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Since the beginning of the publication of Subaltern Studies in the early 1980s, new interest has been generated in the study of subalterns in South Asian society. Numerous articles have been written on the subalterns, in historical as well as contemporary contexts. Most of the studies on subalterns are, however, narratives of the socio-political experiences of subalterns and their contribution to society, ignored by the mainstream history; at least the twelve volumes of Subaltern Studies remained centrally concerned with that. On the other hand, critics of subaltern studies challenged the approaches and methodologies of subaltern studies. The question of subaltern reproduction has neither been given appropriate attention in the series of Subaltern Studies, nor has been underlined as the new context of undertaking studies on subalterns. The critics too missed the issue of subaltern reproduction.
The issue that is of critical importance to understanding subalterns is their reproduction: why and how does a society produce and reproduce subalterns? How do subalterns negotiate their social and political emancipation? How do they absorb social and political changes? These questions are relevant in historical as well as contemporary contexts.
This volume is an attempt to capture some of the processes of the use of ideology, knowledge and power to reproduce subalterns and subalternity in Indian society; to map the dominant trajectories of emancipation and assertion adopted by the subalterns; and to analyse the forces of social and cultural changes including resistance to those changes.
Subalternity, exclusion and social change are complexly interwoven in Indian society. While subalternity and exclusion are not mutually exclusive, social change is not an independent variable either. A major determinant of subalternity in India has been the distance and degree of exclusion – distance of social and degree of economic exclusion; both exist in a mutually reinforcing relation. Different subaltern groups have been subjected to different levels of social and economic exclusion. Land and caste – control over the means of production and socially ascribed position – have been the two major determinants of social exclusion in rural society. Exclusion has multiple determinants and dimensions in urban society. Nevertheless, access to economic resources, state and political power, and knowledge are important in the urban context. Exclusion, in turn, has been justified through an ideology of caste and religion, and perpetuated through deeply entrenched inegalitarian social and economic relations, retrogressive cultural and religious norms, values and practices. Forces of social change in such a society do not have an independent character and a linear trajectory. Also, determinants of social change are not singular, say, industrialization in Western society.
The issues of subalternity, exclusion and social change have been debated and discussed as different and discrete social problems in India. This is partly because of the methodological issue and partly because of the inclination (subjectivity) of scholars. For example, the focus of Subaltern Studies has been excessively historical and narrative.
This book emphasizes the need for adopting an integrated approach to understand the concepts of subalternity, exclusion and social change in India. It also explores the dynamic relations between these three concepts, instead of treating them as unconnected and discrete social facts. The contributors address some important questions of political economy: Why are subalterns, subalterns, and how does a society produce and reproduce them? Are subalterns a historical construction, and, if so, what are those historical forces and how have they produced subalterns? Also, are there any contemporary forces of subaltern reproduction? What are those forces and how do they operate? How do we place the differentially positioned social groups within the larger subaltern category? The essays in this volume capture ideology, knowledge and power as forces of subaltern reproduction in Indian society, and map the dominant trajectories of emancipation and assertion adopted by different subaltern social groups. Contributors show how subalterns are negotiating emancipation amidst continued oppression, subjugation and atrocities.
The volume, Subalternity, Exclusion and Social Change in India edited by Ashok K. Pankaj and Ajit K. Pandey, offers a comprehensive and critical perspective on the theoretical and substantive issues in the understanding of contemporary changes in Indian society. The conceptual adequacy of the notion of subalternity in the analysis of social change and comprehension of its multiple dimensions remains a challenging issue. The Indian subaltern school of historiography inaugurated a remarkable debate among historians on the nature of historiography and made several significant innovations. Its (Indian subaltern school) seminal contribution has been in the study of the nature of marginalization and inequalities in India and the exploration of the factors determining the disenchantment of the under-class, the poor and the exploited categories with the established social order which trigger continual tension and conflict in society. In addition, it made meaningful theoretical departures. With the aid of concrete social and cultural data it demonstrated the limitations of the functionalist paradigm, a dominant theoretical approach of the time, as it also enriched historiography by integrating it with the art of ethnography. It demonstrated how relevant it was that comparative ethnological studies across regions and communities in India were undertaken to offer meaningful understanding of the conflict and social processes.