Political Modernity in the Postcolony: Some Reflections From India's Bhil Heartland
In this seminar, Alf Gunvald Nilsen analyzes the roles historically played by law, civil society, and citizenship in the social movements of Bhil Adivasis in western India
One of the foundational mythologies of sociological Eurocentrism pivots on the proposition that political modernity originated in the West. On this reading, the democratic nation-state, and institutions such as citizenship and civil society are purely Western achievements that only made their way southwards long after they had been consolidated in the north Atlantic realm of the world-system. The fundamentally problematic nature of this proposition has been evidenced in a compelling body of scholarship that has unearthed the multiple origins of modern statehood, sovereignty, and technologies of governance, as well as in the rich historical work on the Haitian revolution as a founding moment in the transnational historical trajectory of democracy. But how do we conceptualize political modernity in the contemporary postcolony? This talk engages this question through an analysis of the roles played by law, civil society, and citizenship in the social movements of Bhil Adivasis in western India. Engaging critically with Partha Chatterjee's recent work, I suggest that the meanings and practices that we associate with universalizing democratic vocabularies have always been shaped and reshaped – and, crucially, expanded in more progressive and encompassing directions – by the mobilizations of subaltern groups in the postcolony.
Alf Gunvald Nilsen is Associate Professor at the Department of Global Development and Planning, University of Agder, Norway