Posts Tagged ‘book_review’

Chutney? No! Chatterjee : D

Friday, September 24th, 2010

Partha Chatterjee complicates the notion of nationalism in the post-colonial world through his analysis of previous scholars writing as well as setting forth his own theories about India’s nationalist movement. His greatest contribution is a more complex lens with which to evaluate post-colonial nations. He demonstrates the contradictions encapsulated within the post-colonial world’s acceptance of a Euro-centric nationalism. Chatterjee’s book, although written in chapters, is essential a collection of short essays. In his first two chapters, he concentrates on the previous concepts of nationalism and his own contributions to said conversation. He uses the rest of the book to expand on his theories through a close analysis of post-colonial India.

In his first chapter, Chatterjee presents a history of Nationalist theory and its arguments. He focuses on two camps debating nationalism in the 1970s and the 1980s, liberal-rationalists and Marxists. He includes extensive block quotes and distills their main line of reasoning in order to compare the different arguments. The crux of this essay is that nationalism is incorrectly rooted to the West and modernity. Chatterjee describes another main flaw of liberal-rationalist and Marxist thought as theorists, such as Benedict Anderson, representing nationalism to be sociologically deterministic. As side note, having a background in nationalists theories will greatly aid the reader by contextualizing Chatterjee’s arguments.

Chatterjee continues his work by laying out his own concepts of nationalism. In the beginning of his second essay, he demonstrates post-colonial groups as dealing with a broad idea of nationalism in a series of moments. He considers post-colonial nationalism as having two components, the broad definition couched in European ideas, and the modifications people make to fit their specific situation (e.g. Indians attempting to differentiate their nationalism from colonialism.) Coupled to this negotiation, Chatterjee believes that there are three moments which must occur in order for nations to exist. First, people in a colony wish to throw off the colonizers and so adopt their idea of nationalism. They follow this with a series of debates about what nationalism ought look like, in India’s case the main question is whether they have to be a modern, urban nation. Finally, a certain group of intellectuals push aside the previous debates in order to create a monolithic nation that omits any of those conflicts.

Partha Chatterjee argues excellently for a more complicated understanding of the “modular” effect of nationalism as seen in many of his contemporaries work. Unlike other scholars, he does not see nationalism as an inevitability but rather a concept people debate and actively modify. His concepts constitute a realistic alternative to the Euro-centric nationalism. However, his work is not without problems. Despite the title including “post-colonial,” Chatterjee only draws from his understanding of India to act as the baseboard for his theories. Further application of his concepts would greatly enhance the ideas he has set forth. For instance would Chatterjee’s three moments be seen in Chinese nationalism? Another issue is the ambiguous use of language. When speaking about theoretical concepts, he tends to use terms such as “problematic” and “thematic” which he explains in a fairly abstruse manner.