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Foucault and South Asia

To Flog an Elephant

South Asian Governmentalities: Michel Foucault and the Question of Postcolonial Orderings edited by Stephen Legg and Deana Heath, New Delhi: Cambridge University Press, 2018; pp 269, ₹595.

The various writings of Michel Foucault have been significantly applied to the histories of South Asia and India in particular, in the past few decades. His writings on governmentalities in particular, from his lecture ­series Security, Territory, Population (1978) have been used as a framework on varied studies in India ranging from environmental regulation, birth control, economic policy, land acquisition and prostitution. This Foucauldian preoccupation with the problem of governance can be understood by evaluating what we think of governance, and situating ways in which governance happens in practice. Foucault’s lectures understand this in a tiered way—the moral question of self-government, the economic governance of the family, and the political nature of governance by rule of the state. South Asian Governmentalities is a compendium of perceived governmentalities that tries to break away from conventional European analysis. It adapts and applies Foucault to varied historical cases read in the context of colonial history and postcolonial theory.

Stephen Legg and Deana Heath acknowledge the exi­sting rich scholarship that Foucault has spawned in South Asian studies at the same time recognising Foucault’s allusions to European expansionism and ­colonial experiences in both historical and contemporary contexts. They recognise this legacy not only in the evolution of the Subaltern Studies group, but also in the studies on modernity, sexuality, science, caste and institutions in scholarship outside the group. Similarly, the editors contextualise the reader about the debates within and between these studies such as the preoccupation with colonial discourse. Taking on from ­David Scott, they suggest that their ­volume ­attempts to uncover the diversities of governmentalities in various colonial experiences, rationalities, institutions which would be located within the configurations of (il)liberalism, violence, social, political, economic and communal.

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Updated On : 28th Sep, 2020

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