Panel discussion: Need to study subaltern actors’ role stressed


To better understand the Pakistani power structure, he said, there was a dire need to further study the political role of traders, arhtis (middle men) and other intermediate economic actors. PHOTO: FILE

To better understand the Pakistani power structure, he said, there was a dire need to further study the political role of traders, arhtis (middle men) and other intermediate economic actors. PHOTO: FILE

LAHORE: The analytical categories used to study the society determine the way in which we imagine or articulate the various actors and institutions that constitute the state. They also limit one’s ability to locate social contradictions and radical potentials may not manifest themselves within familiar categories like the historical bloc of dominant social classes, first defined by Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci.

These views were expressed by Emory University PhD student Adeem Sheikh on Saturday. He was speaking at a panel discussion titled Rethinking Pakistan’s Political Economy: State, Class and Transition to conclude the two-day conference at Lahore University of Management Sciences.

Suhail said the outcome of one’s interrogations of the behaviour of state actors and institutions depended on one’s social and territorial location.

He said it was important to factor in the role of subaltern actors in one’s analysis of any state or structures of power in a society. He said these actors created conditions necessary for the existence of such structures. He said the apparent stability of various categories used to study the society could be because of the complete erasure of the activities of subaltern actors.

Other panellists were Habib University’s Assistant Professor Fahd Ali and Quaid-i-Azam University’s Aasim Sajjad Akhtar. Political economist Akbar Zaidi moderated the session.

Ali suggested that states should be seen as fluid rather than as weak or strong. He said in the post-colonial and neo-liberal forms the state had various facets and could be described as having a multiple-personality disorder.

“In Pakistan’s case, the state has been concerned with development concerns from 1947 to 1977. Post-1977, the state became preoccupied with ways to balance its books and never developed a long-term vision for management of the economy and the society.” He said in the 1947-77 period, state promotion of industrialisation had resulted in the emergence of an industrial class in the country.

“From 1977 onwards, class formation process was dictated primarily by the military as it had expanded its control over economic activities in crucial sectors.”

Earlier, Akhtar started the discussion by highlighting analytical limitations in Hamza Alavi’s influential thesis on the overdeveloped nature of Pakistani state vis-à-vis the society.

He said Alavi’s thesis was static as it did not account for the changes that had taken place in the composition of various state actors or of ways in which subaltern actors gave consent to the rule of these actors.

To better understand the Pakistani power structure, he said, there was a dire need to further study the political role of traders, arhtis (middle men) and other intermediate economic actors.

He said he had been motivated to revisit Alavi’s thesis when he could not observe any organised challenges to the power structure. Since 1970s, the common sense for various subaltern social actors had been to seek state patronage rather than to resist or to challenge power relations, he said.


Original news : http://tribune.com.pk/story/1157251/panel-discussion-need-study-subaltern-actors-role-stressed/