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Vernacular politics is an autonomous, grassroots political process, incorporating a variety of actors and views, in which local networks work in tandem with political parties and civic organizations in a sustained social and political movement. It is generally associated with an ideological platform, but, on closer examination, the outward appearance of homogeneity and unity under an ideological banner breaks down when differences of background, motivation, and gender are taken into account. These differences filter and distort both ideological message and political practice. Potentially divisive differences within the movement are kept at bay through (1) shared populist rhetoric, issues, and symbols; (2) the personalization of political relations; and (3) situating the ideological message within a local context of shared communal values and interests. A local politics thus becomes national, while carrying within it the coalitions and contradictions that reflect local and national diversity. Why use a new term? The term vernacular politics gets us beyond such circuitous discussions as whether civil society is formally or informally organized, autonomous or controlled (it can be both simultaneously ), or whether political mobilization based on religion has a place in modern democracy. A new term shakes loose our expectations and preconceptions of political and social boundaries and leads us to ask crucial questions about the connections between people and CONCLUSION processes. In its simplest sense, the term vernacular means domestic or indigenous. However, its recent trajectory of meaning in the fields of language, geography, and architecture reflects the same preoccupation with distinguishing a kind of atavistic, communal cultural existence from “modern” political and historical consciousness that has afflicted discussions of civil society and political mobilization. The term is used in these fields to mean indigenous or local styles of speech, space, or form. Implicit in many of these applications are assumptions that nature is set apart from history, relationships from power, custom from structure, informal from formal, the traditional from the modern, and the ephemeral from the permanent. Communities characterized by vernacular architecture, for instance, have been described as being “without political status, without plan, ruled by informal local custom, often ingenious adaptations to an unlikely site and makeshift materials” (Jackson, 1984, 327). Such communities do not have monuments to remind residents of “long-range, collective purpose, of goals and objectives and principles” (323). Vernacular landscapes are populated by communities ruled by tradition and custom, where identity derives from family membership and goals are functional and short-term. It is a landscape entirely remote from institutionalized politics, law, and capital markets. These sorts of distinctions parallel those made by European social philosophers in defining civil society as distinct from family and community and devoid of the rhetoric of kinship and love, duty and welfare. In the modern era, it is argued, such rhetoric was appropriated instead by the nation-state and became the language of nationalism. Partha Chatterjee, in his rereading of discussions of civil society by Locke, Montesquieu, and Hegel, argues that these authors have suppressed the “narrative of community” that he sees flowing through liberal, capitalist society, a narrative that “those who celebrate the absolute and natural sovereignty of the individual . . . refuse to recognize” (1990, 124). Vernacular politics, by contrast, is the process by which community narratives may intersect with political formations that self-consciously foster the construction of a national identity. Civil society, as a concept, evolved in tandem with Western philosophical thought about the superiority of reason, rationality, and exchange as a basis for social order and morality, over bonds of God, king, and family. In this classic formulation, civil society is associated with contractual models of individual relations and with liberalism in 262 · Conclusion a free marketplace of ideas and interests. As de Tocqueville observed about nineteenth-century America, “Feelings and opinions are recruited, the heart is enlarged, and the human mind is developed, only by the reciprocal influence of men upon each other. . . . [T]hese influences are almost null in democratic countries; they must therefore be artificially created, and this can only be accomplished by associations ” (1984 [1835], 200). Are associations the last resort of societies no longer “united amongst themselves by firm and lasting ties, [where] it is impossible to obtain the co-operation [sic] of any great number of them, unless you can persuade every man whose help you require that his private interest obliges him voluntarily to unite his exertions to the exertions of all the others” (202)? Or can associational and, by extension, political life be grounded in “firm and lasting ties” in a democratic...


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