- Demography and Democracy: Essays on Nationalism, Gender and Ideology by Himani Bannerji
The binaries of modernity/tradition, secular/religious, despotism/democracy, East/West, and Orient/Occident are familiar and contested, but nonetheless remain unsettled conceptions in the study of the Middle East. Scholars have approached these ideas from such diverse disciplinary locations as sociology, anthropology, cultural studies, history, or political science. Interdisciplinary approaches of feminism, critical race theories, or postcolonial studies have produced boundless debate on these ideas. This rich and influential body of knowledge has endured, time and again, a circular argumentation without a major theoretical breakthrough. The outcome is a bifurcated project of emancipation encapsulated in a reform-versus-revolution imaginary. Himani Bannerji attends to these ideas eloquently and critically in Demography and Democracy through the usage of Marx’s method of historical materialism and critical, antiracist feminist engagement with thoughts of Dorothy Smith, Franz Fanon, Antonio Gramsci, Max Weber, Rabindranath Tagore, Edward Said, Raymond Williams, and Walter Benjamin. It is this track of theory and history that sets her work apart from similar studies of colonialism, nationalism, imperialism, gender, religion, and culture. A distinct contribution by Bannerji is her engagement with these ideas by making the question of knowledge, ideology, and ideological knowledge production central to her analysis. She argues “underlying all of my thematic expositions and critical explorations is the central question of knowledge itself and the problems and possibilities of knowing in a socio-historical, that is, materialist way and the barriers created to this by certain epistemological practices. It is from this standpoint of historical materialism that I engage in social analysis and critique of ideology” (p. 2).
The seven essays in this collection were written during the first decade of 2000 and were previously published in different journals. In the first chapter, “Making India Hindu and Male,” Bannerji draws extensively on Marx and Gramsci to show the ways Hindu fundamentalism used culture and nationalism to enforce its right-wing theocratic and ethnicist ideological hegemony. Hindu fundamentalists in India used state, civil society, and masculinity to construct an image of Muslims as ‘invaders’ worthy of carnage, hence the ethnic cleansing in the state of Gujarat in 2002. Three other chapters (Chapter 2, “Demography and Democracy”; Chapter 3, “Cultural Nationalism and Women as the Subject of the Nation”; and Chapter 4, “Projects of Hegemony”) address violence against women and the question of patriarchal nationalisms. In these essays, Bannerji critiques the epistemological approach of subaltern studies that “separates culture and ideology from class and social organization and yet claims to be writing history” (p. 131). She contends that a fragmented approach to modernity, nationalism, culture, or religion produces, for example, an ideological knowledge of patriarchy, autonomous from other social formations.
Patriarchy, in Bannerji’s analysis, cannot be reduced to culture, tradition, or religion — even in theocratic states such as Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan — or to only class and racial exploitation in any economic system, East or West. She uses the lens of Marxist feminism and antiracist analysis to [End Page 338] contest the subaltern studies epistemological and methodological approach to decolonization. She sums up her analysis by arguing “. . . any project of decolonization which cannot link social and cultural relations of property and power and speak to social justice, but subsumes all issues of powered differences within a rhetoric of cultural nationalism, can only lead to new and internal forms of colonization” (p. 176). Two chapters are dedicated to Rabindranath Tagore, the Bengali philosopher, poet, novelist, and writer, and his ideas on modernity, nationalism, colonialism, and women (Chapter 5, “Home and the World,” and Chapter 6, “Always Towards”). She considers Tagore’s writing, when fused with Marx’s analysis of capitalist alienation, to be a model of a “new humanist” pedagogy and praxis which can guide us “. . . to the theme of decolonization and the pedagogy of a decolonized self and society” (p. 225).
The final chapter, “The Tradition of Sociology and the Sociology of Tradition,” is where Bannerji offers her powerful critique of Weberian sociological paradigm of tradition/modernity and East...