Imagined on Whose Terms? Bengali Nationalist Discourse as Contested Space
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Western theoretical discourses since the Enlightenment Period predominantly characterized nationalism as a distinctively modern phenomenon. In the West. the dominant-though not the only-view of modernity equated progress with the development of scientific thought and rationality in all aspects of life. This promoted a dichotomous world view where ''Western rationality" was constantly pitted against "Eastern spirituality." Simultaneously the concept of nationalism evoked the image of a people sharing a common national identity and sense of belonging within the nation i.e. of the existence of a unified nationalism. Colonial encounters in countries in Asia and Latin America held the possibility of "civilizing'' the backward indigenous population. In this sense, in the Western mind (arguably also in the mind of indigenous elite) the contact between the British colonizer and the colonized indigenous represented also a didactic encounter. Appearance of indigenous nationalism and resistance to British colonialism only became explicable as a result of Indian emulation and imitation of the British ways. This, of course, only seemed to confirm the inherent superiority of the British, and by extension, of the West, over the East.---- In my paper, l begin by setting up the historical narrative of this dominant Western discourse and "unpacking" the underlying assumptions and implications of the idea of nationalism as a Western "imagined" construct. Then I use the case of Bengali nationalist tradition to challenge this dominant view of nationalism in two ways. First, I contextualize a specific moment in Bengali history, the Naxalite Movement of the 1970s, to challenge the idea of a unified Indian nationalist discourse. Next I use postcolonial theory and subaltern studies as methodological tools to locate the agency of indigenous and non-elite groups in the construction of Bengali nationalist discourse. I conclude by asserting the continuing vitality of a distinct Bengali discourse of nationalism and modernity. In my epilogue I touch on comparable elements in Latin American insurgent movements and endeavor to show the benefits of such comparative perspectives.
Franklin and Marshall College Archives, Undergraduate Honors Thesis 2005
- F&M Theses Collection