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Updated: October 15, 2012 20:40 IST

Sharp insights, shallow conclusions

Narendar Pani
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Facing Globability. Politics of Resistance, Relocation, and Reinvention in India. Author: Bhupinder Brar and Pampa MuMukherjee.
Facing Globability. Politics of Resistance, Relocation, and Reinvention in India. Author: Bhupinder Brar and Pampa MuMukherjee.

The expectations raised by the analysis are shattered by the self-imposed constraint of only mapping the conjunctures in their present

Among the many challenges that globalisation has thrown up is one relating to the very understanding of the process itself. The early euphoria about a virtual world where distance is dead and all thinking is global has long faded as we remain rooted in national and even sub-national concerns like the sharing of Cauvery waters. At the same time the alternative view that globalisation can, and must, be stopped has also lost some of its intensity with the anti-globalisation protests themselves becoming global.

In confronting this lack of clarity with a mix of theoretical innovation and empirical evidence from the Indian experience, this collection of essays addresses an important need even if it does not go far enough in breaking out of the straitjacket Indian social scientists find us in.

Bhupinder Brar’s introduction brings out the theoretical challenge quite succinctly. He outlines the two seemingly opposing extreme views of the ‘hyperglobalists’ and the ‘sceptics’, pointing out their methodological similarity in trying to reduce globalisation to an abstract model. He then introduces the term globality, only to find its different meanings are not without their own difficulties in coming up with definite answers to the questions of globalisation.

Conjunctures

Brar tries to get out of these constraints by challenging the need for such clearly determined answers. Falling back on Althusser’s concept of overdetermination he prefers to focus on conjunctures that emerge “from a constellation of complex and indeterminate relationships in which it was impossible to maintain the dichotomous distinction between ‘the cause’ and ‘the caused’”. While this approach helps bring on board the exceptions thrown up by specific models, it is not without its costs. “The possibilities of a conjuncture unfold in a largely uncharted territory so that we cannot infer from its present any definitive indications of its future … All that we can do by way of meaningful research is map, to the degree it is possible, the conjuncture in its present”. The map that emerges in India is peppered with stories of resistance, relocation, and reinvention.

The eight other contributions to this book are predominantly empirical mappings of how globalisation has played itself out in India. The focus of the articles is quite diverse ranging from Aditya Nigam imagining the global nation to Pampa Mukherjee’s more specific history of Uttarakhand’s development dreams; from Janaki Srinivasan’s analysis of the role of global forums in India’s development debate to Kumool Abbi’s story of globality and the reinvention of Punjabi cinema.

Each of the contributions is marked by a consistent degree of detail and sophistication. Whether it is the making of overseas citizens or the CPI(M)’s dilemmas with globalisation, the analyses are marked by insights that demand serious reading.

And yet the very expectations that are raised by the depth of the analysis are shattered by the self-imposed constraint of doing no more than mapping the conjunctures in their present. Even in contributions where important issues are gone into in considerable detail there is a tendency, more often than not, to arrive at conclusions that do not appear entirely worthy of the authors’ insights.

This would be true even of some of the more insightful pieces in this volume. Building on Bhupinder Brar’s elucidation in the introduction on how Indians have faced globality with resistance, relocation and reinvention, Neera Chandhoke brings the results on an extensive survey to bear on the relationship between globality, the state and collective imagination. This takes her through a series of interesting individual insights into, among other things, the role of the state. But when it comes to stringing these insights together to point to an alternative analysis she goes no further than listing three cautions: against over-generalised abstract notions of the state, against notions of a ‘global community’; and against assigning an exaggerated role to civil society. Important as these cautions are, we cannot help wishing for at least some pointers to where the Indian state is headed.

This excessive caution in the conclusions may be academically safe, but it also reflects an implicit methodological choice that is not always above board. It implies that it is preferable not to point to a possible, even likely, truth rather than take the slightest risk of being considered wrong by the current members of the academic community. While this may be an excellent choice for an individual seeking academic credentials, it can reduce the output of academia as a whole to a set of statements of little value. With academics waiting for the perfect answer and globalisation developing a momentum of its own, the burden of reacting to this process has fallen on those who cannot afford to wait. The bureaucrat responding to a global trade crisis or the media entrusted with reporting it in real time are often forced to do the best they can. This is often less than a well-researched response to processes that have a significant impact on diverse parts of the country.

Facing Globality appears to treat this reality as an inevitable consequence of academic rigour. But there are other methods of social analysis, especially those that focus on processes rather than systems, that would beg to differ. And the longer Indian social science stays away from that methodological debate the greater is the danger of its sliding into irrelevance.

FACING GLOBALITY — Politics of Resistance, Relocation, and Reinvention in India: Edited by Bhupinder Brar, Pampa Mukherjee; Oxford University Press, YMCA Library Building, Jai Singh Road, New Delhi-110002. Rs. 650.

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