The Politics of the Governed: Reflections on Popular Politics in Most of the World

The Politics of the Governed: Reflections on Popular Politics in Most of the World

The Politics of the Governed: Reflections on Popular Politics in Most of the World

The Politics of the Governed: Reflections on Popular Politics in Most of the World


Often dismissed as the rumblings of "the street," popular politics is where political modernity is being formed today, according to Partha Chatterjee. The rise of mass politics all over the world in the twentieth century led to the development of new techniques of governing population groups. On the one hand, the idea of popular sovereignty has gained wide acceptance. On the other hand, the proliferation of security and welfare technologies has created modern governmental bodies that administer populations, but do not provide citizens with an arena for democratic deliberation. Under these conditions, democracy is no longer government of, by, and for the people. Rather, it has become a world of power whose startling dimensions and unwritten rules of engagement Chatterjee provocatively lays bare.

This book argues that the rise of ethnic or identity politics -- particularly in the postcolonial world -- is a consequence of new techniques of governmental administration. Using contemporary examples from India, the book examines the different forms taken by the politics of the governed. Many of these operate outside of the traditionally defined arena of civil society and the formal legal institutions of the state. This book considers the global conditions within which such local forms of popular politics have appeared and shows us how both community and global society have been transformed. Chatterjee's analysis explores the strategic as well as the ethical dimensions of the new democratic politics of rights, claims, and entitlements of population groups and permits a new understanding of the dynamics of world politics both before and after the events of September 11, 2001.

The Politics of the Governed consists of three essays, originally given as the Leonard Hastings Schoff Lectures at Columbia University in November 2001, and four additional essays that complement and extend the analyses presented there. By combining these essays between the covers of a single volume, Chatterjee has given us a major and urgent work that provides a full perspective on the possibilities and limits of democracy in the postcolonial world.


The Leonard Hastings Schoff Memorial Lectures were delivered in November 2001.1 am grateful to the University Seminars committee of Columbia University, and Robert Belknap in particular, for inviting me to deliver them. It was indeed an honor to follow the distinguished members of the Columbia faculty who had delivered these lectures before me. I am especially grateful to Akeel Bilgrami, Nicholas Dirks, Edward Said, and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak for their warm and generous introductions to the lectures and to the members of the audience, including many of my students, for their enthusiastic participation in the discussions that followed. In preparing the lectures for publication, I have been mindful of many of the questions raised by my audience.

I must confess that it was a little daunting to speak under the giant shadow of what had happened in New York, in the United States, and in our hapless world in the weeks preceding the lectures. I could not claim to offer any spectacular enlightenment, and certainly not any magic solution to the world's intractable problems. What I did hope to bring to my audience then, and what I expect to present to my readers now, is a certain understanding—however hazy and indeterminate it may be—of what it is that is driving the energies and aspirations of numerous people in most of the world. This is not a world that is familiar to many of us, and I do not claim any privileged insider's knowledge. I have been, for the most part, myself an observer from the outside, except that for the greater part of the year when I live and work away from Columbia and New York, this world intrudes . . .

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