Narratives for Europe: Reading Room - Ranabir Samaddar

Ranabir Samaddar 

is the Director of the Calcutta Research Group. He has pioneered along with others peace studies programmes in South Asia. He has worked extensively on issues of justice and rights in the context of conflicts in South Asia. The much-acclaimed The Politics of Dialogue (Ashgate, 2004) was the culmination of his work on justice, rights, and peace. His particular researches have been on migration and refugee studies, the theory and practices of dialogue, nationalism and post-colonial statehood in South Asia, and new regimes of technological restructuring and labour control. His recent political writings published in the form of a 2 volume account, The Materiality of Politics (Anthem Press, 2007), and the The Emergence of the Political Subject (Sage, 2009) have challenged some of the prevailing accounts of the birth of nationalism and the nation state, and have signalled a new turn in critical post-colonial thinking. A selection of his writings on the post-colonial nation has been just published under the name, The Nation Form (Sage, 2012).

Comments by an Indian on the poser “Dwarfing of Europe?...” 


1. Assumptions: This is a question that can be addressed from many angles. However, for me the immediately interesting point is what this question tells us, its hidden premises, anxieties, and suggestions. And even though the initiative for dialogue comes from an institution dedicated to culture, the question shows culture deeply implicated in imageries of power and contestations. As if we want to tell, Europe was a giant, now dwarfed, and we must make appropriate cultural inquiries... I must clarify at the outset that I do not share this presumption, and I think if we are able to set aside this presumption, we shall be able to shed much of the needless baggage, and conduct the dialogues among ourselves coming from four lands meaningfully, more freely, if you will, lightheartedly. Two more assumptions can be identified here. First, there is no ideal, stereotyped, homogenous set of representations of an authentic Indian culture. I cannot speak of Brazil, and China. But there are many Indias in as much as there are several Europes. I am not saying that there is nothing called a national culture. But this idea of national culture effaces pluralities internal to a country. An awareness of this will irrevocably commit us to plurality in the field of culture, and will create a healthy skepticism about claims to homogeneity of cultural practices, and thus make us alert to the question, what is this Europe of culture or India of culture we are basing our discussions on? Second, as the lead questions sent to us show, questions of culture are now linked to economy more than ever. Possibly it was always so. And, again if we can move them aside our dialogue will be meaningful. Now, on the basis of these clarifications I want to present three things:

2. Three questions in a discussion on the historical relation between Europe and the Post-colonial world: (a) The first question revolves around the specificity or the universality of the “European” path towards development, capitalism, democracy. This also relates to the supposed truthfulness of the received discourse about the European history of democracy, urbanization, secularism, and citizenship. The additional point will be, even if we agree to the truth claims of the European history of democracy, urbanization, secularism, and citizenship, should we regard this to be very specific to Europe and not universally valid? Thus we must review our experiences of the roles of the state, community, migration, popular politics, etc. (b) The second question revolves around the homogenous space Europe has sought to create for itself by among others putting around herself a barrier to prevent the immigrants from coming in, and retaining its mythic white, Christian, parochial and Atlantic-centric self. This policy of “Fortress Europe” reflects on its culture of citizenship, social rights, etc. Already one can see how the democratic polity in Greece is under attack as the country is forced to swallow bitter pills at the command of European bankers and international capital. On the other hand, as the philosopher Jurgen Habermas has now asked, should not the Europeans become post-secular to appreciate the pluralities of the post 9/11 world? (c) Third, of course, is the issue of the vision Europe has put for itself – the vision of a resurrected great power in new future safely ensconced within the cloistered world of Atlantic Community, and putting hope of bright future in a system marked by the exhausted liberal-parliamentary notions of elite rule and neo-imperial practices in Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa, etc. A critique of these three building blocks in the relation between Europe and the post-colonial world will call for a different vision that Europe can put for herself – a realization that Europe is more than ever, I would suggest more than in the colonial past, connected with the post-colonial world, and therefore a federal vision based on the dialogic practices of translation. On this I recall I had spoken on the last occasion when I was invited by the European Cultural Foundation and I do not see any reason to change what I said earlier – four/five years ago. 

3. Post-colonial introspection: All these call upon us – the post-colonial subjects - also to self- introspect. What kind of post-colonial future do we set for ourselves? We have to realize, particularly after the financial crash of 2008, that it is not only the global South which is bound by a post-colonial destiny, but that the post-colonial predicament is global, and it faces Europe also. This predicament stems from histories of rampant capitalism (particularly the domination of financial capital), unbridled hegemony of the market, a framework of liberal rule that fails to understand popular aspirations from below, neo-colonial and imperial practices, and neglect of other social histories of growth, development, and the making of political societies. It seems to me that the post-colonial countries like India often forget these histories, forget their respective strengths and characteristics, and become eager to imitate indiscriminately the histories of Europe. I think the lessons of our anti-colonial past, our popular politics, the dialogic pluralities in our societies, even many aspects of our economic development, are immensely valuable and can lay the ground for a permanent workshop of ideas and ideals. 

Narratives for Europe Reading Room

We invite you to read the contributions from journalists, researchers, writers who are, as we, investigating and questioning European Narratives and their making in the present and the future.