Social Scientist. v 19, no. 221-22 (Oct-Nov 1991) p. 63.


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NEERA CHANDOKE*

Expanding the Marxian Notion of the Post-colonial State

It is difficult to pinpoint a theoretical event in terms of an exact temporal occurence, partly because the origins of that event are foreshadowed in the exhaustion with a particular focus, partly because the internal shifts in the debate presage a new moment, or a resurrection of an older one and partly because events that are recognised as central in theory have an older history than the theory which gives it recognition. The shift from an exclusive preoccupation with the state as an institutional ensemble which can be comprehended in isolation, from the society of which it is the political organisation, has been one such theoretical event. The shift to civil society in most theory has stemmed from both an alteration in perception and the recognition of the social processes which have pinpointed the limits of state centric theory hence the privileging of the concept of civil society. The privileging of a concept within a theoretical tradition and the consequent rearrangement of conceptual hierarchies both reflects and follows events and guides them. The choice of a privileged concept is thus historically specific and strategic, that is an attempt to raise certain phenomena to the centre stream of analysis and use this as a vantage point for the understanding of other phenomena. The point is that no concept can be understood of itself, it gains meaning within the hierarchy of concepts and in that hierarchy it dominates the matrix of concepts. The rearrangement of concepts within a theoretical tradition is worthwhile, it seems to me, when the privileging of a concept which has till then been marginalised, adds to and expands the concept which has till then been the focus of analysis, in other words the replacement of one concept by another does not enlarge our understanding, it can actually serve to deflect it. Civil society is one concept, which expands our notion of the state because it grounds the state in the practice and discourses of the public domain, and it delegitimises that understanding of the state which regards it as an

Nehru Memorial Museum and library/ New Delhi.

Social Scientist, Vol. 19, Nos. 9-10, October-November, 1991



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