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

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A Postcolonial Quest for Reliable Knowledge

Practising Theory in the Anthropocene

A response to the article “The Work of Theory: Thinking across Traditions” (EPW, 10 September 2016) by Prathama Banerjee, Aditya Nigam and Rakesh Pandey builds on their argument by proposing extensions to their new postcolonial theory.

Prathama Banerjee, Aditya Nigam and Rakesh Pandey seek to provide their readers with a bold approach to address a familiar and devilish debate among postcolonials in their article “The Work of Theory: Thinking across Traditions” (2016). How should one treat the dominant philosophies of dead white men? Would embracing their theories compromise one’s freedom if orientalism and its allied power–knowledge strategies continue to have dominion over one’s lifeworld? Is it possible to locate the holy grail of “third theory” that provincialises Europe without resorting to a naïve form of nativism? Or, is the postcolonial relentlessly bound to dichotomies of West versus Rest when formulating histories and self-understandings of ideas and practices?

Banerjee et al (2016) reject all these routes and point to the intellectual and political gains to be made from an important fourth possibility—that of allowing multiple readings of social practice to build conceptual frameworks, an epistemology which also goes by the name of “grounded” theory. Their version seeks to be reflexive and deconstructive, to think across traditions and to generate interpretations out of critical engagement with everyday life. They propose, in addition, that we look closely at the strategies of scholars who “contemporanise” multiple strands of thought, as Ambedkar did with Buddhist philosophy and rights-based liberalism, or Tagore did with Upanishadic categories and cosmopolitanism. Such approaches would help liberate terms like justice, law and rights (and their translations in local usage) from their frozen, universal locations into meaning-forming condensates in particular social contexts across time.

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