Partha Chatterjee: Nationalism's Pedagogy

Dr Philip Holden, University Scholars Programme, National University of Singapore


Chatterjee notes that the middle classes in the emergence of nationalism take it upon themselves to educate the masses and lead them:

[The member of the colonial elite] had grown used to referring to himself, like the educated European, as a member of 'the middle class." Not only was he in the middle in terms of income, but he also assumed, in the sphere of social authority, the role of the mediator. On the one hand, he was claiming that those who had wealth and property were unfit to wield the power they had traditionally enjoyed. On the other hand, he was taking upon himself the responsibility of speaking on behalf of those who were poor and oppressed. To be in the middle now meant to oppose the rulers and lead the subjects. (The Nation and Its Fragments 92)

The middle classes achieve a hegemony in the private sphere, producing a sense of what it means to be "Indian," or "Jamaican," or "Nigerian" to which all future citizens assent. During the colonial period, the middle classes may initially participate in civil society institutions of the colonial public sphere. Later, however, they will carve out an autonomous space outside of the colonial public sphere. After independence, hegemonic control is expressed largely through the institutions of political society, in an expanded state which now acts in the nation's interests.

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Last Modified: 19 April, 2002