Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Divide-and-Rule

I find it tough to comprehend Ram Guha's anger at William Dalrymple. Apparently what provoked Guha is the following statement in Dalrymple's review of Pankaj Mishra's book 'An End To Suffering'.

    In a field still dominated by the St Stephen's mafia and the Doon School diaspora, Mishra is an outsider. Mishra does not lecture the world about South Asia from the sanitised safety of an East Coast campus. Instead, he writes as a man who really knows, from hard experience, the provincial India he writes about.
Now that looked more like a passing remark in Dalrymple's review. But Guha devotes an article attacking Dalrymple. Guha's article smells nasty from the beginning, accusing Dalrymple "of playing the old British sport of Divide-and-Rule", to the end, supplying anecdotal proofs to establish his ignorance in 'India matters'.

Okay, agree that Dalrymple genuinely thinks less highly of the Doon school diaspora writing. I guess there may be many such people. Guha says:

    [For] it is how a writer tackles his subject that is important, not where he studied or lives.
Looks great, but often one's training and one's surroundings do determine the subject that one chooses, and of course the way one tackles it. To quote Guha himself from an earlier EPW article:
    Indian scholars are more likely to be moved by 'social relevance' in choosing their topic of study and strategies of research. European scholars are by temperament and training more inclined to seek out, and answer, an intellectual puzzle. And scholars based in America are just a little more likely to be driven by fashion. [EPW]
In fact it is interesting to read this particular EPW article -- The Ones Who Stayed Behind -- of Guha's in this context. Guha looks down upon the Indian diaspora in social science research throughout this article. For instance:
    At least two Indian historians of my acquaintance have abandoned empirical research after moving to permanent jobs in US universities. They each wrote a fine work of social history, based on research in a dozen different archives. They have now taken to writing essays based on books ordered from the library. These essays are supposed to be exercises in 'theory'. For the most part, however, they are merely extended literature reviews, parasitic assessments of other people's works according to the winds of theoretical fashion and the canons of political correctness.

    Any criticism of the styles of scholarship that run under the rubrics of 'post-structuralism' and 'cultural studies' would expose them to accusations of being 'racist' or 'ethnocentric'. However poorly founded, these accusations, once made, would be deadly in personal as well as political terms. This is doubly unfortunate, because post-structuralism and cultural studies are trends of dubious intellectual worth, and because its south Asian proponents belong overwhelmingly to the upper class.

Typically Guha makes sweeping statements like this first, and then names a few exceptions. Perhaps one might argue that this too is an attempt to "Divide-and-Rule"!

Guha concludes his EPW article thus:

    Judging by what it has produced in the past, [social science research doene in India] is of rather more worth than the self-regarding productions advertised as the intellectual achievements of the south Asian diaspora.
Guha has every right to think so. In fact, I tend to believe that Guha is right here. But Dalrymple hasn't shown more contempt to the Doon school diaspora than Guha has showered on the Indian diaspora in social sciences.

[Via Kitabkhana]

2 Comments:

At 12:39 PM, Blogger Nakul said...

Some very nice points there. I've written two posts on it myself: http://nakulkrishna.blogspot.com/2004/11/guha-vs-dalrymple.html and http://nakulkrishna.blogspot.com/2004/11/dalrymple-responds-i-stand-misread.html
A modified version of the EPW article had appeared in the Outlook not long ago. The Roy-Verghese and Nandy-Subrahmanyam exchanges seem to indicate that the Outlook is where the most widely read debate on India is taking place.

 
At 10:06 PM, Anonymous Term paper said...

Your Article is Very Interesting. I would Love to read About Mishra He is a Very Experience and talented Writer.

 

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