- The Theorist and the Adherent:Godrej's Cosmopolitan Political Thought
What happens when political theory travels across cultural boundaries? What can these travels tell us about the practice of theorizing itself - its limits, its changing horizons, its possibilities? The very name "theory" comes from the Greek theoria, defined as to "see the world" or to be a "spectator." Yet, like Kant, preeminent thinker of universalism who never left Konigsberg, theory's travels rarely entail actual departures from familiar categories and institutions. The Eurocentric habits of political theory emerged and became consolidated, in part, through imperial travel - certain forms of dislocation that reinforced Europe' own sense of exceptionalism (19). Such practices of power in the production of political theory become renewed every time scholars import Kantian categories to understand unfamiliar modes of theorizing. But when scholars are called upon to be part ethnographers, non-Western traditions can be approached not as objects of analysis or "case studies," but as worlds of indigenous intellectual production.
Farah Godrej's Cosmopolitan Political Thought: Method, Practice, Discipline puts the whole question of political theory's relationship with alterity in a new light. Godrej advances a new methodology that prompts political theory to encounter alterity in relation to itself, while seeing itself as another. The book outlines a "cosmopolitan understanding of political theory," and a "blueprint for post-Eurocentric paradigms of exchange" (124). This new way of understanding "seeks to move towards webs of coeval engagement among Western, Indian, Chinese, African, Japanese or Islamic political resources, in all their multiple genealogies, and with full recognition of the debts these owe to one another at their porous boundaries"(15). The engagement between a thinker of the Indian dalit tradition and the Japanese Shinto Buddhist is conceived as an exchange between partners that remains as relevant to the practice of political theorizing as is the engagement between African ubuntu and Western liberalism (124-25). Such engagements sensitize us to permeabilities and crossings that trouble the "Eurocentric" center as a center.
For Godrej, the binary West/non-West remains pertinent insofar as it reveals how knowledge production and transmission continue to be plagued by power disparities. The category of alterity is a useful heuristic that allows scholars to reflect on these epistemic disparities. It enables a questioning of Eurocentrism, understood as a posture towards knowledge that locates subjectivity and the agency to know in the West, while treating other ways of life and other standards of scholarship as objects to be studied (13-14). To pursue this project, Godrej draws a key distinction between cosmopolitanism and cosmopolitan political thought. The former is a "body of literature with a particular set of normative claims about structuring our moral commitments as well as our political, legal or institutional structures" (12). The latter is a new way of thinking about the practice of political theorizing that involves a continuing "displacement by scholars who are located, at different times, in different relations of insidership and outsidership to the Westcentric tradition" (142-43). Cosmopolitanism becomes an ongoing set of practices and methodological interventions by scholars themselves.
These practices induce profound shifts in disciplinary orientations and self-understandings. For Godrej, the ever-shifting and multiple positionalities of the scholar investigating alterity become central to the research process. Cosmopolitan theorizing involves a continuous alternation and negotiation between two primary modalities on the part of the scholar: self-dislocation and self-relocation. Self-dislocation "requires her to leave her disciplinary home, immersing herself in the practices, modes of inquiry, scholarly conventions, and intellectual resources of another tradition" (17). Cosmopolitan theorists seek to exit the parameters of Westcentric political thought literally and imaginatively, existentially and linguistically. This may eventually require that all comparative political theorists engage in some form of fieldwork, in physical dislocations from the comforts of home. The visceral and lived immersion in the unfamiliar alters one's own subjectivity and style of thinking in ways that are unavailable to the "armchair" traveler (20, 54).
In direct contrast to an objectivist method that treats texts as "objects...