ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Revisiting Subaltern Studies

Instead of responding meaningfully to the arguments in my book Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital, Partha Chatterjee ("Subaltern Studies and Capital", EPW, 14 September 2013) has chosen to throw up a smokescreen. He has ignored three tasks of the book - to distil from the key writings of Subaltern Studies the project's essential arguments, to assess the validity of their critique on empirical and conceptual grounds, and to offer an alternative theory, which succeeds where theirs fails. It seems he did not even recognise the reconstructed subalternists' arguments, including his own.

The intention of my book Post­colonial Theory and the Specter of Capital (hereafter PTSC) was to assess the theoretical framework generated by the Subaltern Studies collective. To do so involved three distinct tasks – first, to distil from the key writings the project’s essential arguments; second, to assess the validity of their critique on empirical and conceptual grounds; and third, to offer an alternative theory, which will succeed where theirs failed. To be sure, my verdict was not kind to the project. But I tried, in the book, to reconstruct the Subalternists’ arguments as clearly and generously as possible, and to base my own alternative formulations on logic and evidence, not by appeals to authority.

In his response, Partha Chatterjee (“Subaltern Studies and Capital”, EPW, 14 September 2013) has decided to ignore all of these conventions. Instead of honestly trying to engage with the arguments of PTSC, he either ignores them ­altogether or distorts them beyond recognition. He even managed to extend the same courtesy to the Subalternists’ work, including his own. Given the space constraints here, I offer a compressed riposte to Chatterjee, focusing on his central points, and limiting myself to the analytical issues. A fuller rebuttal, which addresses the gamut of his arguments and has the needed textual evidence for the points made below, is posted online at two different sites.1

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