The Black Hole of Empire: History of a Global Practice of Power

Princeton University Press
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When Siraj, the ruler of Bengal, overran the British settlement of Calcutta in 1756, he allegedly jailed 146 European prisoners overnight in a cramped prison. Of the group, 123 died of suffocation. While this episode was never independently confirmed, the story of "the black hole of Calcutta" was widely circulated and seen by the British public as an atrocity committed by savage colonial subjects. The Black Hole of Empire follows the ever-changing representations of this historical event and founding myth of the British Empire in India, from the eighteenth century to the present. Partha Chatterjee explores how a supposed tragedy paved the ideological foundations for the "civilizing" force of British imperial rule and territorial control in India.

Chatterjee takes a close look at the justifications of modern empire by liberal thinkers, international lawyers, and conservative traditionalists, and examines the intellectual and political responses of the colonized, including those of Bengali nationalists. The two sides of empire's entwined history are brought together in the story of the Black Hole memorial: set up in Calcutta in 1760, demolished in 1821, restored by Lord Curzon in 1902, and removed in 1940 to a neglected churchyard. Challenging conventional truisms of imperial history, nationalist scholarship, and liberal visions of globalization, Chatterjee argues that empire is a necessary and continuing part of the history of the modern state.

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About the author

Partha Chatterjee is professor of anthropology and of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia University; and honorary professor at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta. His books include The Politics of the Governed.
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Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Apr 8, 2012
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Pages
440
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ISBN
9781400842605
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Asia / India & South Asia
History / Europe / Great Britain / General
History / Modern / General
Social Science / Anthropology / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Partha Chatterjee
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Partha Chatterjee
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.

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