ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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A City and Its People

Fractured Modernity Making of a Middle Class in Colonial North India by Sanjay Joshi; Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2001; pp 209, Rs 493.

The book under review is a historical account of the rise of the middle class as a social force in colonial north India, during the period 1880 to 1930, using the city of Lucknow as a case study. Earlier treatises on the subject such as the pioneering work of B B Mishra, dealt with the significant role of western education and economic development, introduced by the colonial government, in the formation of the middle class. In the present study, Sanjay Joshi has a larger project than tracing the rise of this phenomenon in Lucknow. His aim is to show that the middle class through its social and political activities in the colonial ‘public sphere’ redefined the conception of ‘modernity’ that underlies the Indian nation. In this process, colonial policies particularly the introduction of western education and economic development played a salient role, but Joshi argues that it simultaneously drew upon the past, which could not be erased, thereby creating a ‘fractured modernity’. The study also provides a historical explanation of the present-day phenomenon of Hindutva, which he argues is a creature of middle class politics and has within it the same fractured discourse seen in the colonial period. In this exercise, Joshi stresses the need for scholars to abandon the notion of an ‘ideal-type’ of the category, obtained from a rather simplistic reading of European history. In most studies, the middle class in the non-western world is compared with this ideal type and described as a ‘failed’ project responsible for many problems within these societies. Joshi points out that the deviations from the pattern of ideal-typical western modernity, visible in middle class constructions in colonial India, are similar to modernist projects in other parts of the world, including the west. Everywhere such projects were constructed out of a combination of traditional and new ideas about the organisation of social and political relations, a typical feature of modernity being its fractured nature. Therefore, he argues for the ‘provincialisation’ of the middle class in Europe, i e, to understand the middle class in all parts of the world, as full of contradiction and ambivalence and none as superior.

In keeping with recent studies, Joshi uses the concept of the ‘public sphere’ to describe the socio-political arena in which the middle class constituted themselves and carried out their activities. Aware of the problems of transporting the concept, put forward by Jurgen Habermas, of a liberal public sphere from its 18th century setting in Europe to a colonial setting, he argues that notions of ‘public-ness’ emerged in Lucknow, but through a different route because the colonial state had an important presence in it. In building the public sphere, the middle class initially drew upon social and cultural policies introduced by the colonial administration to further imperial interests, but by the late 19th century they appropriated this arena for their own purposes. The public sphere was therefore, not the exclusive sphere of the colonial state. Hence, Joshi feels that the fact that this public-ness drew upon the history of the colonists to replicate the bourgeois sphere did not prevent it from becoming a part of the culture of Indian politics.

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