The Politics of the Governed: Postcolonial States, Civil Society, and Subalternity

Free-market globalization has led to the systematic dismantling of accountability of the state, which is increasingly taking on a managerial role. Ironically, the loss of legitimacy of the state has opened up new opportunities of action for civil society actors in the fields of global justice and radical democracy. The popularity of protest movements like Occupy fosters the belief that an empowered civil society automatically strengthens democracy.

Drawing on Antonio Gramsci and Gayatri Spivak, my talk interrogates the vanguardism of extra-state collective action and the anti-state politics of the feudally benevolent alter-globalization lobby, who have become organic intellectuals of global capitalism. My focus will be on subaltern groups, who can neither access organs of the state nor transnational counterpublics. I will argue that in the face of “class apartheid” (Spivak) in much of the postcolonial world, which alienates the majority of the subaltern population from intellectual labor, the project of decolonization is incomplete without an “epistemic transformation” at both ends of the postcolonial divide, namely, the undoing of the “epistemic discontinuity” between those who “right wrongs” from above and those below who are wronged. (Dhawan)

Nikita Dhawan is Junior Professor of Political Science for Gender/Postcolonial Studies, Director of the Frankfurt Research Center for Postcolonial Studies and Principal Investigator in the Cluster of Excellence The Formation of Normative Orders, Goethe-University Frankfurt. Publications include: Impossible Speech: On the Politics of Silence and Violence (2007).

Introduction: Judith Butler, Professor of Comparative Literature, UC Berkeley