Questioning ‘community’

Ajay Gudavarthy

In post-colonial period, binary between community and modern

  • retains as modern only community of nation-state with its homogeneous time
  • others stand outside it in heterogeneous time

Although community in heterogeneous time is sometimes given positive value

  •  peasant or local presented as ethical antidote to anonymity of larger spaces
  • Gandhi: face-to-face relations are more organic than contractual, legal status of citizenship

Post-colonial scholars do acknowledge that community bends modern institutions to its own imperatives

e.g. Partha Chatterjee

  • voting supposed to be individual but tends to be by group
  • caste gets “secularised” to have imprint on modern institutions

So “community” is a) ethical but also b) able to bend modern institutions

But this is very selective reading of community: can never understand modern political institutions as completely modern to begin with > they themselves draw on “community” institutions

> What are other features of community that are not being captured in post-colonial theory but which might be revealed through ethnography?

1. everyday morality of modern institutions: much of workings of community happens not through legal and political but through moral language > need to rethink distinction of legal-political and moral or religious

2. hierarchy not of dignity but of honour – but is it possible to think of community without hierarchy of honour?

> communities being managed as role-based performance: performing roles not just as individuals – never imagine individual purely as individual bearer of rights or legal entity

3. temporal understood not as linear but as repetitive practices: ritualisation as opposed to modern innovation e.g. Gandhi: need to slow down time, generating more repetitive practices

a. but post-colonials create mirror image of liberal citizenship, civil society, rule of law by extracting only positive faces of community

e.g. “community as organic, face-to-face”: but caste is also self-regulating etc.

b. not the case we move from fluidity to regulation; governmentality has moved from moral-social into legal-political

e.g. introduction of disposable glasses to avoid problem with pollution by caste

>> if do not understand dark practices of community, will not be able to understand modern state

Sourayan Mookerjea

Claims to community ubiquitous in world at moment

In Tar Sands around Alberta, Canada: drug use and domestic violence are endemic, giving rise to alienated and unattached population in area; leaves rule of law in protracted crisis: crisis of legitimacy due to lax labour laws as well as lax enforcement of them

> finds that gives rise to “community of politics” of collaboration between protest movements

How to re-theorise class politics in context of this mega-development?

> inter-sectionality literature tries to address, but more promising to use idea of “multitude” that non-identical to itself: “Community unified in meaning nothing but everything… like a monster that cannot be controlled”

Political community may be redundant in that invocation of “community” is inevitably political

  • distinguish people making claim on institutions as “community” and people making claims on institutions on grounds that represent or embody their “community”

Discussion

Sian to AG: agrees that modern institutions not as modern as we think they are, but surely still binarising if arguing that they are “traditional”

TS: SM says “Political community may be redundant in that invocation of ‘community’ is inevitably political” but…

  • important to keep separate our working definition of “political community” with invocations of “community” in world, whether by post-colonials or by movements in Alberta, not least so we can ask our analytical questions of these invocations of community: that is
    • what is it people are doing when invoke “community” in ways described?
    • specifically, what saying in terms of stake in institutions or authority structures and their will to subject to them?
    • “community” (as Sourayan and Ajay are using it) is
      • a contemporary, globalised political concept with tremendous force
      • a largely oppositional concept – hence used by post-colonial scholars as well as protest movements
    • as oppositional concept, interesting to compare and contrast to “civil society” which is also oppositional but which seems to work in somewhat different ways: I suspect that these oppositional scholars and movements are deliberately using “community” as an alternative to “civil society” > useful to ask why prefer community to this alternative oppositional concept of civil society
      • community does better job of distancing from “individualism”
      • echoing only leftist tradition of solidarity
      • also echoes language of indigenous, verging on noble savage
      • community also has connotation of local that supposedly alternative to national and perhaps more ethical
      • romantic – which is still main trope of opposition
  • For Ajay
    • Point is not that community is not really like this > not possible to do ethnography of community any more than civil society – where would you find community to do ethnography of? where to find civil society to do ethnography of?
    • Can however do ethnography of invocations of “community” (just as civil society”) by looking at movements defining themselves in these terms, and asking what saying in terms of stake in institutions and will to subject to them

> Ajay: still says that important to investigate communitarian structures and what really doing

> Sourayan:

      • “community” used by both right and left in Canadian context
      • why have chosen “political community” as opposed to “cultural community” etc. for working definition?

Hanifi to AG: is multiculturalism an example of romanticism of post-colonial?

Tamas to AG: when Ajay conflates legal and rational, he is confusing application of law with law itself – in parliament, deputies debate which moral view is to have authoritative status, even if the law is then applied in rational terms

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