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

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The Postnational Condition

This brief note introduces the reader to the set of essays in this special issue.

The Postnational Condition

Malathi de Alwis, Satish Deshpande, Pradeep Jeganathan, Mary John, Nivedita Menon, M S S Pandian, Aditya Nigam, S Akbar Zaidi.

This brief note introduces the The “postnational” signals, for the set of essays presented in this col

reader to the set of essays in this lection, an intellectual condition,

special issue.

a position of critique and a new horizon of intelligibility beyond that constituted by the nation state in its heyday. To us, this does not necessarily mean that the “era of nation states is over” but it does mean that the emancipatory potential once embodied in the nation state as a political community of citizens is no longer all that evident. We are a group of south Asian scholars, living in Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India, and have been involved in exchanging ideas on the nature of politics and possibilities of knowledge production in the contemporary world, where the force of exhaustion of this potential is profoundly felt by many.

Unlike many extant usages of the term postnational, we do not use it to refer to a sociological-empirical condition, where one kind of sovereignty (that of the nation state) is either already replaced by another (say, that of Empire, a la Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt), or alternatively, where nation state-based politics is to be increasingly and inevitably replaced by some kind of “cosmopolitical democracy” or “global governance”. As some of the essays that follow will make clear, we do not believe that the postnational is merely another name for “globalisation” and “the global” (Mary John, Nivedita Menon, Aditya Nigam). To us the postnational emerges as a distinct ethico-political horizon and a position of critique – from a serious ongoing interrogation of the history of nation states and the souring of its great dream of (abstract) citizenship (M S S Pandian, Nivedita Menon) to de Alwis’ attempt to rethink a feminist cri-

Some of these ideas were discussed at length tique that resists received notions of the over a two-day workshop, held on political. S Akbar Zaidi’s paper adds 17-18 August 2005, at the Institute of

another dimension to this crisis of “the

Economic Growth, Delhi University.

nation” by looking at the Pakistani nation

Economic & Political Weekly march 7, 2009 vol xliv no 10


state, ever unable to decide where it belongs – south Asia or west Asia. As Zaidi’s discussion suggests, much of how the Pakistani state deals with its own minorities depends on where in Asia it places itself.

Globalisation certainly pervades our present but as Mary John’s essay argues, by assuming it to be the “prime mover of the present” we stand the danger of losing out on other stories, movements, struggles that are at work and contribute substantially to shaping it. Global flows of commodities, images, information and indeed ideas are critical to this present, and yet, as Satish Deshpande argues in his essay, the inequalities of the power structures as between, say, the western academy and the non-western institutions, continue. The question of “location” in the business of knowledge production then becomes important. As Pradeep Jeganathan put it in his intervention in the workshop, the question of location does not refer to some “more authentic” point of epistemic access, but in fact, underlines the importance of a certain “density of arguments within a lived community” in the business of knowledge production. His article here goes to argue that loss of the emancipatory possibilities of the nation is also an epistemological loss that must be theorised, attempting to c onfiguring melancholia as such as an epistemological practice, that may mark the beginning of the production of new postnational knowledges.

The postnational then is not a fully formed, perfectly finished idea for us. It is a sensibility that has its different inflections even among the different authors and papers being presented here. Because the postnational represents a sensibility that requires much more work to take place around it, the reflections presented in this set of essays are necessarily fragmentary and tentative – both in content as well as in the style of presentation. We believe the postnational can be instantiated only by suspending the idea of the nation as a prior theoretical-political horizon, and thinking through its impossibility, even while located uncomfortably within its bounds.

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