The “Economy Question” in Contemporary Politics: Historical Reflections from India
Professor, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi, India; Visiting Scholar, International Consortium of Critical Theory Programs
After the linguistic and cultural turn of the past decades, the early twenty-first century has seen humanities scholars turn once more to the economy question. In this presentation, I explore what it means to rethink the economy after the 2008 recession, the 2010s occupy movements, the rise of anti-globalization authoritarianisms across the world, the destitution of the planet, and above all, postcolonial and decolonial critique of Marxist political economy. Here I do not rehearse the by-now well-established critique of the extractive, reifying, and depoliticizing aspects of mainstream economics as the science of geopolitical governance. Instead, drawing on examples from colonial and postcolonial Indian politics, I explore the gap between how economic questions come to be staged in popular politics and economic thinking, respectively. I suggest that rethinking the economy today requires us to stay with and probe further—rather than collapse—the conceptual and epistemological mismatches between economics and political theory. I also suggest that the specific kind of universalism espoused by modern economic thought is not easily undone by generic post-/decolonial criticism or by simply showing up the colonial and/or provincial antecedents of modern economics. I conclude by reflecting on the difficulties that critical theory faces in achieving effective interdisciplinary conversations with the discipline of economics.
Prathama Banerjee is a historian and political theorist at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), Delhi. She works at the intersections of literary theory, cultural history, and political philosophy, and is currently engaged in researching the role of economic concepts in democratic politics in twentieth-century India. Banerjee is the author of The Politics of Time: “Primitives” and History-Writing in a Colonial Society (Oxford University Press 2006) and Elementary Aspects of the Political: Histories from the Global South (Duke University Press 2020).
Presented by the International Consortium of Critical Theory Programs, with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Vice Chancellor for Research at the University of California, Berkeley. Co-sponsored by the UC Berkeley Institute for South Asia Studies.
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