V i v e k B h a n d a r i C i v i l S o c i e t y a n d M u l t i p l e “ P u b l i c s ”
state and society (a alse duality in itsel) hasbeen one o stark inequality. The essay arguesthat the peculiar circumstances o colonial rulein India created a ractured, stratifed publicculture in which a normative bourgeois publicsphere coexists with multiple “subaltern coun-terpublics.” Although colonial orms o knowl-edge sought to discipline the socioculturallandscape in the Raj rom the mid-nineteenthcentury onward, the coexistence o multiplepublics demonstrates that numerous constitu-encies resisted, indeed subverted, such reorder-ing. Over time, this has had a proound eect on the way people in India understand theirrole as citizens and, in turn, their relationship with existing institutions o civil society.
Locating the “Public”
In the voluminous scholarship on the subject,the origins o civil society are generally attrib-uted to G. W. F. Hegel’s nineteenth-century theoretical ormulations.
More recently, therevival o the study o civil society, it is otensuggested, is the outcome o debates in EasternEurope and the English translation o JürgenHabermas’s
The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere
Partly because o the prominenceo Habermas’s ormulations on the “publicsphere” and modern institutions in general,the concept o civil society has been particularly important to political philosophers, who havebeen its primary explorers in recent times.
Inhis work on a theory o “communicative action,”Habermas makes a clear distinction betweenthe “lieworld” and the “system”— a distinctionthat indicates a radical rupture between thesignifcance o everyday interaction and inter-actions made possible by institutions and orga-nizations. The latter, according to Habermas,serve as the locus o the modern public sphereand, in turn, the associational lie that ani-mates civil society. As Ashutosh Varshney putsit, or Habermas, everyday interaction makeslie, but organized interaction makes history.
The emergence o new histories o the popu-lar struggles o women, peasants, workers, andminorities—those not ormally admitted to thepublic sphere in much o nineteenth-century Europe and America—suggests the historicalinadequacy o Habermas’s distinction. Indeed,in his more recent positions, Habermas has allbut dropped the radical distinction he drewearlier,
and, as Varshney points outs, i moreorganized and institutional civic sites are not available generally or to some specifc groups,street-corner activity can now be viewed as aserious civic orm as well.
How do these ormulations apply to India?Christopher Pinney points out that the Haber-masian conception o orthodox politics is prob-lematic and peculiarly unsatisactory or thestudy o public culture in the Indian subconti-nent. The context or Habermas’s conceptual-ization is the outcome o a particular Europeanhistory in which a public sphere emerges to rou-tinize certain orms o communicative agency,debate, and resolution. In Pinney’s concisesynopsis, Habermas’s public sphere “blossoms within a cognitivized chronotope (archetypi-cally the coee house where one could read anddiscuss
) within which a certain modelo cerebral rationality is privileged. The culturalagency that Habermas embodies in this ormo politics is linguistically overdetermined andis grounded in a notional dyadic interchangebetween two discoursing (and immobily seated)men.”
He goes on to point out that the theory o political culture that emerges rom such con-straints is “structured by two absences, whichlimit its powers o elucidation: the absence o any consideration o the bodies that producethese elocutions and o the perormative ele-ment in these encounters” (19).Recent writings on the subject o public
2. For an intellectual history of the concept, seeAdam Seligman,
The Idea of Civil Society
(Princeton,NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992).3. Jürgen Habermas,
The Structural Transformationof the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into the Category of Bourgeois Society
, trans. Thomas Burger and Fred-eric Lawrence (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1989). Fora rich collection of essays on Habermas’s formula-tion, see Craig Calhoun, ed.,
Habermas and the Public Sphere
(Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992).4. See, e.g., Jean Cohen and Andrew Arato,
Civil Soci-ety and Political Theory
(Cambridge, MA: MIT Press,1992); Charles Taylor, “Modes of Civil Society,”
3, no. 1 (1990); and Michael Walzer, “The Con-cept of Civil Society,” in
Towards a Global Civil Soci-ety
, ed. M. Walzer (Providence, RI: Berghahn Books,1998), 41–68.5. Ashutosh Varshney,
Ethnic Conﬂict and Civic Life:Hindus and Muslims in India
(New Haven, CT: YaleUniversity Press, 2002), 45.6. Jürgen Habermas, “Further Reflections on thePublic Sphere,” in Calhoun,
Habermas and the Public Sphere
, 421–61.7. Varshney,
Ethnic Conﬂict and Civic Life
, 41.8. Christopher Pinney, “Introduction: Public, Popular,and Other Cultures,” in
Pleasure and the Nation: TheHistory, Politics, and Consumption of Public Culture inIndia
, ed. Rachel Dwyer and Christopher Pinney (NewDelhi: Oxford University Press, 2001), 18–19.