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Course 904: Culture and Democracy

The Culture & Democracy course is something of a tradition at CSCS. This is the first time I am offering the course, and I am somewhat daunted by its legacy. I am also, at the same time, interested in tracking that legacy, to see what would happen if we were to frame our plans for this year against that history, to see what we are doing that is new to it, and why.

The course was first offered in 2004 (see link), and then annually since then. Over this time, it has clearly undergone many changes. Some of the changes have had to do with the changes that have taken place in CSCS, many to do with the transformations in Cultural Studies as a discipline and perceptions over the years on what needs to be done to it to make it relevant, meaningful, etc. And many are directly connected with India itself over the past decade: with the startling changes in its self-perception especially in its brief moment in the sun as a wannabe superpower. Course 401 was internally directed: Cultural  Studies to be used to solve our problems, rather than the other way round. 401 was a multi-faculty intervention intended as a way by which its then-faculty could fashion, as a collective exercise, a theory linking democracy and culture in contemporary India. The link also served, at the time, as a common bridge for the different academic concerns that CSCS then housed, and it was also hoped that it would serve as an introduction to the kind of inter-disciplinary research being done at CSCS. We may in hindsight sense a degree of hesitancy to that version: partly, perhaps, our hesitancy in showcasing 'our' work, partly, I think, anxiety around whether those differing concerns could ever be coalesced into a single course, and even if they could, whether it was Cultural Studies that would be most propitious location for the effort, both at CSCS and more generally in India's humanities institutions. 501 (link) is therefore outward-directed, dominated by a heavy emphasis on early national theories of postcolonial governance (Gandhi, Nehru, Ambedkar) extending into full blown theorization of the domain of politics (Chatterjee) and the process of transforming political concerns into academic priorities: an agenda, clearly, for asserting a local salience for Cultural Studies. In 701's (link) trajectory of colonialism-nationalism-citizenship-democracy-rights, politics takes a back seat as Cultural Studies expands its claims upon the social sciences as a whole, while 806 (link) seeks to reintroduce popular culture via the route of political culture ('rebellious peasants and saints' meet with 'language, city, cinema'), perhaps to see if such a transcendental definition could ever see some vintage old wine resurface in new bottles.

And 904?

I think we need the legacy of the past decade to propose that the priority of the moment is to do with a crisis of the state. What 904 hopes to do is to explore a crisis of the modern state that is unlike the more familiar crises the state has been through since globalization came on. Earlier crises had to do with questions of whether the state, as a welfare mechanism, could at all continue given the threat of disinvestment and the challenge of market governance. In 2009 the global state, following the global financial crisis being bailed out by massive infusion of state funds, has never been stronger. But also in 2009, as never before, the modern state is once again at a point of major transformation: a position of change from strength, rather than weakness. As Obama claimed during his Presidential swearing-in, 'America is again ready to lead': and into this we could read the following: (1) 'America' (which will not exactly be the America of yore but a series of global collaborators-competitors, whether BRIC or BASIC) in tandem with former nations-turned-state-corporate superpowers, is collectively capable of a new development in global governance. (2) Such a transnational 'America', whatever it is, could develop an entirely new mandate for the new state, in other words, a mandate no longer deriving from erstwhile national boundaries. (3) Such a mandate, if it is at all possible, would require once again a new emphasis on the subject, in whose name the state rules.

The changes that such a definition of state has facilitated are widespread: as never before, institutions are being called upon to participate in national, even transnational policy. The entire combination of crises that could well forge a renewed modern state, can once again be summed up under a term that will have found an entirely new lease of life: development. Despite the seeming familiarity of the term, the arguments being made for why states should exist, or what work they should do, are new. Perhaps more than ever in the past, the relationship of citizen to state is being mediated by technology: both in terms of technology as medium, as well in the fabrication of the new techno-state as well as the techno-citizen.

It is therefore very much from the vantage point of the historical present that this course seeks to explore in some considerable detail, the following concepts: state, citizen, and development. We will do this course over a set of four modules. Two of these modules will be more in the nature of research-teaching, two more as collective workshop-exercises as we explore new domains.


Module 1: The Hegel-Marx debate on the State

This section is pivoted around the young Karl Marx’s extraordinary attack on Hegel’s last major work. Contribution to a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (1843) is a commentary upon Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. Hegel’s 1821 text was very much within the politics of its time, within the battles between the conservatives and liberals within the Prussian Restoration that had been started in 1815. Hegel died in 1831. Marx’s attack was therefore written a scant 20 years after the original text was published.

The Hegel-Marx opposition on the role of civil society, the institutions of democracy and the role of the citizen as subject and as individual, echoes down the centuries: it provides a classic opposition that has repeated itself again and again, well into the historical present. Effectively, this course says, the Hegel-Marx debate  - and the two ways by which we may approach the tangled relationship between state and subject, one, of an essentialized definition of State that produces a particular subject, and the other, the more objectified definition of subject in whose name, politically and economically, the state exists - sets up something of a terms of debate for that theory ever since.

In Module 1, over four sessions, we will go through the debate in some detail. Hegel’s book comprises 360 short notes, split into three key sections: Abstract Right (1-104), Morality (I05-141) and Ethical Life (142-360). Ethical Life is further split into three sub-sections, The Family, Civil Society and the State. The existing text of Marx only the last of the sub-sections: and in that, it covers a detailed point-by-point rejoinder to Hegel’s notes from 261 to 313. The extant portion therefore deals with only a small part of the entire book, but it is a critical part: the part that deals with the State.

Session 1: Introduction to the Hegel-Marx Debate

In this session, we will look at the problems we may encounter with understanding the debate, and we will propose something of a rough-and-ready methodology by which we would need to approach it. We will be using printed and web-based texts, and find a way of navigating through two texts,, using each to throw light on theother. Special attention will be given to terminological issues.


Hegel, Philosophy of Right, Introduction (1-33)
(Note: The complete Hegel-Marx debate is available on For the section in Philosophy of Right that we will cover, go to: The text is extensively annotated through hyperlinks, including hyperlinks between the Hegel and Marx texts. It is however recommended that students read the Marx text on paper, using Volume 3 of the Marx-Engels Collected Works, pg 5-124, and the Hegel text from T.M. Knox ed. Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, OUP, 1952).

Session 2: Hegel-Marx on Constitutional Law

In this section, we will see the basic kernel of Marx’s attack on Hegel’s conceptualization of the state. We begin with Hegel’s iconic statement: ‘The principle of modern states has prodigious strength and depth because it allows the principle of subjectivity to progress to its culmination in the extreme of self-subsistent personal particularity, and yet at the same time brings it back to the substantive unity and so maintains this unity in the principle of subjectivity itself.’ (260).

In note 262, Hegel would extrapolate this as: ‘The actual Idea is mind, which, sundering itself into the two ideal spheres of its concept, family and civil society, enters upon its finite phase, but it does so only in order to rise above its ideality and become explicit... It is therefore to these ideal spheres that the actual Idea assigns the material of this its finite actuality, viz. human beings as a mass, in such a way that the function assigned to any given individual is visibly mediated by circumstances, his caprice and his personal choice of his station in life’.

Marx effectively uses these two statements as a launching pad for his scathing attack:

The manner and means of the state’s mediation with the family and civil society are (according to Hegel) ‘circumstance, caprice, and personal choice of station in life’. Accordingly, the rationality of the state has nothing to do with the division of the material of the state into family and civil society. (It is) the state (that) results from them in an unconscious and arbitrary way. Family and civil society appear as the dark natural ground from which the light of the state emerges… This is to say that the political state cannot exist without the natural basis of the family and the artificial basis of civil society; they are its conditio sine qua non; but the conditions are established as the conditioned, the determining as the determined, the producing as the product of its product… Reality is expressed not as itself but as another reality. The entire mystery of the philosophy of Law and of Hegel’s philosophy as a whole is set out in this paragraph.

We will explore the route of the Hegelian ‘idea’, how Hegel wanted the manifestation of family and civil society to become the present manifestation of an ineffable ideal: the state. This component will make a brief detour into the political history (the state of Prussia) within which this debate was being played out. It will then open the question into why states need a mystificatory, originary purpose.


Marx, Contribution: Sections 261-271.
Kenneth Westphal, ‘The Context and Structure of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right’, in Frederick C. Beiser, The Cambridge Companion to Hegel, CUP, 1999, pg 234-269. Link
Knox, T. M., ‘Hegel and Prussianism’, in Philosophy, Vol. 15, No. 57 (Jan 1940), pp. 51-63 (
Gyanendra Pandey, ‘In Defence of the Fragment: Writing about Hindu-Muslim Riots in India Today’, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 26, No. 11/12, Annual Number (Mar 1991), pp. 559-572 (

Session 3: Hegel-Marx on the Crown and the Executive

Later in his Notes, Hegel would say:

A nation does not begin by being a state. The transition from a family, a horde, a clan, a multitude, &c., to political conditions is the realisation of the Idea in the form of that nation. Without this form, a nation, as — an ethical substance — which is what it is implicitly, lacks the objectivity of possessing in its own eyes and in the eyes of others, a universal and universally valid embodiment in laws, i.e. in determinate thoughts, and as a result it fails to secure recognition from others. So long as it lacks objective law and an explicitly established rational constitution, its autonomy is formal only and is not sovereignty (349)

What then is to be rational constitution? We will spend a lot of time on Marx’s seminal response to 279 (Hegel in 279: ‘The truth of subjectivity, however, is attained only in a subject, and the truth of personality only in a person; and in a constitution which has become mature as a realisation of rationality, each of the three moments of the concept has its explicitly actual and separate formations. Hence this absolutely decisive moment of the whole is not individuality in general, but a single individual, the monarch’), where Marx would say that:

Hegel proceeds from the state and makes man into the subjectified state; democracy starts with man and makes the state objectified man. Just as it is not religion that creates man but man who creates religion, so it is not the constitution that creates the people but the people which creates the constitution. In a certain respect democracy is to all other forms of the state what Christianity is to all other religions. Christianity is the religion kat exohin, the essence of religion, deified man under the form of a particular religion. In the same way democracy is the essence of every political constitution, socialised man under the form of a particular constitution of the state. It stands related to other constitutions as the genus to its species; only here the genus itself appears as an existent, and therefore opposed as a particular species to those existents which do not conform to the essence. Democracy relates to all other forms of the state as their Old Testament. Man does not exist because of the law but rather the law exists for the good of man. Democracy is human existence, while in the other political forms man has only legal existence. That is the fundamental difference of democracy.


Hegel/Marx, Contribution: Notes 272-297
Balibar, Etienne, ‘The Nation Form: History and Ideology’; in Balibar and Immanuel Wallerstein ed. Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities, London: Verso, 1991, pg 86-106

Session 4: Hegel-Marx on the Legislature

This section critically deals with Hegel’s conception of the estates: the crucial arm of the legislature that transforms individuality. This is the section that provides one of Marx’s most significant positions on civil and political society. Responding to Hegel’s Note 308 (Hegel: ‘The… section of the Estates comprises the fluctuating element in civil society (and) can enter politics only through its deputies; the multiplicity of its members is an external reason for this, but the essential reason is the specific character of this element and its activity. Since these deputies are the deputies of civil society, it follows as a direct consequence that their appointment is made by the society as a society. That is to say, in making the appointment, society is not dispersed into atomic units, collected to perform only a single and temporary act, and kept together for a moment and no longer. On the contrary, it makes the appointment as a society, articulated into associations, communities, and Corporations, which although constituted already for other purposes, acquire in this way a connection with politics’), Marx says:

There are two possibilities here: either the separation of the political state and civil society actually obtains, or civil society is actual political society. In the first case, it is impossible that all as individuals participate in the legislature, for the political state is an existent which is separated from civil society. On the one hand, civil society would abandon itself as such if all [its members] were legislators; on the other hand, the political state which stands over against it can tolerate it only if it has a form suitable to the standards of the state. In other words, the participation of civil society in the political state through deputies is precisely the expression of their separation and merely dualistic unity. Given the second case, i.e., that civil society is actual political society, it is nonsense to make a claim which has resulted precisely from a notion of the political state as an existent separated from civil society, from the theological notion of the political state. In this situation, legislative power altogether loses the meaning of representative power. Here, the legislature is a representation in the same sense in which every function is representative. For example, the shoemaker is my representative in so far as he fulfils a social need, just as every definite social activity, because it is a species-activity, represents only the species; that is to say, it represents a determination of my own essence the way every man is the representative of the other. Here, he is representative not by virtue of something other than himself which he represents, but by virtue of what he is and does.


Hegel/Marx, Contribution: Sections 298-313

Module 2: Rethinking Development

We bring the Hegel-Marx debate into the historical present. The location we will choose to think through the opposition is the theory of Development. Through the 1990s, it had appeared that Development – a theory associated primarily with President Harold Truman, Robert MacNamara and the World Bank of the 1940s shortly after the Bretton Woods agreement of 1944 that saw the founding of the International Monetary Fund – had come to an end. Among the landmarks signaling its possible demise was the rise of new economies not necessarily premised on industrial capitalism, new alternatives to quantifying economic growth, the demise of national planning mechanisms and, most of all, unprecedented new forms of transnational economic arrangements.

Contrary to widespread skepticism at the capacity of Development theory to survive such challenges, the theory has had a startling resurgence. This module looks at two major moves in recent years in the theory of Development: one, that may be more on the Hegelian side, Amartya Sen’s recent work singlehandedly resuscitating Development with his new conceptions of entitlement and capability. The second, closer perhaps to Marx’s version, new work in economic history explaining what may well have happened to capitalism itself, both in the eras of high development and its resurgence in today’s times. We will look at the former phenomenon with one book and one essay by Amartya Sen, and the latter with chapters from Kalyan Sanyal’s recent book Rethinking Capitalist Development: Primitive Accumulation, Governmentality and Post-Colonial Capitalism (2007).

Session 5/6: Development’s New Career

This session primarily deals with the writings of Amartya Sen. Tracking a short history of Development theory (which has, by one argument, a long ancestry in Hegel’s writing), it will ask the question as to whether Sen has reinvigorated the Hegelian conception of Right. It is required that before this session begins, all students will have read Sen’s essay and his short book Development As Freedom.

Sen, Amartya, ‘Development: Which Way Now?’, The Economic Journal, Vol. 93, No. 372 (Dec., 1983), pp. 745-762 (
Sen, Amartya, Development As Freedom (1999)

Session 7: Is Development What They Say It Is?

Several traditions of economic history, especially in the period of the Second World War and decolonization, have produced capitalist histories of the time that tell us very different things – especially on the role of the state – than what national accounts typically produce. This section will read two chapters from Kalyan Sanyal’s book.

Sanyal, Kalyan, ‘Accumulation As Development: The Arising of Capital’ (pgs 105-167), and ‘De-essentializing Development: Capital and Governmentality’ (pgs 168-188), from Rethinking Capitalist Development: Primitive Accumulation, Governmentality and Post-Colonial Capitalism (2007). Link

Session 8: Workshop on Development

This will be a day-long workshop on Development theory. Guest speaker to be announced.

Module 3: Project on the Unique Identity Project in India

In February 2009, the Government of India announced the formation of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). The purpose of this initiative was twofold: it would issue a unique identification number to all Indian residents (as against citizens, an important distinction). The UIDAI claims that on its own, it will be no more than a database, comprising select information. The database will be a number, not a card, with the Authority’s role limited only to issuing the number. The number will not contain intelligence. The Authority will only collect basic information on the resident, which could comprise the following demographic and biometric information: Name, Date of birth, Place of birth, Gender, Father’s name, Father’s UID number (optional for adult residents), Mother’s name, Mother’s UID number (optional for adult residents), Address (Permanent and Present), Expiry date, Photograph, Finger prints. Importantly for Indian social theory, it will not collect information on religion or caste.

The UIDAI also claims not to emerge from standard national citizenship concerns, such as national security, voting rights etc, which would be the conventional reasons for why governments create national identity registers. The Authority proposes, instead, that the UID is primarily a means of delivery of ensuring that the benefits of development reach their intended beneficiaries. Asserting its pro-poor approach, it ‘envisions full enrolment of residents, with a focus on enrolling India’s poor and underprivileged communities’, with a ‘method of authentication (that) will improve service delivery for the poor’ (UID Working Paper). Further, while focusing on delivery mechanisms, the UIDAI expects to work with a mix of direct state distribution systems as well as with market mechanisms of delivery.

The capacity of such media to symbolically, in the name of the Indian state, bridge the last mile is often in stark dissonance to the capacity of developmental programmes to make similar bridges, providing the major backdrop for new alliances to be made through the 1990s. Through the 1990s and early 2000s, the major fascination with the concept of ‘convergence’ attempted to forge new coalitions between historically disparate agendas, and to find a single solution for multiple ends. As Nandan Nilekani writes (Imagining India, 2008):

Around the 2000s, the impact of electronification in India began to change. It started to rapidly evolve from a top-down system driven by government policy and industry into a force surging up from the grassroots. Indian entrepreneurs big and small were at this point focusing on the possibilities of building a unique business approach – based on the idea that you could vastly expand the pool of Indian consumers if you were willing to focus on extremely low-cost products. When IT met this strategy, its presence exploded. [A]s the possibilities in such low-cost technology began to explode, firms across retail, banking and communications found that IT could well be their missing link in connecting with people who were often illiterate and located in distant villages, dirt-road miles away from the nearest market. And reform-minded bureaucrats found that such technology, untouched as it were by the legacies of the sarkar raj, could be a powerful leverage for better public services. IT could play a bigger and more powerful role in the economy than anyone had guessed or attempted before.

Despite the immense optimism in the 1990s around convergence, and Nilekani’s confident assertion that ‘firms across retail, banking and communications’ could make common cause with ‘better public services’ through their joint discovery of ‘technology untouched… by the legacies of the sarkar raj’ that could ‘be their missing link in connecting with people who were often illiterate and located in distant villages, dirt-road miles away from the nearest market’, the capacity of delivering public services through the marketplace has been a matter of considerable concern for many in India. In his essay ‘Markets and Freedoms' (1993), Amartya Sen provides more elaborate explanations for the conditions under which markets can work in tandem with development, and conditions when they cannot. Sen provides a number of explanations for why the market could have a historical and not merely political resistance to the dissemination of public good (which is what he means when he asks us to take the intellectual arguments of seekers of profit). His explanation relates to why media that may have once emerged as a public good had to transform their premise in order to enter the market – and therefore may not qualify as delivery mechanisms for the public good. Sen brings up a number of questions, (1) What happens when large kinds of public good are not divisible into individual use (the only way most markets, and, we may add, the UID itself, would comprehend delivery), (2) what happens when individuated developmental goals start getting available only for a fee, requiring uncomfortable tracking mechanisms based not on the beneficiary’s need but on her ability to pay for them.

Sessions 9-10: Debate on the UID

Over two sessions, we will explore the latter-day version of the developmental argument, in Nilekani’s three essays, ‘India, By Its People’, ‘The Deepening of our Democracy’, ‘Erasing Line: Our Emerging Single Markets’, and ‘ICT In India: From Bangalore One to Country One’, and one essay by Amartya Sen.

Nilekani, Nandan, Imagining India: Ideas for The New Century, 2008, pg 38-61, 150-175, 258-282 and 363-383. Link

Sen, Amartya, ‘Markets and Freedoms: Achievements and Limitations of the Market Mechanism in Promoting Individual Freedoms’, Oxford Economic Papers, New Series, Vol. 45, No. 4 (Oct., 1993), pp. 519-541 (


Module 4: The Contrast Case: Failed States – The Example of Pakistan

Among the more curious careers of the Development argument, as it impacts democratic freedoms, is the way by which it restricts somebody else’s development. Over two sessions, we will look at the contrasting case to the Indian one, i.e. Pakistan, sometimes named as a ‘failed’ state, sometimes as a state with a ‘legitimacy crisis’. What kind of a crisis is this? Can it be the exact flip side of the Indian instance or, worse, a consequence of Indian global claims?

S. Akbar Zaidi, a major political commentator on Pakistan, makes two somewhat startling statements if juxtaposed together:

There is growing consensus in Pakistan that the state and its institutions are teetering on the brink of a collapse. There seems to be agreement that the country is faced with numerous crises or fault lines, ranging from a crisis of the economy, to a crisis of governance, incorporating crises of the judiciary and of development. The general prognosis seems to be that unless some action is taken in the immediate future, these fault lines will grow into gaping holes, into which this country and society will collapse. Indeed, there is no denying the fact that in Pakistan, the government does not really govern efficiently or effectively, the judiciary is not as just as one would want it to be, the police is often unscrupulous in its workings, and that most institutions of the state and of government do not deliver the basic goods and services for which these institutions were established in the first place. Individuals and groups from different social and economic backgrounds would all agree with the statement that there has been large- scale institutional collapse in Pakistan. However, since the reasons for this collapse have not been fully understood, the so-called remedies advocated, lose all semblance of efficacy and cause further frustration to those who are concerned and want change. In order to be able to change the existing world, one needs to understand it first. The reasons for the institutional collapse in Pakistan are, at one level, fairly simple. Most of the state institutions in Pakistan, of government, of governance, of administration, and of control, are obsolete in the present social and economic reality that is Pakistan. Simply because these institutions have not been able (or allowed) to evolve in tune with the dramatic changes that have taken place in Pakistan over the last three decades, they are becoming, or as most would suggest are already, dysfunctional. Although not a surprising conclusion, this simple fact is often overlooked in the zeal to reform ('Crisis of Governance', Economic & Political Weekly Vol. 33, No. 11 Mar. 14-20, 1998, pp. 572-57) (full text at:

On the other hand, he also says this:

What is most ironic and ought to be emphasised time and time again, is that it is the most powerful democracy in the world, with its own notions of freedom and justice, which is probably going to be responsible for giving any form of real democracy in Pakistan an unceremonious burial. By supporting, strengthening and legitimising a military regime, which ousted a democratically elected leader, the US in order to achieve its own goals in this region has delivered a fatal blow to democracy in Pakistan ('Legitimizing Military Rule, Economic & Political Weekly, Vol. 36, No. 40 Oct. 6-12, 2001, p. 3822(full text at:

Is there a way that the two realities connect?

Session 11: Pakistan in Search of a Hegelian Argument?

Stern, Jessica, 'Pakistan's Jihad Culture', in Foreign Affairs, v 79 n 6 (Nov-Dec 2000) (
Bray, John, 'Pakistan at 50: A State in Decline?', in International Affairs v 73 n 2, April 1977 pp 315-331 (
Nasr. Vali, 'Military Rule, Islamism and Democracy in Pakisan', Middle East Journal, v 58 n 2 (Spring 2004) pp 195-209 (
Ahmad, Mumtaz, 'The Crescent and the Sword: Islam, the Military, and Political Legitimacy in Pakistan, 1977-1985', Middle East journal, v 50 n 3 (Summer, 1996), pp 372-286 (

Session 12: Narrativising Pakistan

Ahmed, Akbar S., 'Order and Conflict in Muslim Society: A Case Study from Pakistan', Middle East journal v 36, n 2 (Spring 1982) pp 184-204 (
Hamid, Mohsin, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Penguin Books, 2007.

Sessions 13-14: Student Presentations

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