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New Cultural Histories of India (Materiality and Practices)

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Item Code: NAL258
Author: Partha Chatterjee, Tapati Guha-Thakurta and Bodhisattva Kar
Publisher: Oxford University Press, New Delhi
Language: English
Edition: 2015
ISBN: 9780198090373
Pages: 490 (Throughout B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.5 inch X 6.5 inch
Weight 840 gm
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Book Description
About the Books

Delving into Fields as diverse as the illustrated biographies of Bengali almanacs and Art Deco buildings in Calcutta, and from human heads in the Naga hills to Dalit sculptural monuments in Mayawati's Lucknow, as well as the affective powers of football in Calcutta's nationalist politics, this book engages with the cultural constituents of modernity in the context of India.

The essays in this volume describe certain major fields of cultural practice-textual, visual, aural, and spatial- in which the twin tasks of dealing with the material and the representational, or of explanation and interpretation, have been tackled in the recent historiography of India. Thus, it explores the continuous morphing of the cultural into the worlds of the social and political-the central idea of the book-and bring into a fresh dialogue the cultural materialities and practices of colonial and contemporary India.

This volume is the third in a series on 'New Cultural Histories of India' facilitated by the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta. The present volume provides new insights into some of the key transition in both subject matter and method that characterize the so-called cultural turn in history writing on India.


About the Editor

Partha Chatterjee is Professor of Anthropology and South Asian Studies at Columbia University in New York. He is also Honorary Professor of Political Science and former Director of the Centre for Studies in social Sciences, Calcutta.

Tapati Guha-Thakurta is Director and Professor of History, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta.

Bodhisattava Kar is Senior Lecturer at the Department of Historical Studies, University of Cape Town, South Africa, and former Fellow in History, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta.


New Cultural Histories of India


In is inview of this strategic realignment of the 'social' and 'cultural' in new historical research, as well in its clearly analogous title, that our volume needs to be both positioned in relation to and set apart from these other anthologies. While the specification of early modern and nineteenth-century Europe could be easily dropped from the title of the Hunt volumes, the phrase 'of India' has been firmly affixed to this anthology. This is so despite the way 'India' as a cohesive national entity dissolves in the face of several regional and vernacular formations in these essays, and the divergent locational histories they narrate seldom add up to the unity of the nation. Yet India as the select topos for these investigations by scholars based in academic institutions in the country and abroad, strongly marks out the distinctiveness of these new histories from the Western master prototype. This is also why these cultural histories are resolutely plural as against the proposed singularity and authority of the new cultural history of the West. Proliferations, repetitions and multiplicities dominate the worlds of production and practices charted here. We encounter this in the multilingual histories of literary texts and scripts that are shown to flourish in northern and western India in the era before print; in the prodigious spread of replicas and remakes of Indian monuments across different parts of India and the globe; in the vicarious anthropological and political careers of the prohibited object of 'hunted' Naga heads; in the mushrooming of gated middle-class residential enclaves in post-Independence New Delhi; or in the boom in the vocation of small-town 'stringer' journalists following the contemporary liberalization of the country's news media.

In attempting our present appraisal of new cultural histories of India, we also do not wish to present the same developments charted in the Euro- American context with a decadal lag. In fact, as we will outline below, the recent trajectory of cultural histories of India has followed a path distinctly different from that in European or American history writing. Although there was a cultural turn in historiography, there was never the same influence of Hayden White or Clifford Geertz on historians of India." And while the move from positivist facts to cultural representation was perceptible, social history nevertheless continued to enjoy a rich following." Consequently, if the study of materiality and practices marked a note of aspiration for leading cultural historians in the United States a decade ago, the moment had arrived for Indian history, albeit by a different route-a route that will be traced in this introductory essay. The essays that follow will then describe certain major fields of cultural practice-the textual, the visual, the aural, the ritual, and the spatial-in which the twin tasks of dealing with the material and the representational, or of explanation and interpretation, have been tackled in the recent historiography of India.

This volume is the third in a series of collections of essays put together at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta. The first of these, History and the Present, had engaged with the question of the extent to which pressing political and social issues of the present were influencing the topics and perspectives of historical scholarship." The second collection, History in the Vernacular, looked at the distinct forms of historical writing that had developed in the Indian languages since the nineteenth century-in the shadow of, but always somewhat different from, academic historical writings that were predominantly in English." Both of these volumes had to grapple with the difficult, and often controversial, question of the relation between the academic/professional and the public/popular domains of historical memory. The present volume brings the project to a close with an overview of the key transitions in both subject matter and method that have characterized the so-called 'cultural turn' in history writing on India.

In the next sections, we will traverse some of the grounds that were laid out for cultural histories and cultural studies in India over the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, as against the field mapped by the Lynn Hunt volumes, in order to think about what may be entailed in our projections of the 'new'. If the contours of the period's socially and culturally oriented histories took shape under the celebrated sign of 'difference' of India's colonial and nationalist modernities vis-a-vis Western models, what emerged in the name of cultural studies in India in the 1990s also shared few of the characteristics of the eponymous discipline spawned by the Birmingham school in Britain or that in the United States, and has never easily fallen into the net of an institutional department. Our intention here is not to offer a detailed state of the disciplines survey, as is often the form taken by many introductory chapters of such anthologies. Instead, we would like to conceive of a broad genealogy for the essays gathered here in terms of two main schematic outlines of the recently changing directions of cultural history in India. The first of these will foreground the study of popular cultures as a prime ground of shifting approaches, and look at the coming of age of new categories of the 'popular' and the 'public' as a burgeoning interdisciplinary field of study. The second rubric will take up in separate and complementary registers the older 'linguistic' and 'discursive' turn and the newer 'visual' turn in the field to see how they feed into each other and together chart an academic flow that brings us into the present.

Genealogies of The Popular

One of the most contentious categories of cultural analysis, the 'popular' as an object of study, has a long lineage. Over the nineteenth and early twentieth century, the traditions of Orientalist and nationalist scholarship had bestowed on the domain of the 'popular' a peculiar double character. The 'popular' was either stamped as something utterly negative-vulgar, corrupt, debased, and low in comparison with the canonical, the sanctified, the authorized-or it was valorized as the authentic repository of continuing national traditions, uncontaminated by industrial modernity. The studies of popular culture of the 1980s rejected both of these a priori evaluations that flowed from either negative or idealized definitions of the 'people' and the cultures they embodied. Instead, they focused on specific groups or communities that happened to be collective producers and/or consumers of various popular cultural products-groups or communities that could be local, but also dispersed across regions and even countries. No longer easily contained by Orientalist or nationalist disciplinary formations, the study of the popular struggled to evolve alternative frames of social and aesthetic evaluation, even as it needed to negotiate its position against the worlds of elite or high culture. Here, the efflorescence of popular history in Europe in the 1970s and 1980s became instructive for historians of India.

But new questions had to be confronted to deal with the Indian material. Was the relationship between elite and popular to be cast in terms of opposition and segregation, or of mutual borrowing and co-constitution? Once the idealized definitions of the classical or canonical cultures of nationalist construction had been set aside, it became clear that the boundary between the high and the low, the elite and the popular, was not only frequently blurred but also subject to active negotiation and periodic redefinition. The contradistinction between elite and popular cultures came to be seen as discursively constructed in a political field of cultural strategies, which in themselves needed to be mapped, analysed, and interpreted. Popular culture could no longer be seen as occupying its own distinct domain, practising its own distinct forms, genres or styles. Rather, it was shown to exist in an active field of mimicry as well as opposition in relation to high culture, frequently intruding into or subverting the cultural enclaves of the elite. Placed under a disaggregating scanner, the domain of the popular itself was found to be differentiated into layers of products, practices and audiences, whereby new categories such as the 'high popular' or the 'middle-class popular' had to be coined in order to distinguish between these layers of popular culture.

Critical in these negotiations was a growing call for interdisciplinariry, since it became clear that the new study of popular culture could not be carried out within the existing boundaries of traditional humanities or social science disciplines. To enter this expanding domain of the popular and to engage with its many complexities, the historian had to resort to theories of anthropology, the archival scholar had to become a field ethnographer and collector, the art historian needed to turn to folklore and the political theorist to the sociology of mass consumption. For scholars trained in the old disciplines of the humanities and social sciences, the study of popular culture posed huge methodological challenges. A significant response to this challenge was the move away from textual and written sources to the investigation of oral, visual, ritual, and performative practices. It is largely through its involvement with the different genres and forms of the popular that we can trace the early formation of the new orientation (rather than discipline) of cultural studies in India during the late 1980s and early 1990s-a formation that saw the creative aligning of history with the disciplines of sociology and social anthropology, on one hand, and with the culturally oriented disciplines of art history and literary, film, and performance studies, on the other.

Indian experiments with cultural studies during those years were distinguished by an engagement with the domain of the modern, urban, technologically mediated forms of print and visual production, as distinct from what was once valorized as the pure sphere of rural, peasant, pre-industrial popular cultures. Three fields emerged as critical areas of new scholarship- the literary history of the modern vernaculars and the foundational role of print in the production of both high and popular reading cultures; the parallel rise of the popular picture industry, especially in its use of modern photo-graphic techniques, reproductive colour printing and realist representational conventions in the re-imaging of mythological and national iconographies; and, as the last in that serial chronology, the birth and spread of the popular film industry of Hindi and regional language cinemas, as the most powerful carrier of the modern Indian mass imaginary. These have remained among the most energetic and creative areas of what we are calling the new cultural histories of India-a point to which we will return in the next section.

It is instructive to look back on the 1980s as a time when an earlier set of preoccupation with the primordial, non-urban forms of popular peas- ant cultures still held sway among different circles of scholarship. One face of this was manifest in the continuing consecration of the many regional folk traditions of painting, sculpting, storytelling, song, dance, and theatre, as uncorrupted living traditions and an endangered cultural resource of the nation. Coming out of a long nationalist history of anthropological research, collection and conservation of the folk, this trend moved in these years into new forms of national and international promotion. The 'folk' took its place side by side with the 'classical' within new circuits of global corporate capital in the age of the Festivals of India held in several Western capitals. A scholar and museum professional like Jyotindra Jain emerged as one of the most committed representatives of the period's new creed of folk aficionados-one who wished to bring India's folk arts into a modern global domain and believed that tribal artists working in their specific traditions must be given a place equal to that of the country's urban modern artists.




  List of Illustrations ix
  Acknowledgement xv
  Partha Chatterjee, Tapati Guha-Thakurta, and Bodhisattva Kar New Cultural Histories o India: Materiality and Practices 1
I. The Textual  
1 For a Multilingual Literary History: North India in the Long Fifteenth Century 41
2 Scripting the Cultural Historal of Language: Modi in the Colonial Archive 62
3 Poet of Present: The Material object in the World of Iswar Gupta 87
II. The Visual.  
4 The Look of History: The Power of the Aesthetic 115
5 The Handbag That Exploded: Mayawati's Monuments and the Aesthetics of Democracy in Post-reform India 139
6 Conceits of the Copy: Travelling Replicas of the Past and the Present 180
III. The Aural  
7 When Kathavarayan Spoke His Mind: The Intricate Dynamics of the Formations of the Political through Film-Making Practices in Tamil Nadu 223
8 Music Revivals- Major and Minor: Studying the Politics of Performance in Modern South India 246
IV. The Ritual  
9 Pictures in Celestial and worldly Time: Illustrations in Nineteenth-Century Bengali Almanacs 275
10 Football and Collective Identity in Colonial Caltural 317
11 Heads in the Naga Hills 335
V. The Spatial  
12 Metro Pattern': Art Deco Residences and Modern Visuality in Calcutta 373
13 Urban Spaces. Post-nationalism and the Making of the Consumer-Citizen in India 409
14 When the Revolution Is Televised: Reflections on Media, Civil Society, and Power in Contemporary India 437
  Notes on Editors and Contributiors 464
  Index 466


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