The representatives of the Asian minorities assumed a prominent role in this, with the supremacy in the matter held by the countries of East Asia, notably China, Korea and Japan.32 These are, in effect, immigrants from those countries which were originally involved in movements that claimed an identity labelled “Asian”, which had repercussions in “Asian studies” and in “diasporic studies”. But, South Asia continues to occupy a minority position in this dispensation (Rocher 1995). This is in part due to the low population of immigrants from the Indian subcontinent compared to the population remaining there: only between eight (Van der Veer 1995) or fifteen (Visweswaran and Mir 1999) million as compared with over a billion living in India alone. This is little considering the other Asian migrant populations, such as the Chinese (twenty-two million in diaspora, more than a billion in China) or those from the rest of the world. Furthermore, some have an older tradition of emigration
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to the United States (that of the Chinese goes back to the beginning of the twentieth century). Although ethnic or diasporic studies related to South Asia appeared some ten years ago, it must nevertheless be noted that neither the category of“South Asian community” nor that of “South Asian diaspora” is transparent; it accounts neither for the diversity of experiences of the social actors of South Asian origin or for the historical situations in which those experiences were made (Van der Veer 1995): forced labour in colonies of the British Empire, trade in East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania) and South Africa, the brain drain to the United States of experts in the hard sciences and the liberal professions in the 1960s, etc. This category also fails to transcribe the multiplicity o f‘diasporic identities” (sic) and their fluidity, which Stuart Hall in particular underscored in his analyses of Caribbean identity and from which supporters of this type of studies have drawn inspiration.33 Finally, it is necessary to underscore that these diasporic or ethnic studies related to South Asia remain very much in the minority compared to area studies bearing on the same cultural areas. They are, in effect, a marginal manifestation of the actual phenomenon of “ethnic” redistribution initiated in South Asian studies in the United States.
American Multiculturalism and Hindu Fundamentalism The specificity of the case of South Asia in view of the other minorities settled on American soil partially accounts for the limited success which “ethnic” or “diasporic” studies have met with. The phenomenon of immigration is to a large degree much more recent.34 As a consequence, the social actors involved do not have the same priorities which, for example, the African Americans or Latin Americans have. Unlike the latter whose concerns, despite the fundamental historical and cultural distinctions between the two
communities, are more centred on their rights in North American society, South Asian Americans preserve a strong link to their country of origin. They are more interested in questions of culture in South Asia than in the socio-economic conditions in the United States. The“return to sources”mentioned above sometimes favours the reproduction of the politics of the subcontinent since independence, where Urdu and Hindi have been raised to the status of official languages. Thus, students born of Pakistani parents will for the most part choose Urdu, while those whose parents are Indian will opt for Hindi (Rocher 1994). This phenomenon can also bring about a relative cultural, denominational or even communalist hardening. Thus, students belonging to a Brahman community from western India enrol in a Sanskrit course; others, Muslims, set about the study of Urdu. It is as if a two-century old Orientalist compartmentalization, which under British domination favoured the rigidification of social, religious, cultural or linguistic categories, would continue outside the borders of the postcolonial Indian nation through the correspondence between language, nation and faith. These categories are today reinforced by the politics of the Hindu Right as it attempts to gather all“Hindu sons” in the fold of “Mother India”
(Bharat Mata). Although the equation between Hinduism and nationality is very frequent among students of Indian origin, it is nevertheless not easy to know how this phenomenon more widely affects those from the rest of South Asia who were born or raised on American soil. The synecdoche of Hinduness for Indianness is also one of the tropes of the South Asian community, or rather of the part which presents itself in the American public space - notably the university - as the spokespersons of social groups from South Asia with highly diverse migratory experiences. This part comprises, in fact, only
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the well-to-do and better educated fringe stemming mainly from the immigration of the 1960s. Its economic success allows it now to concern itself both with transmitting its heritage to its descendants and disclosing that heritage to its fellow American citizens.35 This fringe of the well-to-do, who are for the most part Hindu, project this image on the whole population of South Asian immigrants in the United States and have heretofore shown hostility towards diasporic and ethnic studies on South Asian Americans. These disciplines would by no means ensure the desired transmission of a cultural heritage idealized, on account of the spatial as well as temporal distance. For that purpose, classical Indology and the “traditional” area studies appear to be more appropriate, the pride of place going to Indian political economy re-oriented according to a progressive and ultra-liberal vision and centred on the relations between the United States and India (Visweswaran and Mir 1999). This promotion of classical Indology and area studies by the South Asian, or tether Hindu Indian, community is situated at the confluence of an extremist ideology of Hinduness ( hindutva) and of a policy of economic liberalization characterizing India’s present socio-politico-economic evolution. The resonance of Hinduness in the American context is equally strong; if hindutva politics in India is linked to the “minority complex of the majority”, in the United States, it may be perceived by some as a second-class citizenship, the assimilation and the loss of cultural values which, in a different manner, produce anxieties within the Hindu community and therefore make this ideology attractive. Thus in the United States, the fields of Indology and, to a lesser extent, the social sciences pertaining to South Asia have sometimes favoured the development of fundamentalist politics in parts of the subcontinent (Dirks 1999; Visweswaran and Mir 1999); subsequent to the establishment of funds by American universities, new chairs,
in particular on Hindu studies, were financed by this fringe of the Indian diaspora. This has already provoked several controversies. The chairs of Indo-American Community in Indian Studies and the Sarah Kailath Chair in Indian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, are well-known examples (Visweswaran and Mir, ibid.). The most celebrated is no doubt the Jagdish Bhagwati Chair of Political Economy (named after the liberal economist) at Columbia University. Financed by the Dharam Hinduja Indie Research Center (founded in 1994) and devoted to “Indie” studies, it is in practice confined to Vedic studies (ibid.; Dirks 1999). It thus implicitly continues the hindutva bias of an eternal Hindu India, the source of which would be the Vedic period, even though India today is home to well over 200 million Muslims and South Asia includes two of the most populated Muslim nations in the worldPakistan and Bangladesh. It should be stressed, however, that this obviously does not mean that students, teachers or researchers of Indian origin settled in North America or elsewhere would for the greater part be won over to the hindutva cause; far from it. It is nevertheless necessary to note the growing attraction this cause exerts generally on the “Hindu community” abroad (as earlier defined), and the real risk of a fundamentalist drift which accompanies it Important links exist between members of the Hindu diaspora and the financing of
hindutva politics in India. Let us recall the numerous attempts which have been made over the last ten to fifteen years, which increased tenfold under the “saffron”-dominated coalition government, to attract the capital of Indian expatriates. The latter are more widely i
known by the acronym NRIs (Non Resident Indians) and are settled in North America, Europe and Australia and are in a position to make large financial investments in India. These attempts, some of which have proved fruitful, have not only come within the economic
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1998. Asian Studies in the Age o f Globalization. Seoul, Seoul National University Press, S.N.U. International and Area Studies Series 15. Trautmann,Thomas R., 1997 .Aryans and British India. New Delhi, Vistaar Publications. Van der Veer, Peter (ed.), 1995. Nation and Migration. The Politics o f Space
in the South Asian Diaspora. Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press. Vidal, Denis, 1998. “When Gods drink milk!”, South Asia Research. Viswanathan, Gauri, 1989. Masks o f Conquest. Literary Study and British
Rule in India. New York, Columbia University Press. Visweswaran, Kamala and Ali Mir, 1999.‘On the Politics o f Community in South Asian-American Studies’, Amerasia Journal 25(3): 1-12. Wade, Peter (ed.), 1997. Cultural Studies will be the death o f anthropology.
Mark Hobart & Paul Willis versus Nigel Rapport & John Gledhill. Manchester, Group for Debates in Anthropological Theory (GDAT), Dept, of Social Anthropology, University of Manchester. Werbner, Richard, 1999. Area Studies Monitoring Report: Public Funding
o f Research. London, SOAS, Council of Area Studies Associations. Wilson, Kalpana, 2003.‘Foreign direct investment in hatred’, The Hindu (The Magazine Section), Mar 23.
‘Subaltern Studies’ as Post-Colonial Critique of Modernity
‘S U B A L T E R N S T U D I E S * AS POST-COLONIAL CRI TIQUE OF M O D E R N I T Y
The first 10 volumes of the series called Subaltern Studies, well known to all social scientists working on India,have been published by Oxford University Press, Delhi, since 1982. Volume XI has come out in 2000 under the Permanent Black imprint.1The international success of the series, enhanced by the theoretical and methodological debates which it has generated among South Asianists in India and abroad, has been exceptional for such a specialised set of publications. Volumes I to VI were published between 1982 and 1989 under the editorship of Ranajit Guha (born in 1923), the founder and mentor of the managing collective of the series, which comprised at first six, and later 10 scholars.2The initial intellectual orientation of the group was a critical form of Marxism influenced by Gramsci and the British radical historians. Guha withdrew from the responsibility of the series after 1989, and made way for the younger members of the team, who have alternated since then in twos or threes as editors of the volumes, although his participation in the common endeavour continued.3
The total number of authors published in these 11 volumes, whose average quality is of high order, adds up to almost fifty. Besides, many of these scholars, particularly the members of the editorial team, have published other works in the same intellectual line, some of which have incontestably made a mark.4 This production has gradually grown into an identifiable school or current in the domain of South Asian studies. Its impact is now perceptible among the scholars of other regions of the South, notably in Latin America. Like all collective intellectual ventures, this one has been marked by internal differences, reorientations and secessions reflecting some of the important debates which have developed in the field of epistemology and the social sciences in the course of the last 20 years. One founder member, Sumit Sarkar, one fellow-traveller, Ramachandra Guha, have broken away from the group and have also manifested with vigour their disagreement with the postmodernist orientation taken by the series since the late 1980s. Others like David Hardiman, who was always a part of the group, have remained faithful to a conception of social history that is no more dominant in the series. Discourse analysis and gender studies made a forceful entry while the group accepted new members (Gyan Prakash, Susie Tharu).
The Paradigm of Subaltern Consciousness The historiographic trend from where the subaltern studies originate is classically known as ‘history from below’. The intellectual attitude, it may be emphasised, which this current embodies is by no means recent: suffice it to remember Michelet and his introduction of 1847 to the History o f the French Revolution (‘I have taken history down, in the depth of the crowds, in the instincts of the people, and I have shown how the people led its leaders, etc.’ (Ikni, 1995]), and the subsequent regular resurgence
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of individual or collective commitments to write history from the point of view of the masses, whether liberal, socialist, nationalist or issuing from the Annales ‘school’. It is at least partly through the works of the best known English radical historians ( Rodney Hilton, Christopher Hill, Georges Rudé, Edward R Thompson, Eric Hobsbawm)5 that ‘history from below’ gained a foothold in India, at a time (roughly from the 1960s) when the disillusionments caused by the social failure of independence multiplied the number of extreme left activists among the intellectual youth, and even drove a fraction of them towards Maoist militancy in the countryside. An idea which was spreading at that time among historians (in India as well as in other parts of the formerly colonised world) is that a real history from below involved a break with the ‘nationalist paradigm’ of the dominant historiography, which tended to mask or underplay class antagonisms in the name of national unity, thereby espousing the official political line of the independence struggle.6 It is in this intellectual and political context, marked by the criticism of both ‘orthodox’ Marxism and the socialising rhetoric of the Indian state, that the Subaltern Studies project took shape at the initiative of Ranajit Guha. Guha’s initial aim, as declared in the initial volume, was to get rid of the élitism of colonialist, nationalist and Marxist historiographies, which, according to him, uniformly represented popular resistance against the colonial order and the freedom struggle generally as resulting from a process of mobilisation from the top. The colonialist historiography thus incriminated was mainly the so-called‘Cambridge school’ of the 1960s and 1970s, which tended to present organised nationalism in India as a strategy of social promotion, handled by the indigenous educated élites, in order to get hold of coveted positions of power from which they expected both prestige and profits. As regards nationalist
historiography, it is the standard narrative of the emergence of India as a modern nation, as it figures since the 1950s in school and university textbooks and in the official histories published under government patronage, which was criticised. According to this narrative, the Independence movement took shape through a gradual process of incorporation of the backward masses in the struggle for nationhood. The eminent catalysts of the politicisation of the masses were the great charismatic leaders headed by Gandhi and Nehru, whose leadership was relayed downwards through the vast pan-Indian infrastructure of the Indian National Congress. The latter acted as a sort of political melting pot for almost all social strata and currents of opinion, engulfing them in the unanimous fervour of the struggle for liberty and the rise of the nation state. The logic of this grand narrative reached its fulfilment with the accession to power, at the time of Independence, of both the social élite which had led the common struggle, and the nationalist organisation, which became the ruling party. The latter, in this perspective, was entitled to speak in the name of the people as a whole, as it reflected in its own diversity the immense diversity of the nation, and its legitimate task was henceforth to look after the construction and development of the world’s largest democracy. However, in the flourishing historiography of Indian peasant and tribal movements which developed during the 1970s and early 1980s, these narrative conventions of‘bourgeois’ nationalism were put to the test of increasingly accurate efforts at social analysis, and gradually discarded. It became clear to many historians, mainly Marxist, that the nationalist élite, although it had obviously needed a mass following to establish its political credibility in the eyes of the colonial power, had always been anxious to curb the intensity and radicalism of popular agitation. Others pointed out that the way in which the masses used to interpret and appropriate Gandhi’s
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m essage, w hich they filled with m illenarian dream s and fantasies o f s o c ia l in v e rs io n , h ad little in c o m m o n w ith th e u r b a n e co n cep tio n s and n o rm s o f cond uct o f bou rg eois representative d em ocracy (see, e.g., A m in, 1984). These studies revealed the cracks under the apparent u nanim ity o f the popular nationalist élan , they b ro u g h t to lig h t th e covert rep ressio n o ften e x e rc ise d b y th e Congress against the radical deviations o f the agitation, and the d eep m isu n d e rsta n d in g s u n d erly in g th e p a rtic ip a tio n o f the m asses, w hich entered the fray on the term s o f their own culture o f p ro te s t, on ly to fin d ou t in th e end th at th ey had serv ed the am b itio n s o f an élite which w rongfully passed itse lf o ff as the tru e representative o f their interests. T hese studies thus gave h istorical su b stan ce to the frustrations o f a people who had b een deprived o f th e b e n e f it s o f v ic to ry , a fte r th e c o u n tr y ’s a c c e s s io n to In dependence, by the hegem onic dom ination o f the C ongress, a spraw ling organisation dom inated by the h ig h -caste urban m iddle c la s s an d w e ll-o ff p easan try , w hose s o c ia lis in g rh e to ric on ly concealed an aversion to radical social reform .7 A ccording to the subaltern school, M arxist historiograp hy o f the national m ovem ent, w hich alone had stood in stron g con trast to the conventional nationalist narrative during the first decades o f In d e p e n d e n ce , su ffered fro m yet a n o th e r fo rm o f é litis m : although it spoke on b eh alf o f the oppressed classes and in order to facilitate th eir m arch towards em an cip atio n and progress, it stigm atised their culture o f resistance as an instance o f pre-political m en tality or false consciou sness, belonging to a prim itive stage o f the developm ent o f revolutionary consciou sness. It doubted the revolutionary potential o f the peasants in the class stru ggle, and considered th eir revolts as nothing but spontaneou s ou tb u rsts o f collective anger, necessarily short-lived and devoid o f organ isation , p rogram m e and effectiveness, as long as the ru ral m asses were n o t
mobilised and led by a better trained and politically more advanced avant-garde. Lasdy, this historiography was guilty of economic determinism, as it considered the contradictions and crises of the economy as the mainsprings of historical change. The objective of the subalternist historians was thus to reinstate the people as the subject of its own history, to refute once for all the insulting preconceptions which showed it as a brutish mass manipulated by the élites, and to do away with the teleological interpretations in which it merely figured as a passive cog in a sort of universal historical clockwork (i.e., both nationalist history, which presented the popular uprisings of the colonial period as mere preliminaries in the genesis of the nation state, and Marxist history, which only saw them as inchoate stages of the emergence of class consciousness). It was to recognise the historical importance of the people’s free and sovereign agency, to retrieve its culture, to arouse scientific interest in its authentic universe of thought and experience (and not only in its material living conditions). In short, they tried to demonstrate that there exists an autonomous domain of the politics of the people, whose idioms, norms and values are rooted in the experience of labour and social exploitation, and which for this reason clearly contrasts with that of the élite. The people, according to the opening manifesto published by Ranajit Guha in the first volume of the Subaltern
Studies, is‘the subaltern classes and groups constituting the mass of the labouring population and the intermediate strata in town and country’; that is the demographic difference between the total Indian population and all those whom we have described as the élite (Guha, 1982: VIII, 4).8 That which defines the‘subalterns’ (a notion elaborated by Gramsci in his Prison Notebooks) is the relation of subordination in which they are held by the élites, and that
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relation can be expressed in terms of caste, class, sex, race, language and culture. Some confusion has developed thereafter in the series because subalternity’ has sometimes been defined as a substance, that is, as the discriminating characteristic of a particular social category, and sometimes as a relation (in which case an indigenous élite could be viewed as subaltern vis-a-vis the European colonial élite). In any case, by choosing this category as the cornerstone of his analysis, Guha placed at the centre of his historical perspective a dichotomic vision of society, in which the main fault line was the separation between the ‘dominant’ and the ‘dominated’. And if he undertook to correct the widespread élitist view of the history of India, it was in the name of the conviction that although the Indian élites undoubtedly exercised their (material) domination over the subaltern masses, they were unable to subject them to their hegemony (or cultural supremacy) (Guha, 1989).9 It is this autonomous domain of thought and initiative of the subalterns, systematically ignored by the élitist historians, that one had to redeem, not only to do it justice and restore its dignity, but to expose the unequal power struggle which has taken place within the Independence movement, whose benefits have been wholly captured by the élites; and to explain in view of future struggles what he calls ‘this historic failure of the nation to come to its own...which constitutes the central problematic of the historiography of colonial India’ (Guha, 1982:7). To rehabilitate the consciousness and agency of the subalterns, whose culture is oral and who leave no written documents,10 one is left with no alternative, says Guha, but to go back to the accounts of popular rebellions kept in the administrative records of the state, and try to read them‘against the grain’. He brilliantly explains how the discourse of these sources, with which the élistist
historiographies are mostly in consonance, always tends to obliterate the subaltern consciousness by treating the revolts of the dominated as mere spontaneous reactions against economic and political oppression, thus dissolving the autonomous vision and initiative of the rebels in the mechanics of external causes.11 However, in a remarkable book published one year after Subaltern
Studies I (but on which he had been working for a decade), he shows how loquacious these élite sources can be from his point of view when appropriately decoded. Screening the records of Indian popular rebellions between 1783 and 1900 (i.e., before the advent of mass nationalism), he brings out with a wealth of examples a certain number of recurring features of insurgent ideology and behaviour, which he sees as invariants of the peasant consciousness.12 This book inaugurated an innovative endeavour, the surveying and mapping of the autonomous and untamed continent of subaltern subjectivity, which is hardly accessible to the historian except under the aspect of a culture of protest (because the sources deal with it only when revolts occur), and through the discourse of its oppressors. It is this line of research that was pursued in the subsequent volumes of Subaltern Studies following Guha’s inspiration. It soon appeared, however, that such an endeavour was strewn with theoretical traps. The most immediate criticism was the reproach of‘mentalism’: Ranajit Guha was held to believe that it is possible to know what is actually happening in the minds of people (e.g., Stein, 1985:2). This was a misinterpretation of his purpose, which was not to open new vistas to the history of mentalities, but to criticise the hermeneutics of the dominant historiography and the constant obliteration of subaltern consciousness and experience which resulted from it, and to show how closely related it was for this reason to élite power. More seriously, however, many critics
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were surprised to see this new and promising group of historians embark on a research agenda which focused on the restoration of the sovereignty of consciousness and of the autonomy of the subject, at a time when it seemed that the bourgeois humanism of the Enlightenment had at last been definitively put to rest (cf. O’Hanlon, 1988). The subalternist answer was that this apparently positivistic approach, which admittedly tended to construct the subaltern as a subject endowed with autonomy of thought and behaviour, was in fact a concerted strategy with more of a political than a theoretical objective (Spivak 1985:342). The idea was to undermine the élitist metanarrative of the social unanimity of the nationalist movement, in fact one of the origin myths of the bourgeois state of Independent India, by showing that the élite had constructed its victory on the negation of its Other, the dominated masses. Nevertheless, there was a real problem here, as evident from individual contributions, because all the authors of the series did not implement this strategy with as much subtlelty as Ranajit Guha. The tendency was of course to essentialise subaltern consciousness as a nature, definable as a totality of distinctive traits irrespective of any context, or worse, to reify the category o f‘subaltern’ by assimilating it to an empirical social entity.13 In sociological terms, a category such as this, which encompasses the totality of the popular classes, is so vast and heterogeneous that it is useless as an analytical tool. The simplistic dichotomic representation of the social which it implies does make sense politically, insofar as it expresses the relation of power that historically constitutes the subaltern as such, that is, the situation in which, in a given context, the élite group is opposed to the whole of the dominated mass; and from the point of view of the subaltern, such a situation, in effect, boils down to a confrontation between ‘we’ and ‘th e/. But the drift towards the essentialisation of the subalterns was as difficult to entirely avoid as it proved difficult
not to lapse, in the traditional Marxist discourse, into the essentialisation of class. Many of the contributors to the Subaltern
Studies have fallen into this trap, and it is debatable whether Guha himself has totally averted it. The Subaltern Studies, during this initial phase, when the series’ main orientation was the problematic delineated by Guha, also had to face a shower of criticisms coming from various currents of Marxism.14 In reaction to the subalternist critique of the dominant élitist historiography, the old incrimination of populism, which had served in the past to stigmatise as heretics those who refused to recognise the necessary leading role of avant-garde elements in the social struggles, also resurfaced,although in covert terms. However, less easy to refute were the objections directed against the series’ uncompromising stance on the autonomy of subaltern consciousness and agency. The origin of this attitude was Guha’s refusal of the conventional historiography which limited the domain of politics to the narrow arena of colonial representative institutions, in which élite protest was confined. He strongly contrasted this domain of bourgeois politics with what he called the politics of the people, that is to say a sum of representations and modes of protest rooted in an old pre-colonial past, and which owed nothing to the politics of the élite, that late by-product of colonisation. The politics of the people was characterised by its original processes of mobilisation, which were not vertical but horizontal (being based on kinship, territory and sameness of living conditions), by its more spontaneous character, and by a more frequent recourse to violent action. An orthodox Marxist could possibly follow Guha up to this point, although he would depreciate this politics of the people as ineffective and objectively reactionary. But Guha went further. Not only did he denounce the nationalist élite for manipulating popular protest during the anti-colonial
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struggle with a view to exercising undivided power after the conquest of Independence, but he presented the politics of the people as an expression of this autonomous domain of subaltern consciousness which remained impervious to the influence of the bourgeoisie, an aspect of these ‘vast areas in the life and consciousness of the people which were never integrated into [its] hegemony’ (Guha, 1982: 5-6), thus exposing the social injustice upon which Independence had been built, and the necessity of future struggles. The transition from the fact that autonomous outbreaks of subaltern resistance had occurred during the Indian Independence struggle (a fact often minimised or suppressed by ditist historians) to the assertion of the structural autonomy of subaltern consciousness and culture, clearly implied a theoretical leap. It may be that in Guha’s case, this assertion emerged from a feeling of empathy with the rebel mind, and was primarily designed, as a theoretical tool, to serve a political aim. But by turning this intuition into a system, the subalternist historians exposed themselves to almost insuperable theoretical difficulties. They were positioning themselves in the field of social science models, and adopting an intellectual posture which is hardly consonant with the primarily critical function of history, and the only bases on which they could build were the empirical evidence of the nationalist streamlining or repression of plebeian currents during the Independence movement, and the political irritation which ensued in the minds of present-day leftist historians. This subalternist ‘model’ clearly lacked sociological and anthropological substance, and seemed to bring us back to the beginning of old and almost forgotten debates on the status of popular culture, the ‘great’ and ‘little* traditions, acculturation, etc. It offered no clear treatment of caste, although the caste system had been the focal point of South Asianist
sociological research during most of the last century. Rejecting the class analysis of popular movements as economicist and teleological, at least some of the subalternists now preferred to adopt ‘community’ as the framework of peasant identity and mobilisation, thus apparently reverting to the Marxian notion of the community as the ‘natural’ setting of social life in preclass societies (e.g., Chatterjee, 1988:10-14). The Marxist historians’ critique of the Subaltern Studies was indisputably pertinent on several accounts. Noting that the subalternists refuse all external determinations of subaltern action, and especially all economic explanations of the rebellions (a type of reasoning which invariably came under the accusation of economic determinism), they justifiably reproached them for neglecting the study of the causes and context of the movements and focusing exclusively on the forms of popular protest. This subalternist stance amounted to defending an ahistorical notion of the ‘autonomous domain’ of the subalterns, and would logically lead the historian to ignore the transformations of popular protest from one historical period to another (for example, how could one accept the idea that peasant agitation had not changed from pre colonial to colonial times, while the context of power had been radically altered?). Furthermore, the subalternists tended to characterise popular resistance as violent (non-violent protest being regarded as an intrinsically élite mode of resistance), whereas modes of resistance, in fact, vary according to the type of power or repression which the protesters have to face, and the most violent resistance is not necessarily the most revolutionary. They also betrayed a sort of blindness in front of the massively attested fact that popular movements were often led by non-subalterns, or at least by subalterns having connections with the surrounding society (a fact admittedly little compatible with the thesis of subaltern
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autonomy). They refused to recognise that the ideology of subaltern rebellions could be retrogressive, aiming not at the subversion of the customary order, but rather, when it was threatened or disrupted, at its restoration. Finally, no one can remain satisfied, regarding the complex question of the forms and degrees of ideological and cultural interaction between the élites and the popular classes, with the mere assertion of the autonomy of subaltern consciousness and culture. Let us add that to attribute to the subalterns, as does Guha, an ideology of which ‘one of [the] invariant features was a notion of resistance to elite domination’ (Guha, 1982: 5), makes it difficult to account for the attitudes of consent of the dominated to the domination under which they live, attitudes which have always been much more permanent among the subalterns, in India as everywhere else, than those of resistance.15 These were real difficulties. Nevertheless, the historical studies collected in the first six volumes of Subaltern Studies (those which were edited by Guha himself) were excellent. The inaugural contributions of Ranajit Guha16 belong to a class of inspired theoretical pronouncements which sometimes open up an agenda of enquiry for a whole generation of researchers. The richness, novelty and solidity of the archival work which nourished these volumes are unquestionable. So is the consistency of this work with the political interrogations of radical Indian intellectuals from the 1960s onwards. With a few notable exceptions, however, the theoretical elaboration of the individual contributions to the series was much less explicit than was the case with Guha’s initial texts, and it took several years and the publication of several volumes of the series for the above stated critical overviews to take shape under the pen of reviewers. Besides, the members of the subaltemist group themselves considered their collective as a forum for discussion
rather than as an entity professing a homogeneous doctrine.17At this stage, towards the end of the 1980s, the group nevertheless had to choose between two alternatives. Either it went on with the descriptive inventory of the forms of subaltern insurgency, in accordance with its initial political aim,but ran the risk of becoming somewhat repetitive, and in any case had to face squarely the problem of the essentialist leanings pointed out by its critics, which meant that its central theory of the autonomy of subaltern consciousness and action was to be further elaborated. Or it shifted its priorities, gave up the task of charting in detail this (hypothetical) autonomous domain of the subalterns, and henceforth concentrated on the critique of the ¿litist paradigm of the sources and of the dominant historiography. The militant effort at resurrecting the hitherto unexplored world of thought and experience of the people would give way in this case to a task of deconstruction of the ¿litist discourse. To read ‘against the grain* the ‘prose of counter-insurgency* was indeed one line of research initiated by Guha (Guha, 1989). But the difference is that this hermeneutic approach which was only a research tool meant to serve a political aim, now itself became the focal point of the research.
The Postmodern T\im It is this second orientation, perhaps less committed politically, but more consonant with the contemporary developments of the social sciences, which has prevailed in the series since the late 1980s. Undoubtedly, some of Guha’s critical formulations, particularly those inspired by the left-radical ‘history from below* current of the 1960s, had begun to ring differently in the ears of many of his younger colleagues in the 1980s (the age-gap between Guha and the other members of the subalternist group averaged 25 years). This is not
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the place to dwell on the influence already exercised at that time on a vocal minority of Indian intellectuals, and particularly on those among them who most assiduously frequented American universities, by the then mounting postmodernist critique of rationality and of the ideology of progress, and by the epistemological relativism which often followed in its trail. This current of thought, including the idea drawn from Foucault that truth, formerly conceived as a transcendental reality, has in fact an empirical history closely interwoven with the social and political evolution of the West, and more generally the grand thematic developed by Foucault around the notion of power-knowledge, of course assumed a novel significance in the light of the emergent post-colonial paradigm. Edward Said in his Orientalism, an essay on the archaeology of the Western discourse on the Orient, which had appeared three years after the original French edition of Foucault’s Discipline and Punish (1975), had vigorously argued that to represent the Other is to manipulate it, and that the essentialist conception of the Orient elaborated in Europe at the time of its colonial expansion had represented an ideological instrument of submission.18 It is principally through his mediation that postmodernism began to infiltrate into Indian history-writing, with the Subaltern Studies as its focal point. The most obvious effect of this new influence has been the displacement of the critique of colonialism from the economic and political plane to the cultural. After talking of the failure of the modern state to represent all the components of the nation, and after Benedict Anderson, in a book which very skilfully crystallised certain questions of the time, simultaneously underscored the role of the imaginary in national movements (Anderson, 1983), the subalternists now seemed to veer towards the thematic of the general failure of modernity. ‘Bourgeois culture’, Guha himself
wrote,‘hit its historical limit in colonialism. None of its noble achievements - Liberalism, Democracy, Liberty, Rule of Law and so on - can survive the inexorable urge of capital to expand and reproduce itself by means of the politics of extra-territorial, colonial dominance’ (Guha, 1989). In the new intellectual context, this indictment, although as old as anti-imperialism itself, has begun to play for at least some of the subalternists the same role as the great barbaric regressions of twentieth-century Europe have done for a number of Western thinkers: it works as a governing argument in the critique of the ideology of the Enlightenment and of the Eurocentric paradigm of progress. To say the truth, it already figured in the foreground of the rhetorics of emancipation of both nationalism and Marxism. But both shared the foundational conception according to which Reason is the universal form and Europe the motive force of the historical march of progress. It is this metanarrative construct itself that is now in question. There was, D. Chakrabarty affirms, some‘theoretical naivete’ on the part of the subalternists in following close behind the modern grand discourses of emancipation as they did in the beginning (Chakrabarty, 1991: 2163). The time has now come to show that Reason is nothing but one cultural model among others, to ‘provincialise’ Europe, this implicit theoretical referent of all élitist historiographies (Chakrabarty, 1992), and even to ‘third-world’ it, by stimulating and supporting the resistance of the subalterns of the developed world (Prakash, 1990b). Cultural difference should be restored to its dignity. For instance, a final end should be put to the interpretative terrorism which denounces as false consciousness every solidarity that cannot be assigned to class consciousness; ‘ethnic conceptions of time which resist the discipline of the state and of written culture* (Diouf, 1999; 24) should be rehabilitated; identities, memories, popular voices which have been oppressed
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or concealed first by Western domination and later by the narrative discourse of the dominant historiography, the accomplice of modernity, should be revealed or revived. The locus in which the new course of the Subaltern Studies originates is therefore well identified: it is the meeting point of postmodernism and post-coloniality. The fact that such an intellectual current emerged in the Indian context is undoubtedly not accidental. Of all the countries of the formerly colonised world, India is certainly the one which has the oldest and most numerous Western-type universities, where the historical discourse of modernity, capitalism and democracy and its postmodernist critiques have been most precociously received by the indigenous intelligentsia, and where the connections with Western academic circles are closest and most diversified. Indian intellectuals, as a result, were particularly well placed to operate this kind of critical return upon present-day dominant metropolitan discourses (Prakash, 1994:1489). It is no less easy to understand why the series in its second phase has risen to international notoriety and is now so widely referred to by a fraction of the American university establishment:19 the reason is that it provides the Western postmodernist current with a non-Western counterpart, while making a breakthrough in other regions of South, notably in Latin American countries, whose modern history has presented certain analogies with the Indian case as regards the misunderstandings and contradictions between nationalist movements and the subaltern strata. But at the same time, the debate raised in India itself by the publication of the first volumes of the series has lost much of its initial intensity (Sarkar, 1997:84). That which appears from the outside as a reorientation seems to be have been understood by the subaiternists themselves as the moment when their group, after an initial period of very open
internal debate, has finally found its coherence around a more strictly defined problematic. The focalisation on subaltern consciousness (rather than on the material conditions of existence of the subalterns or on the history of their struggles in their specific regional contexts), which was the distinctive mark of the project, obviously led to a blind alley when it meant reconstructing the subaltern as a subject that could be abstracted from the discourse of the élite. Thus there was no choice but to privilege the other term of the alternative, and to finally recognise that subalternity, often wrongly interpreted as a sociological category, is not a substance but a relation, and only exists insofar as it is constituted in the discourse of the (colonial and nationalist) élite as a force resisting its hegemony. This theme was already present in a book published by Partha Chatterjee in 1986 (Chatterjee, 1986), which argued that the nationalist discourse of the Indian élite, although antagonistic to the colonial discourse, was based on the same ideological foundation, bourgeois modernity. The élite was faced with an essential contradiction: it had to speak in the name of the masses if it wanted to stand a chance in the confrontation with the colonial power, but it feared, and contained with difficulty, the irrepressible autonomy of their modes of protest. The task of the subalternist historian was therefore primarily to deconstruct the dominant and normalising discourse of the colonial and nationalist texts so as to retrieve in its cracks something of the culture, experience and memory of the people that it always tended to suppress. Such an effort undoubtedly implied a great deal of intellectual vigilance on the part of the historian, subalternity being primarily a situational effect while it is always tempting to represent it as an intrinsic quality. Yet it was clear that the main aim of the project was not to propose a new (and rather simplistic) model of social stratification, but to reinstate power as a crucial dimension of social organisation,
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and to demonstrate that the liberal bourgeois conception of the nation-state as a plural but consensual entity is fundamentally false. The trouble with such a focalisation on the ‘textuality’ of colonialism and nationalism, and on the critique of élite discourse, is that the antagonistic relationship between the élites and the people was definitively abstracted from material realities and confined to the realm of culture. Simultaneously, being bent on distancing themselves from what they saw as the Western universalist model of rationality, the subalternists now began to attach value to difference for itself, regardless of any normative criterion other than the resistance to the tentacular and uniformising hold of modernity. Gradually, many of them have passed from one binary opposition - élite/subaltern - to another - Western modernity/indigenous culture. They tend to rehabilitate en bloc the pre-colonial in the name of the critique of the colonial, or (as far as contemporary India is concerned) the minority and the marginal in the name of the critique of the nation state born of the Independence struggle, the embodiment of an oppressive political modernity dating back to the ideology of the Enlightenment. A good illustration of this trend of thought is provided in a book published in 1990 by Gyan Prakash (who has joined the Subaltern Studies editorial collective some years ago), which deals with the evolution of the relations between the dominant peasants and their agricultural labourers in the Gaya district of South Bihar since the colonial period (Prakash, 1990a). The distinction between employer and labourer in the past, says Prakash, was only an empirical expression of the hierarchical difference in caste status. The consequent functional distribution of professional avocations went along with an implicit recognition by both sides of reciprocal rights and duties. The latter encompassed all aspects of existence, including relations of credit, which
represented one material aspect of the employer-labourer relationship among many others, but not by any means its foundation. It is in the wake of the abolition of slavery in India, effected in the name of the liberal idealism inherited from the Enlightenment, that the British juridically redefined this relation of dependence so as to bring it into line with modern legal conceptions, and render it susceptible of correction by ordinary judicial procedures. They classed it as a modality of contractual employment in which labour services were a mode of debt repayment. But these debts incurred by the poorest among the poor mostly proved impossible to reimburse because of the extreme meagerness of their income. Thus the British, by their reform, had actually instituted debt-slavery, and made the agricultural worker an unfree labourer. The subsequent efforts of the state to abolish this form of servitude have invariably failed until today, and the inherent violence of this type of labour relationship, thereby reduced to its economic component, has become inexpiable. Such a critique hurts because, instead of exposing the damage caused by modernising policies when incomplete or inefficient, it shows modernity itself to be intrinsically perverse. The classical answer to this kind of evidence is that liberal reformism in a nonWestern environment almost inescapably produces partial or biased results, and generates tensions and failures often worse than the ills that it was sought to remedy. Most subalternists would consider that such an answer merely evades the issue. Dipesh Chakrabarty forcefully expressed in 1995 what, according to him, such a view still has in common with the eurocentric turn of mind of orientalism. Why would modernity still await us in India more than 200 years after it was introduced by European imperialism? How
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long does it take for an Indian to become modern? A “fullfledged modernity” is by definition something good. It embod ies the fullness of everything - of prosperity, of rationalism. It cannot ever be what we have got is all we have got. What we have is only a bad version of what is in itself good. We have not yet arrived... To move from the register of lament to that of irony: that is the shift produced by an attitude of incredulity towards the metanarratives of the European Enlightenment (D. Chakrabarty, 1995: 755).
The author’s irony is directed inter alia at the inaugural sentence of Sumit Sarkar’s excellent Modern India (Sarkar, 1983a), which says that the period 1885-1947 has perhaps witnessed the greatest transition in India’s long history, ‘a transition, however, which in many ways remained grievously incomplete' (emphasis added). In front of this hegemonic discourse of modernity and progress, of this‘propaganda of reason’, of this‘monomania of imagination that operates within the gesture that the knowing, judging, willing subject always already knows what is good for everybody, ahead of any investigation’, it is necessary, writes Chakrabarty to ‘go to the subaltern’, ‘allow the subaltern position to challenge our own conceptions of what is universal’, make room for the affective, the religious,‘what we, in becoming modern, have come to see as nonrational’ (D. Chakrabarty, 1995:753,757). The term‘subaltern’, in this perspective, is now nothing more than a unifying label symbolising all the forms of cultural difference which have survived in the colonial situation, and all the spheres of indigenous thought and experience which have escaped or resisted the pervasive hold of Enlightenment rationalism, Western modernity, and the nation state: the private or domestic as opposed to the public (i.e., the political,economic,administrative, technical domain ruled by the colonial power); the non-rational, the artistic or the affective as opposed to the rational; the communal, the local
and the marginal as opposed to the state and the nation; and of course the pre-colonial as opposed to everything that has followed. These aspects are now the favourite areas of investigation of the
Subaltern Studies, and all are equally valued as long as they signify a‘difference’, or stand out as‘incommensurable’, or constitute‘anti models’ (to use a postmodernist terminology now widely adopted by our authors). Another keyword is the ‘fragment’, a polysemic antonym of the sovereign, the universal, the homogeneous, the continuous, which particularly applies to the oppressed segments of the indigenous society which have been reduced to silence by the nation-state, and whose dissident voice and dignity the subalternist project is meant to restore (cf. Pandey, 1992; Chatterjee, 1993). In mimetic fashion, the structure of books itself seems to splinter, and chapters are left without a conclusion:‘To make a claim on behalf of the fragment’, writes P. Chatterjee, ‘is also not surprisingly to produce a discourse that is itself fragmentary’ (Chatterjee, 1993:13).20 Finally, an increasing use is made of literary sources. Textual criticism, it must be remembered, was one of the methods of enquiry advocated and used by Ranajit Guha from the very beginning. Moreover, the departments of literary studies of American universities are among the most active centres of dissemination of the type of epistemological questionings which now inspire the authors of the series (not only Edward Said but also Gayatri Spivak, one of the best-known members of the group, belong to this academic sphere). But the main reason is that many historians now take a growing interest in printed vernacular literature instead of concentrating on the colonial records (A. Chakrabarty, 1995; Ramachandra Guha, 1996). The work already done on this perishable literature, whose production was immensely dispersed, and a large part of which has disappeared,21
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opens up a wide field of enquiry for cultural history. These sources were not unknown to researchers in the past, but the number of those who use them has steadily increased over the last 15 years or so, although the historian must differentiate with subtlety between several levels of reading if he wants to utilise them in a convincing way. By so doing, he certainly moves further away from the exclusive consideration of the subaltern, illiterate, voiceless and often enslaved by the élites of his own people, who was the central figure of the initial subalternist project. Cultural identity is now the main preoccupation, and the discriminating criterion which determines the choice of the object of study is the degree of immunity maintained against the invasion of'colonial’ modernity. The difficulties and criticisms raised by this orientation are both scientific and political. The subalternists repudiate all approaches of subaltern culture and action which‘anthropologise’ cultural difference by referring it to the universal interpretative framework of rationality. Similarly, they refuse all histories that describe subaltern insurgency as marginal or reactionary according to the criteria of the metanarrative of progress. The problem, D. Chakrabarty goes on to say, is not to produce ‘good’ history along with the methodological lines defined by Collingwood, E.H. Carr or Marc Bloch, but a knowledge that is‘subversive* because it gives access to altogether different modes of historicity. Without slipping into irrationalism, the historian must be bold enough to push history towards its limit while‘groping for forms of democracy that we cannot yet either completely understand or envisage’ (Chakrabarty, 1998:477). Thus the subalternist endeavour, initiated as a critique of the dominant élitist historiography which wilfully ignored the autonomous domain of subaltern consciousness and agency, now veers towards a (more radical) critique of history itself as a discipline too deeply entangled in the great discursive systems
of modernity. Enlightenment humanism being unmasked as the unavowed premise of Marxism, this subalternist critique of modernity also applies to Marxian thought, also seen as imbued with the conception of progress which has served in the past to legitimate the colonial expansion of Europe, and which is now an ideological prop of the nation-state (Prakash, 1994:1489-90). These are indeed far-reaching questions. Yet one cannot but remark that the subalternist historians still write history, in most cases with a true professional talent, while they are but informal philosophers. The systematic hallowing of the pre-colonial and the indigenous as opposed to the colonial, if handled without caution as a heuristic tool by the historian, can lead to gross oversimplifications even more easily than the reification of the élite-subaltern opposition. In a way, it is only the negative of the hackneyed cliché of the colonial historiography which presents the British conquest as a radical break and a new beginning in all areas of Indian life. Some of the most notable breakthroughs of the last 20 years or so in the field of modern Indian history have precisely been made by historians who rejected this postulate, thus opening the way for a more accurate understanding of historical processes. On the political plane, critics like Sumit Sarkar point to the fact that the new course of subalternist historiography at times seems to imply dangerous affinities with neo-traditionalism or ideologies of community and ethnicity, not to speak of the risk of regression towards a narrow indigenism. The subalternists reject all such suspicions with the utmost vigour. Yet the emergence of such interrogations is understandable regarding historians who tend to present the indigenous communities victimised under the colonial regime as idealised and undifferentiated cultural entities, as if there were no social inequalities or power relationships within them; when these historians seem to suggest that the fight for a
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free nation implied some shady ideological compromise with the oppressors; when the very fact of having received a modern education (and learnt the English language) before Independence is negatively connoted as a sign of subordination, etc. (Bahl, 1997; Sarkar, 1993,1997:98,106,1999:315-21). The exposure of these political improprieties is of course partly inspired by the standard leftist academic critique of postmodernism, which is accused of paving the way for identity politics while rejecting the ideology of class struggle as mythological, and it concurs with the accusation of relativism which is often levelled against it. But this cricism of subalternism also assumes a much more immediate significance in the present political situation of India. As Sumit Sarkar remarks, the era of mass political struggles is not declining yet in India as it is in most affluent societies, and large-scale popular protest movements in favour of social progress and human rights remain an important component of Indian political life (Sarkar 1997:106— 7). Even more importantly, the rise and accession to power of Hindu nationalists (who blame the conception of the liberal and secular nation-state as imported from the West), the ubiquitous intercommunal tensions, and the erosion of the legal and institutional foundations of secularism, necessarily give a special gravity to any intellectual endeavour liable to be used in vindication of the unacceptable, or at least to weaken the position of those who struggle to prevent it. No one can certainly suspect the subalternist authors of supporting religious intolerance, the social status quo, and even less violence. Most of them remain at heart radical intellectuals. Besides, they have written illuminating studies on the ideological genesis of Hindu nationalism and communalism. Such is the case of Partha Chatterjee, who has shown all that the rhetoric of Hindu extremism owes to the nationalist imagination of the nation,
defined as a natural and homogeneous entity. And the same is true of Gyan Pandey, who has produced elaborate reflections on the colonial and nationalist origins of communalism and on the representations of religious violence in the dominant historiography (which, according to him, has concealed the role played by capitalist modernity and the nation-state in the decline of the precolonial communal harmony) (Chatterjee, 1994; Pandey 1990,1992,1994). But the time having come to lead an opposition struggle, these authors, says Sarkar, are now confronted with the apories of a discourse which seems to deride any reference made to reason or progress, which denigrates as potentially totalitarian every form of resistance that is not fragmentary and devoid of extensive reformative ambitions, and which feeds on the aesthetical contemplation of differences and the nostalgia of a bygone indigenous authenticity (Sarkar 1997:107-8; 1999:321-22). In a committed article published in 1992, R. O’Hanlon and D. Washbrook already severely denounced the post-Orientalist historiography of the Third World in general, and of India in particular, which they defined as an amalgamation of differentialist culturalism, Foucaultian critique of power and postmodernist delegitimisation of metanarratives (O’Hanlon and Washbrook, 1992, with a rejoinder by Gyan Prakash [Prakash, 1992]). They concluded that this was the last avatar of the perpetual bad faith of the expansionist liberal West, which sanctifies human rights at home while maintaining situations of human exploitation overseas: this historiography, although it purports to restore the cultural authenticity and autonomy of the non-West, in fact depoliticises it and keeps it in subjection by challenging a priori all ideologies of emancipation as a mask of oppression. Their analysis thus initiated a deconstruction of this discourse, so skilful at deconstructing the discourse of others. They saw it as a product of the‘domestication’
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of French post-structuralist and postmodernist thought (i.e., mainly Foucault, Deleuze, Lyotard, Derrida and Baudrillard), emptied of any radical political content so as to fit with the dominant liberal culture of American universities, and reinterpreted in a culturalist sense by this academic milieu in which the problem of the self-representation of the many minorities which constitute it and their difficulties of coexistence are permanent concerns. This naturally raised the question of the diaspora of South Asian intellectuals in North America. Sarkar himself underlines the role played by certain Third World intellectuals living in the West in the emergence of‘post-coloniality’ among the fashionable themes of this new intellectual conformism, and he even suggests that to profess these theses can be particularly paying in the US in terms of academic career (Sarkar, 1997:85; 1999:310). The neo-subalternists are well-aware that their work is truly innovative, and yet liable to serious criticism, especially when they seem to preach a new orthodoxy. This no doubt has sometimes led them to pass excessive judgments, to advance hazardous hypotheses and to frame unconvincing lines of defence. It is nevertheless logical to find, in the social science literature of a country of the South which will be one of the major powers of the twenty-first century, a new version of the critique of Enlightenment humanism generated in the North by the collective tragedies of the twentieth, in the guise of a critique of the ideologies and systems of domination in which this humanism was embodied (or parodied) overseas. That this version should be partly produced or echoed by expatriate intellectuals is furthermore no wonder in this age of globalization. If most of them now apparently reject the main body of the orthodox Marxist metanarrative, the subalternists nevertheless remain faithful to that which, in Marx, militates against all forms of totalitarianism, and to the spirit of radical social critique that he
inherited from the Enlightenment, as one of their master-thinkers, Derrida, also does in his Specters o f Marx (Derrida, 1994). The real problem is elsewhere, in the replacement of the universalist ideologies of emancipation by community ethics, in the aestheticisation of differences, in the obscurantist implications of a sometimes exacerbated antimodernism, intellectual attitudes which may serve to justify, in the present Indian socio-political context, most undesirable regressions. What such attitudes seem to ignore is the fact that the popular demand for the economic, social and political benefits of modernity is all but universal, as shown by the permanence of classic mass struggles for social justice, especially in the countries of the South, and by the relentless stream of emigrants from these countries seeking entry into those of the North. A well-known postcolonialist such as Dipesh Chakrabarty himself recognizes that all pretensions to universalism are not camouflaged imperialism, and that all moderns desirous of social justice in capitalist societies are bound to share a measure of commitment to the Enlightenment universals (both liberal and Marxist), if only for reasons of political opportunity: his critical stance, he says, is not “a programme for a simple rejection of modernity, which would be, in many situations, politically suicidal” (Chakrabarty, 2000:45, commented upon in Pouchepadass 2002). A distinction should obviously be made (as thinkers such as Popper, Habermas, and latterly Touraine have shown) between modernity as such and the positivistic, conquering, intolerant modernism that gradually overlaid and replaced it during the course of the nineteenth century, and identified it with the authoritarian reign of secular instrumental rationality. The rejection of this modernism does not involve the renunciation of reason or the liberal core of Enlightenment thought. But most postcolonialists, rather than admit this, simply transpose their social and political criticism
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onto the order of discourse. And the postcolonial project becomes restricted to the question of the modes of historiographical representation. Thus the task becomes the subversion of historiography, the quest for a more democratic form of history writing, one that assumes the intrinsic incapacity of the academic discourse of history to convey the irreducible plurality of the ways of being human. A commendable project in its own right, but which may easily degenerate into the aesthetic celebration of the singularity of indigenous modes of being as retrieved from the writings of the literate elite, the subaltern classes’ concrete battles for their immediate priorities being left to the domain of modern ideologies of progress to which the postmodern critic can no longer unreservedly subscribe. The critique of modern reason’s pretension to the exclusive monopoly of universality, and the urge to think difference as a universal, a concrete universal respectful of cultural identities and released from Western ethnocentrism,are eminently justified. The potential risk they present stems from their closeness to the conception of cultural identity as a counter-culture of subjectivity, if not to a cultural integrism which entails an integral and uncritical valorization of the indigenous ethos and a fantasm of homogeneity cast upon cultural communities whose internal inequalities are underplayed or ignored. This, of course, is a dead end and can only lead to mutual ignorance, agressiveness or violence between reified cultures, and to social and political oppression within each of them. But one should not overestimate the impact of Subaltern Studies on the intellectual class or on social struggles in India. For one thing, Indian historiography remains to a large extent anti-colonial in the classical nationalist sense. Moreover, the institutions of the democratic state born of the Independence movement, as well as the ideals of modernity, remain the principal resource base of Indian
social movements. A symbolic illustration of this may be found in the appreciation expressed by a Tamil participant in a forum on
Subaltern Studies held in Kumbakonam (Tamil Nadu) in 1997. He criticised the subalternist project, which he saw as engineered by Bengali and other Brahmins, for ignoring caste exclusivism as a constitutive factor of subalternity in India, and added that the critique of modernity in the Indian context can only lead to neobrahminism (Pandian, 1997). This dalit criticism of subalternism may be too radical, but it is true that the failure of postcolonial theory, strong as it is on the critique of colonial epistemology and Western ethnocentrism, is its inability to confront the contradictions to which it leads in the analysis of the postcolonial present, and to provide any convincing line of political inspiration to the contemporary subaltern it professes to represent, in pursuance of the respectable endeavour of the initial Subaltern Studies. This failure was not inevitable. The crippling limits of discourse theory and the culture of resentment have been successfully and forcefully shattered by closely related social theorists in other places, such as Achille Mbembe in the case of Africa (Mbembe 2001). Such an effort will be the price to pay if postcolonialism, in spite of its considerable intellectual merits, is to leave more than a purely literary trace once the transient wave of fashion has run its course.
[This is an amended and extended version of an article written in early 2000 for L’Homme: Revue Française d'Anthropologie, 156,April-December 2000, of which the first English translation was published in Sujata Patel et al. (eds.), Thinking Social Science in India: Essays in Honour o f Alice Thomer, ©Sujata Patel, Jasodhara Bagchi and Krishna Raj, 2002. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder and the publishers, Sage Publications India Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi.}
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NOTES 1 Which I unfortunately could not consult at the time of writing this article. 2 Namely Ranajit Guha, Shahid Amin, David Arnold, Gautam Bhadra, Dipesh Chakrabarty, David Hardiman, Gyanendra Pandey, Sumit Sarkar and Partha Chatterjee, all historians except the last (a political scientist), and all specialists of modern India working in Great Britain, India or Australia. 3Vol. VII (1992) was edited by P.Chatterjee and G. Pandey, Vol. VIII (1994), a felicitation volume dedicated to Ranajit Guha, by D. Arnold and D. Hardiman, Vol. IX (1996) by S. Amin and D. Chakrabarty, Vol. X (1999) by G. Bhadra, G. Prakash and S. Tharu, and Vol. XI (Permanent Black, 2000) by P. Chatterjee and P. Jaganathan. 4 Among the works published by the members of the original collective, let us particularly m ention Amin (1995), Chatterjee (1986, 1993), Hardiman (1987) and Pandey (1990). 5 The emblematic book of this current of historiography is Thompson (1963). 6 An idea publicly form ulated by Sabyasachi Bhattacharya in his presidential address before the modern history section of the Indian History Congress in 1982 (Bhattacharya 1983). 7 The best overall syntheses of this critical historiography of Indian nationalism are Sarkar (1983a, 1983b). 8 Guha later describes these‘intermediate strata as‘lower sections of the petty bourgeoisie’ (ibid., p. 5). 9 The binary hegemony-domination is also borrowed from Gramsci who used it in his Prison Notebooks to illustrate the difference of complexity of the state in the Atlantic West and in Russia. Revolution in the Russian context m erely m eant the conquest o f the apparatus o f power (administration, army and police), with which the state was coterminous. Elsewhere in the West, revolution also implied the suppression of the ideological and social hegemony exercised by the élites over the civil society, which itself constituted the base of the body politic. The hasty
application to the case of colonial India of this model, already replete with unresolved questions as far as Europe is concerned, of course makes for a somewhat hazardous kind of sociology. On the relationship between Subaltern Studies and Gramsci, see Arnold (1984). 10 Nothing equivalent to Moi, Pierre Riviere..., the witten testimony of a French nineteenth-century peasant decoded by Foucault and his team (Foucault, 1973), with rare exceptions such as the evidence of the accused in the Chauri Chaura trial analysed by Amin ( 1995). 11 Insurgency is regarded as external to the peasant’s consciousness, and Cause is made to stand in as a phantom surrogate to Reason, the logic o f consciousness’ (Guha, 1983a: 2 -3 ). 12 Guha (1983b). These invariants or ‘elementrary forms’ were analysed under six thematic labels: negation (the popular conception of resistance), ambiguity (the relation between crime and resistance), modality (forms of organisation and collective action), solidarity (unity and discord within the resistance), transmission (modes of communication in the rebellion), territoriality (the spatial dimension of revolts). 13 As is done by Henningham (1983), who describes the Quit India movement of 1942 as a ‘dual’ revolt, consisting on the one hand of an organised agitation staged by the nationalist élite, and on the other of a violent rebellion of subalterns defined by their ‘characteristic’ religious consciousness. 14 See for instance the reviews of Subaltern Studies published in Social Scientist,October 1984 and March 1988; Brass ( 1993); Mukherjee( 1988). 15Attitudes which formed the subject of La Boetie’s celebrated Discourse on voluntary servitude (1574), and with which many social scientists have dealt in more recent times, from Moses Finley on the subject of slavery in ancient Greece to Claude Lévi-Strauss, Pierre Clastres and Maurice Godelier in wholly different contexts. 16 That is to say, mainly, his contribution to Subaltern Studies I (Guha, 1982) and the introduction to his book published shortly afterwards (Guha, 1983a). 17 Hardiman ( 1986). D. Chakrabarty wrote in 1985‘The ‘‘subalterns” [...] are not a “sect” with a single point of view; they are perhaps far more
‘Subaltern Studies’ as Post-Colonial Critique of Modernity
united in their rejection of certain academic positions and tendencies than in their acceptance of any easy alternatives’ (Chakrabarty, 1985:364). 18 The lim it o f Said’s analysis being a certain essen tialisation of orien talism itself. The book did not say w hat a less m utilatin g understanding could be, and it failed to recognise the contribution made by certain indigenous élites to the construction o f orientalist knowledge (an idea to which a fleeting allusion was made in an essay by B.S. Cohn in Subaltern Studies IV (Cohn, 1985:284,329). 19A notoriety strongly aided by the publication in the United States of an anthology of Subaltern Studies edited by R. Guha and G. Spivak, with a preface by Edward Said (Guha and Spivak, 1988). 20 See for example the fragmented structure o f Amin (1995). 21 The Vernacular Tracts Collection of the India Office Library in London is one of the most frequented repositories of this literature.
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