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From colonial subjecthood to shared humanity: social work and the politics of “doing” in Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay's International Thought

Balaji, Shruti (2023) From colonial subjecthood to shared humanity: social work and the politics of “doing” in Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay's International Thought. Global Studies Quarterly, 3 (1). ISSN 2634-3797

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Identification Number: 10.1093/isagsq/ksad019


This article tracks a paradox in elite, Third-World thinkers’ nation-building and postcolonial world-making in the early to mid-twentieth century. The tension lay in highly universalized notions of equality in imagined postcolonial worlds and the hierarchized social organizing tactics required to bring these worlds to life. The paper examines Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay—a prominent Indian social activist—and her international thought as she encountered this paradox in her social work praxis. I assess Kamaladevi's social work politics in the 1920s and 1930s at the Congress Seva Dal (a mass-based voluntary organization) as an imperial site where her universalized ideas about subjecthood clashed with practical disciplinary and hierarchical modes of political engagement. Then, I explore Kamaladevi's alienation from party politics in a newly independent India in the 1940s, which offered her an alternative pathway to leverage her social work as she built anticolonial solidarities at the substate level. Reading new archival material from Kamaladevi's travels in West Asia and parts of Africa in the 1950s–1960s, I suggest that her anti-imperial and race-conscious international thought in the “postimperial” world is a continuation rather than a breakaway from the earlier tensions of her normative and hierarchical civil–society activism. Kamaladevi's specific political trajectory that cuts across the Indian independence divide in 1947 is interesting in two ways. First, it problematizes hierarchies in historical elite Indian women's anticolonial and civil–society activism. Second, examining her social work allows for a disruptive reading of taken-for-granted binaries of the colonial/postcolonial, local/international, and social/political in historical international thought.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2023 The Author(s).
Divisions: International Relations
Subjects: J Political Science > JZ International relations
J Political Science > JC Political theory
Date Deposited: 16 May 2023 11:30
Last Modified: 09 Jun 2024 16:24

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