For an anthropological theory of praxis

Dystopic utopia in Indian Maoism and the rise of the Hindu Right

in Social Anthropology/Anthropologie sociale
Alpa Shah Department of Anthropology

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Across the globe, we are seeing a popular shift of appeal from a liberal‐humanitarian imagination of the world, or even a communist‐socialist ideal, to one that is more conservative and often called ‘right‐wing populist’. In the ethnographic context analysed here, a utopian movement for revolutionary social change, led by Marx‐Lenin and Mao‐inspired Naxalite guerrillas, that once had a wide appeal in parts of India, is superseded by a more conservative utopian imagination of Hindutva forces. In exploring the Indian Maoist case, I suggest that dystopia is embedded within utopia. If those engaged in utopian social transformation seek to challenge prevailing ideology to transform people’s actions, it is equally possible for their utopian imagination to retreat into ritual that not only bears little relevance to most people but may also be potentially harmful and pave the way for other ideals to become prevalent. In analysing this Indian case, the paper suggests that we develop an anthropological theory of praxis, one that deals not only with how imaginations to change the world become realised in practice, but also accounts for multiple competing imaginations and how and why some become prevalent over others in daily life, in a dialectical process of reflection and action.

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