Elementary Aspects of the Political

Histories from the Global South

Book Pages: 288 Illustrations: 11 illustrations Published: December 2020

Asian Studies > South Asia, Politics > Political Theory, Theory and Philosophy > Postcolonial Theory

In Elementary Aspects of the Political Prathama Banerjee moves beyond postcolonial and decolonial critiques of European political philosophy to rethink modern conceptions of "the political" from the perspective of the global South. Drawing on Indian and Bengali practices and philosophies from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Banerjee identifies four elements of the political: the self, action, the idea, and the people. She examines selfhood in light of precolonial Indic traditions of renunciation and realpolitik; action in the constitutive tension between traditional conceptions of karma and modern ideas of labor; the idea of equality as it emerges in the dialectic between spirituality and economics; and people in the friction between the structure of the political party and the atmospherics of fiction and theater. Throughout, Banerjee reasserts the historical specificity of political thought and challenges modern assumptions about the universality, primacy, and self-evidence of the political. In formulating a new theory of the political, Banerjee gestures toward a globally salient political philosophy that displaces prevailing Western notions of the political masquerading as universal.


“A brilliantly original study of the relation between philosophical ideas and political practice, this book by Prathama Banerjee explores how key ideas drawn from Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic, and Western traditions have shaped the field of the political in India. While analyzing the complex and often ambiguous relations of the political with religion, economy, literature, theater, and art, she gives us many surprising new insights into such canonical thinkers as Bankim, Aurobindo, Gandhi, Iqbal, and Ambedkar.” — Partha Chatterjee, Professor of Anthropology, Columbia University

“Simultaneously a contribution to history and to political theory, this insightful reading opens up a striking vantage point from which to explore the implications of the now-global concepts of political subjecthood, political action, political ideology, and "people." Prathama Banerjee's book exemplifies what it means when we say that postcolonial theory can redefine the very terms of political theory. In sum, this is a landmark work of immense originality and brilliance.” — Ajay Skaria, author of Unconditional Equality: Gandhi’s Religion of Resistance


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Prathama Banerjee is Professor at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies in Delhi, India, and author of Politics of Time: "Primitives" and History-Writing in a Colonial Society.

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Table of Contents Forthcoming
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Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-1090-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0987-0