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Course 705: The Public Sphere




One of the most contested concepts of political philosophy, the idea of public sphere, found a new lease of life with the landmark publication of Jurgen Habermas’ The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Enquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society in 1962. Habermas was of course detailing and analyzing a particular epochal shift beginning eighteenth-century Europe. His particular Hegelian thrust and structural take on the concept of the public sphere has been hotly debated since.
There are at least three other contending voices from within the Atlantic world itself. Foremost being the classical republican model of the public sphere which takes the Florentine city-state as the paradigmatic public arena in Western consciousness and advances a moral criticism of modern liberal individualism. A related strand is the conceptualization of civil society and its relation to state and market; the potential of civil society to ‘democratize’ both of them through facilitating spaces of active performance of the citizen—an idea that finds its clearest expression in the works of John Locke. Following the ruminations of Hobbes and Mandeville, the French physiocrats and British empiricists, a different approach is the reigning libertarian way of looking into public sphere at best as a fragmented entity and at worst, as a non-existent and needless epiphenomenon to genuine free enterprise. This attitude finds a new lease of life since the collapse of eastern block in the 1980s and the rise of ‘social capital’ and ‘network society’ conceptualizations in the 1990s.
In India, two contrasting (and at times converging) ideas of the public sphere took shape in the idea of “samaj” (society) found in the writings of Tagore and Gandhi. The course will study these approaches, comparing them with our earlier readings as well as with the philanthropic ideas of ‘seva’ (service) as encountered in the writings of the nineteenth century Indian liberals like G.K. Gokhale and Srinivas Sastry. We shall conclude the course with a survey of the grassroots movements in post-emergency India and analyze a very different notion (and critique) of public sphere.


Assignments: Term Paper, Presentations and Weekly Response Papers.


Session I:
J.G.A. Pocock: from The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Tradition Link found here

Session II

Thomas Hobbes: from Leviathan (Link) and De Cive (Link)

Session III & IV

Max Weber: The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

Session V & VI

Jurgen Habermas: The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Enquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society

Session VII

Amartya Sen: from The Argumentative Indian

Session VIII

Carey Anthony Watt: Serving the Nation: Cultures of Service, Association, and Citizenship


Session IX
Sabyasachi Bhattacharya (edit.): from The Mahatma and the Poet: Letters and debates between Gandhi and Tagore, 1915-1941

Session X

Sunil Khilnani & Sudipta Kaviraj (edit.): from Civil Society: History and Possibilities

Session XI

Ernesto Laclau / Ghyansham Shah / Rajni Kothari: texts to be announced

More Readings:

Farhat Hasan/ Chapter 2 - Forms of Civility and Publicness in Pre-British India 84-105 Link found here

Neeladri Bhattacharya/ Chapter 4 - Notes Towards a Conception of the Colonial Public/ 130-156 Link found here

Carey Anthony Watt/ Chapter 3 - From Dana to associational philanthropy: the transmutation of Hindu giving/ 65-96 Link found here

Carey Anthony Watt/ Chapter 4 - From Seva to social service/ 97-129 Link found here

Carey Anthony Watt/ Chapter 6 - Nation-building: politics, the culture of association and civil society/ Link found here

Rabindranath Tagore / The Co-operative Principle 1-65p Link found here

Rabindranath Tagore / The Cult of the Charka 538-548 p Link found here

 




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