Aylin Akyar Power, Resistance and State. Response Paper Volume II 05.03.


Questioning Chatterjee’s concept of ‘political society’:protopolitics or transitional sphere? What concepts and discourses that can help us make sense of a society whose ideas have been re-shaped by colonialism? Can “universal” theories, which emerged in the Western context, help us to understand post-colonial India? Chatterjee sets out to address these questions on “Politics of the Governed”. He formulates his ideas through categories that capture the Indian society, by distinguishing these from Western approaches. Chatterjee, on “Politics of the Governed” on Chapter II, challenges the Western/ Enlightenment notion of civil society. As a main concept he is dealing with “political society” in post-colonial states; form of society which poses distinctive features in terms of its relation to the state apparatus (status, rights, economic conditions…) when compared to the “civil society” concept of the West. We will touch upon this “political society” concept to understand its role in both state politics and (mobilization of) subaltern movement. ‘Populations’ replace ‘citizens’1 in the post-colonial society: we will look further into this situation; possibility of internal transformations within them, thus connecting us to the social movement potential. Chatterjee draws upon the concept of popular sovereignty in the Western example (p. 29):
… with the success of democratic … struggles all over the world, the constraints of class, rank, gender, race, caste, etc. would be gradually lifted from the idea of popular sovereignty, and universal citizenship would be recognized, … in the general right of self-determination of the nations. The universal dimension is represented, first, by the idea of the people as the original locus of sovereignty and second, by the idea of all humans as bearers of rights.

However, as he refers to Marx further on, the abstract realm of rights is distinct from the actual realm of life in civil society. Even for the universalistic theory of rights, and actually as an outcome of them, a new order of power relations emerged in the society based on distinctions of class, race, religion, gender, etc… We are face to face with a clash of promised liberties in the public domain and the actual “practice” of these rights, very limited in the civil life. This fact, Chatterjee acknowledges, “…propelled numerous struggles all over the world to change unequal and unjust social differences” (p. 30). The inequality caused by social differences inherent in the very foundation of the modern state brings the concept of “equality” and “community” on the foreground. Community, first of all, “might be an important source of moral meaning for individual lives” (p. 31). We can assume that the context he refers to here is the traditional bonds embedded in the given society. Agreeing that most individuals, no matter how advanced societies they live in, exist


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is descriptive. This is central to the concept governmentality vs. Studies of British sociologists like Nickolas Rose. the tendency to govern populations through classification continued in the post-colonial structure. 32). the concept of “political society” emerges from the latter. thus caste and religion in India for instance.2012 within “an inherited network of social attachments”. an entirely new distinction was created: populations and citizens. Response Paper Volume II 05. Over this distinction of subject vs. while “welfare administration” began to influence the process of democratic politics. and classifiable and through this concept government functionaries can employ instruments to reach large sections of inhabitants (p. ethical discourses and so on… stood at the heart of governmentality. the less equal they will stand in the public realm of citizenship. as Chatterjee addresses in his work. 37). 36): In short. traditional or inherited nature of their societal bonds seems to undermine the primary requirements of modern citizenship (p. expressed in the legal – political facts of equal citizenship. The legitimacy lies not within the active participation of citizens but the “wellbeing of the population … its apparatus is a network of surveillance through which information is collected on every aspect of life of the population…” (ibid). b) for the non-Western world. medical. identifiable. the primordial. This clearly marks the shift from the Enlightenment notion of ‘participatory citizenship’ to contemporary ‘governmentality’. “Population”. Page | 2 . subjects should be transformed into modern citizens (p. 33). Resistance and State. participation (p. the idea that for the modernization to function. different from the normative concept of “citizen”. The notions Chatterjee aims to challenge in this realm are: a) the independent norms of civil society could provide the social base for democracy. Noticing the divide between popular sovereignty on the one hand and the act of relating to the populations through welfare policies on the other. citizen. and not all societies are accepted into the modern political life. the family structure or pedagogical. Britain and U. producing a heterogeneous construct of the social As we move on to examples from Asia. Notably. whereas the activities of governmentality required multiple and shifting classifications on the population as the targets of multiple policies. Chatterjee exemplifies this situation with a recent ethnographic survey made by the governmental agency in India (p. remain the primary criteria for identifying communities among the populations. Chatterjee refers to Foucault in likening this kind of state power to “governmentalization of the state” (ibid).S had already been preoccupied with the classification of their subjects. The “political” became more and more abstract and distant. verifying and validating the personal identities. produced the homogenous construct of the nation. The more inherent these attachments. popular sovereignty. empirical. Peter Miller who asked what is “government from the social point of view” revealed that. 34).Aylin Akyar Power.03.

or of proto/infra-politics? In Hobsbawm’s classical account on social crime (1972). and inequality (i. would seem to lay the preconditions for resurgence of social crime as a survival strategy if not as form of proto-political resistance 5 Posing such a question concludes that. Chatterjee’s distinction between political and civil society brings forward the following question: Do practices in “political society.html 6 http://www. Response Paper Volume II 05.palgrave-journals. 41). His question is whether a ‘civil society’ is applicable to countries like India that are marked by marginalization.org/reviews/showrev.com/cpt/journal/v7/n1/full/9300318a.com/cpt/journal/v7/n1/full/9300318a. Chatterjee establishes a ‘politics of the governed’ which means a constant negotiation of 2 3 http://www.palgrave-journals. keeps distant from such “unscrupulously charitable theoretical gestures” acknowledging that civil society is a limited category (ibid). welfare citizenship and effective political participation and group formation.h-net. street traders. 38). “one needs to dirty one's hands with the questions of governmentality”6.pwp. Hence.e.blueyonder.2012 Chatterjee clearly constructs a distinction between ‘political’ and ‘civil’ society. or survival tactics – “circumspect struggle” (Scott.03. In India. political society could well be a transitional sphere.html 4 http://www. however. Hence.php?id=30477 http://www. 39). The fact that most inhabitants (even if not excluded from the political sphere) do not possess any kind of status but “only tenuously. Such a politics demands that collective action be mobilized. massive populations continue to be pushed to the margins of society. we need in this context a ‘politics’ which has broader vision than merely negotiating daily problems. So. brings them into a political relationship with the State on ‘welfare’ grounds (p.” such using electricity connections illegally.com/cpt/journal/v7/n1/full/9300318a. or `tolerated illegalities' (Foucault. It is a challenge for the modernist project that entire population-groups exist whose social life depends on illegality — squatters. Chatterjee.uk/misc/socrime. aid agencies or international institutions in the creation of free members of civil society (p.co. in a post-colonial world.palgrave-journals. Governments seeking popular legitimacy have to compromise with such populations (p. ambiguously and contextually” rightful citizens. certain forms of illegal acts might mean ‘proto-politics’. Such a situation is far distant from the civil society depiction and this is why some analysts have stressed out the facilitating role of NGO’s. Resistance and State.Aylin Akyar Power. fall into the category of politics.html Page | 3 . and that all participate in the making of a public discourse. people who obtain free water and electricity — and who come to view such resources as land and water as rights in a way the state does not (p.bunker8. the popular experience of politics is an experience of being ‘subject’s to governmentality as “fragmentary politics”3. to achieve democratic inclusion.html 5 http://www. 1977: 82). 40)4. different from Europe in which civil society emerged in sync with the elites. 1992: 183) The growing exclusion of large numbers of people from the labour market. cast system)2.

In my view.03.Aylin Akyar Power. & Peter Miller (eds. Eric. his attempt to develop a theory of political society based on the experience of post-colonial countries should be reconsidered on these grounds. New York. Foucault. Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf. 1972 (25):5-6. Scott. “Governmentality” In: Graham Burchell.) The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality. Partha. “The Politics of the Governed: Reflections on Popular Politics in Most of the World”. 1977 Foucault. Columbia University Press.2012 social arrangements between political society and the state – a project of popular democracy through everyday life struggles (p. Page | 4 . 50). “Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts” Yale University Press New Haven. Resistance and State. Colin Gordon. “Social Criminality: distinctions between socio-political and other forms of crime”. 1991 Hobsbawm. James. In Bulletin of the Society for the Study of Labour History. Michel. Response Paper Volume II 05. Michel. “Discipline and Punish” London: Allen Lane. Bibliography Chatterjee. 1992: 183 – 193. 2004: 29 – 50.

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