Sorting the Inside from the Outside

  • Alex Padamsee


I have suggested that a useful starting point for understanding the post-‘Mutiny’ discourse about Indian Muslims can be found in Zygmunt Bauman’s concept of ‘the stranger’, a figure that challenges the legislating powers precisely in their constitutive function to construct boundaries within and around social knowledges and formations. Bauman’s reflections on the ordering and classificatory imperatives of the modern polities that produce these phenomena are aimed primarily at the rise of the European nation state.1 Nevertheless, his definition of the remit of the ‘intellectuals’ who guide the legislating hand is one that can usefully be extended into the colonial domain. Following Foucault’s formulation of the close fit between knowledge and power, Bauman posits the sociology of modern societies as comprised of the ‘dominating’ and the ‘dominated’, whereby the former — in his terms, the ‘intellectuals’ — are possessors of the knowledge through which the ‘uncertainty’ generated by the latter may be contained.2 These are forms of knowledge about the ‘dominated’ that, either by their very (‘primitive’) nature or by their lack of ‘education’ the ‘dominated’ cannot attain, and without which they cannot function in a modern society. Moreover, for the ‘intellectuals’,

the intensity and the scope of their domination depends on how acute is the sense of uncertainty or deprivation caused by the absence of knowledge in an area serviced by a given group of sages, teachers or experts. More importantly still, it depends on the latter’s ability to create or intensify such a sense of uncertainty or deprivation; to produce, in other words, the social indispensability of the kind of knowledge they control.3


Indian Society Constitutive Function Modern Polity Colonial State Legislate Power 
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  1. 1.
    For a fuller historical exposition of these developments, see Bauman, Legislators and Interpreters: On Modernity, Post-modernity and Intellectuals (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1987).Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Suleri, Rhetoric, pp. 46–8. On the colonial project of information-gathering, see Cohn, ‘Census’, pp. 224–54; and Cohn, Colonialism; Bayly, ‘Knowing’, pp. 3–43; and Thomas Richards, The Imperial Archive: Knowledge and the Fantasy of Empire (London: Verso, 1993).Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    The success of that self-representation by the second half of the nineteenth century may be gauged by, for instance, reference to the colonialist figure of Murthwaite in Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone, who is able to supply the crucial information on the genealogy of the deadly, and elusive, intruders from India into British Metropolitan society, and whose ‘superior knowledge of the Indian character’ is unquestioned. Collins, The Moonstone (Oxford: Oxford University Press, repr. 1998; 1868), p. 318.Google Scholar

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© Alex Padamsee 2005

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  • Alex Padamsee

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