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Bookreview: The politics of the governed: reflections on popular politics in most of the world. By Partha Chatterjee. New York: Columbia University Press. 2004. 200 pp. $33.00 Cloth. ISBN 0 231 13062 7

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Williams, Glyn

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Abstract 151BookreviewThepolitics of the governed: reflections on popular politics in most of the world.By Partha Chatterjee. New York: Columbia University Press. 2004. 200 pp.$33.00 Cloth. ISBN 0 231 13062 7SAGE Publications, Inc.200810.1177/1474474007085786GlynWilliamsDepartment of Town and Regional Planning Universityof SheffieldThePolitics of the Governed is a rich collection of essays drawn from lecturesin the USA and India in which Partha Chatterjee addresses subjects that includenationalism, the transformation of contemporary Kolkata and America's hegemoaanicrole before and after 9/11. The essays are as theoretically engaging as theyare varied, providing intelligent and accessible commen- taries on the workof Anderson (1998) and Negri and Hardt (2000), as well as a broader engage-ment with concepts of governmentality as these play out in the contemporaryglobal South. The theme around which many of these different strands coalesceis the relationship between political participation and forms of governance,in particular, the role the post- colonial state plays in shaping its subjects.Here, Chatterjee draws a distinction between two ways in which the modernstate views people: as citizens, or rights-bearing members of a national politicalfraternity and as populations, or subjects who are constantly divided andre-arranged by government as targets of policy. He argues that the post-colonialstate deals with its people primarily as governed populations, and that thismode of operation has been reinforced in part through its expanded interventionsconducted in the name of `development'. Lacking full citizenship, the vastmajority of India's population – and by extension their counterpartsacross the global South – are left to make claims on the state fromthe murky field of political brokerage that Chatterjee calls political society.It is here that the needs of this excluded populace are voiced and are sometimesmet, but always as conditional claims rather than formal rights. Politicalsociety emerges as both an important moment in state– society relationships,and as a space of possibility where new forms of democratic representationcan be created by working through the contradictions of post-colonial governance.Throughout the book, these central arguments are fleshed out through a diversecollection of illustrations that includes Ambedkar's drafting of the IndianConstitution, the death of a leader of a Hindu sect, and contemporary attemptsto regulate madrasah schooling. Again and again, seemingly esoteric or mundaneevents are cleverly used to open up debates of global significance. Theremay be questions as to whether these primarily Indian (and particularly Bengali)examples can ever speak for `popular politics in most of the world', but thisis one of India's foremost public intellectuals writing at the top of hisform. As such, Politics of the Governed deserves a wide audience in geography.
Document language English
Publication Year 2008
Page/Pages p. 151-151
Journal Cultural Geographies, 15 (2008) 1
Status Postprint; peer reviewed
Licence PEER Licence Agreement (applicable only to documents from PEER project)