On the Decline of Class Analysis in South Asian Studies

Author: Vivek Chibber


The decline of class analysis has been pervasive across the intellectual landscape in recent years. But South Asian studies stands out in the severity with which it has been hit by this phenomenon. It also is the field where the influence of post-structuralism has been most pronounced in the wake of Marxism's decline. This essay offers an explanation for both the decline of class analysis and the ascendance of post-structuralism in South Asian studies as practiced in the United States. I suggest that the decline of class theorizing was a predictable and natural result of the decline of working-class politics in the United States. But the severity of its decline in South Asian studies in particular was a symptom of its never having made much of a dent on the field in the first place. This left unchallenged the traditional, Indological approach, which was heavily oriented toward culturalism. This in turn made the field a hospitable ground for the entrance of post-structuralism, which, like mainstream Indology, not only eschews materialist analysis, but is largely hostile to class. South Asian studies is thus one of the few fields in which traditional scholars and younger ones are both able to agree on their hostility to class analysis. Finally, I argue that the decline of class is now visible in Indian universities too, and this is largely caused by the overwhelming influence that U.S. universities have come to exercise over Indian elite academic culture.
Regions: South Asia

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December 2006
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