Re-framing Democracy and Agency in India

Re-framing Democracy and Agency in India

Interrogating Political Society

Edited by Ajay Gudavarthy

Anthem South Asian Studies

This volume critically unpacks the concept of ‘political society’, formulated as a response to the idea of civil society in a postcolonial context.

Hardback, 336 Pages


March 2012

£70.00, $115.00

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About This Book

Civil Society as a conceptual category across different disciplines and ideological and theoretical frameworks has enjoyed an acceptability that no other concept has in the recent past. In response to what could, perhaps, be referred to as the post-euphoric versions of the civil society, scholars across theoretical dispositions began to look for the critical limits of posturing core issues of democracy through the prism of civil society. It is in this context that Partha Chatterjee has made one of the most important interventions by opposing the idea of civil society to that of political society.

‘Re-framing Democracy and Agency in India: Interrogating Political Society’ critically unpacks the concept of ‘political society’, which was formulated as a response to the idea of civil society in a postcolonial context. The volume addresses the theoretical issues of political society through a number of detailed case studies from across India: Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, West Bengal, Chattisgarh, Delhi and Maharashtra. These case studies, combined with a sharp focus on the concept of political society, provide those interested in democracy and its changing patterns in India with an indispensable collection of works, brought together in their common pursuit to highlight the limitations with different core concepts that Chatterjee has formulated. Centred around five themes – the relation between the civil and the political; the role of middlemen and their impact on mobility of the subaltern groups; elites and leadership; the fragmentation and intra-subaltern conflicts and its implications for subaltern agency; and finally the idea of moral claims and moral community – this volume re-frames issues of democracy and agency in India within a wider scope than has ever before been published, and gathers ideas from some of the foremost scholars in the field. The volume concludes with a rejoinder from Partha Chatterjee.


‘[This book] is an informed debate on political society with Partha Chaterjee. […] [It] mark[s] out a territory that needs attention from scholars on Indian politics as it is only upon naming and categorizing varied political practices that one can refine and clarify them.’ —Ankita Pandey, ‘Studies in Indian Politics’

‘This volume offers rich theoretical and empirical engagement with Partha Chatterjee’s idea of political society, and critically navigates the interface between political society and the dynamics of resistance in India’s emerging social reality, arguing that it is the struggles that lie beyond survival strategies that are imperative for democratisation. By posing questions of democracy and agency, these essays comprise a significant advance in the debate on civil and political society, and move towards presenting alternative interpretations of popular politics in contemporary post-colonial societies.’ —Professor Zoya Hasan, Jawaharlal Nehru University

‘A collection of very important philosophical, theoretical and empirical essays that test the usefulness and limits of the increasingly controversial concept of “political society” in understanding the politics of subordinate groups in India. The contributions rescue “political society” from its rather anodyne and apolitical conceptualisation, and establish it as a site of insurgent, radical and possibly transformational politics. The essays of the volume provide a comprehensive account of where democratic political agency in India is heading.’ —Dr Subir Sinha, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

Author Information

Ajay Gudavarthy is Assistant Professor at the Centre for Political Studies of Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He has been a visiting fellow at Goldsmiths, University of London, and a Charles Wallace Fellow at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.


Anthem South Asian Studies

Table of Contents

1. Introduction: Why Interrogate Political Society? – Ajay Gudavarthy; Part I: Political Society and Protest Politics; 2. Political Society in a Capitalist World – Swagato Sarkar; 3. Antinomies of Political Society – Implications of Uncivil Development – Ajay Gudavarthy and G. Vijay; 4. Civil Society and the Urban Poor – Supriya RoyChowdhury; 5. Contentious Politics and Civil Society in Varanasi – Jolie M. F. Wood; 6. The Politics of a Political Society – Ranabir Samaddar; Part II: Political Society, Middlemen and Mobility; 7. The Pyraveekar: The ‘Fixer’ in Rural India – G. Ram Reddy and G. Haragopal; 8. Politics of Middlemen and Political Society – Stuart Corbridge, Glyn Williams, Manoj Srivastava and René Véron; 9. Widows’ Organizations in Kerala State, India: Seeking Citizenship amidst the Decline of Political Society – J. Devika and A. K. Rajasree; Part III: Civil Society and/or Political Society; 10. Clubbing Together: Village Clubs, Local NGOs and the Mediations of Political Society – Tom Harrison; 11. Civic Anxieties and Dalit Democratic Culture: Balmikis in Delhi – Omar Kutty; 12. The Habits of the Political Heart: Recovering Politics from Governmentality – Aparna Sundar and Nandini Sundar; 13. Civil Society in the East and Some Dark Thoughts about the Prospects of Political Society – Sanjeeb Mukherjee; Part IV: Rejoinder; 14. The Debate over Political Society – Partha Chatterjee


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