Social Formation and Political Identity in the Neo-Liberal Age

Saturday, January 6, 2018: 10:30 AM
Washington Room 2 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Gyanendra Pandey, Emory University
“We want to assimilate the Jews,” Cox wrote 70 years ago, “but they, on the whole, refuse with probable justification to be assimilated.” African Americans, on the other hand, “want to be assimilated, but we refuse to let them assimilate.” Further, “The destiny of Negroes is cultural and biological integration and fusion with the larger American society. Opposition by the latter society is generally directed against this aspiration of Negroes.” Cox’s work spoke to the needs of political struggle and social transformation in the mid-twentieth century. Given the historical conjuncture, and the Trinidadian scholar’s own Marxist sociology, the analysis was powerfully marked by a concern with class dynamics, nation-building and the drive for homogeneity (“assimilation.”)

The world – of social science and of caste, class and race struggles – has changed significantly since then. Nations are no longer seen as the obvious and unalterable (“natural”) form of political belonging. The world over, race is widely recognized as deriving from racism, not the other way about. In India, caste increasingly functions as a political category more than a sociological one – or at least as strongly. Faith in an international revolutionary working class has fragmented, even as the divide between the topmost and the bottom-most, within and between nations, becomes ominous once more; and large populations are uprooted, exiled and pushed to the wall by war and “development.”

What are the appropriate terms of analysis of these new social hierarchies and divisions? How does the changing valence, and political location, of race, caste and class challenge long-accepted “Western” ideas of race, belonging and nationhood, and long-accepted hopes of social transformation? These are the questions I seek to raise through a presentation of some material relating to changing notions of social solidarity and political mobilization in India and the United States.

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