ahorbinski: The five elements theory in the style of the periodic table of the elements.  (teach the controversy)
Bibliographic Data: Guha, Ranajit. Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1983.

Main Argument: Guha argues that "insurgency…was the necessary antithesis of colonialism during the entire phase between its incipience and coming of age in India" (2). The British attempt to understand and deal with peasant insurgency required a written record that was a discourse of power, that attempted to understand violence in light of past experience. This colonial record was thus "rational in its representation of the past as linear and secular rather than cyclical and mythic" (3). This official historiography has been read as-is, rather than in reverse as it must be in order to recover the character of peasant insurgency and agency, and thus peasant consciousness.

Historiographical Engagement: Gramsci, Marx, Hobsbawm, Engels, Mao, Hegel, Durkheim, Saussure, Bakhtin. Sidebar: Guha is taking on at least five separate schools of historiography (British imperialist historiography out of Oxford; comprador collaborationist thesis out of Cambridge Marxist school which holds that colonialism is an effect of capitalism; Indian nationalist historiography; Indian Marxist historiography; and European Marxist historiography)

Elementary aspects of peasant insurgency )

Critical assessment: This book is considered a classic, and it's not hard to see why; Guha masterfully flips the historical record the right way round (as Alexander Herzen might say in The Coast of Utopia) and reads an entirely new story there. The one remark I have is that as a fairly hardcore Marxist, Guha's writing is sometimes a bit terminology laden, but this is a minor quibble. For Guha, the project of Indian nationalism and nationalist historiography was a failure (because neither took account of the peasantry, i.e. 75% of the Indian population) and this is thus a counter-nationalist historiography, because the nation dominates the story. There's also the question of caste, which is discussed here though not necessarily very explicitly.

Further reading: James C. Scott, Weapons of the Weak; Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe; Guha, "The Prose of Counter-Insurgency"; Joan Wallach Scott, "On Language, Gender, and Working-Class History"

Meta notes: "You’ve got Hegel’s Dialectical Spirit of History upside down and so has he. People don’t storm the Bastille because history proceeds by zigzags. History zigzags because when people have had enough, they storm the Bastille."


ahorbinski: shelves stuffed with books (Default)
Andrea J. Horbinski

May 2016

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