‘The Abiding Binary: Social/Political in modern India’ by Dr. Prathama Banerjee

Dr. Prathama Banerjee from Centre for Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), Delhi presented his research entitled ‘The Abiding Binary: Social/Political in modern India’ at the Sociological Research Colloquium.

When: Friday, 11th November 2016 at 3:00 p.m.

Where: Seminar Room (First Floor), Department of Sociology, University of Delhi 


In this essay, I argue that south Asian history – between late 19th and late 20th centuries – appears as a series of alternations between mobilisation of the social and mobilization of the political, seen as two contrary yet twin domains of collective action.  The point of this broad-stroke reading of history – which admittedly risks papering over multiple temporal and regional complexities – is to interrogate the currently hegemonic governmentality paradigm, which is grounded in the proposition that in modernity  ‘rule by the social’ becomes the norm in place of earlier ways of exercising sovereign power from above and outside society. However, I do not dwell here on the well-known Agamben-ian argument, that violent, sovereign power continues in modern times in spaces of exception and times of emergency. Instead, I explore a different set of questions. I show that the ‘rule by the social’ proposition of modern political theory is troubled by the extreme instability of the social itself in India, where governmental categories (such as labour and poor) and sociological categories (such as caste and tribe) often appear in mismatch with the concrete identities that mobilize on the ground.  I also show how the social gets repeatedly reconfigured and redefined in the short span of decades, such that what appeared as society then no longer appears as society now.  Above all, I show how groups claim efficacy at times by transitioning from social to political subjectivity, while paradoxically at other times, by refusing the political designation and claiming a purely social ontology. Political charge emanates from this to and fro between the social and the political – rather than from the dominance of either category.  

About the Speaker

Dr. Prathama Banerjee is a historian at the Centre for Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), Delhi. She studied at JNU and SOAS and has a book called The Politics of Time: ‘primitives’ and history-writing in a colonial society.  She currently works on histories of the political in colonial and immediately postcolonial Bengal, and has published segments of her ongoing work as ‘Chanakya/Kautilya: history, philosophy and theatre in colonial Bengal’, Journal of the History of the Present, 2(1), 2012 and ‘Between the political and the non-political: the Vivekananda moment and a critique of the social in colonial Bengal’, Social History, 39(3), 2014.

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