This post builds on the research article “Pastoral Power in the Postcolony: On the Biopolitics of the Criminal Animal in South India,” which was published in the February 2008 issue of the Society’s peer-reviewed journal, Cultural Anthropology.
In the past, Cultural Anthropology has published several articles on the anthropology of the state. See for example, Aradhana Sharma’s "Crossbreeding Institutions, Breeding Struggle: Women's Empowerment, Neoliberal Governmentality, and State (Re)Formation in India" (2006); Olga Demetriou’s piece on intercommunal politics of spatial relations in Northern Greece (2006); and Catherine Besteman’s piece “Representing Violence and ‘Othering’ Somalia” (1996).
Cultural Anthropology has also published several articles on postcolonial and subaltern studies. See for example, Ana Maria Alonso’s "Conforming Disconformity: "Mestizaje," Hybridity, and the Aesthetics of Mexican Nationalism" (2004); Celia Lowe’s "Making the Monkey: How the Togean Macaque Went from “New Form” to “Endemic Species” in Indonesians' Conservation Biology" (2004); and Donald Moore’s "Subaltern Struggles and the Politics of Place: Remapping Resistance in Zimbabwe's Eastern Highlands" (1998).
In the February 2008 issue of Cultural Anthropology, Anand Pandian translates the metaphoric potency of Foucault’s notion of “pastoral power” into an actual engagement with pastoral practice in south India, materializing theory by “lending flesh, substance and the obstinate force of embodied existence” to our understanding of social control. Pandian offers challenging new insights on the anthropology of biopolitics, arguing that a close examination of the management of animals by humans (glossed over by Foucault) iluminates how humans themselves have been governed as animals in modern times. Pandian’s essay grapples with the tension between “individualizing care” and “totalizing control” in modern forms of biopolitics. The government of animal nature in rural India entails an uneasy combination of care and control, Pandian argues, that merits close attention for the critical insights it offers into the modern government of life.
Combining his field experience in an agricultural belt of Tamil Nadu with historical material from the region, Pandian skillfully sketches three interlinked portraits of human and animal life in colonial and postcolonial India: the construction of criminal human subjects as animal objects of management by the colonial Criminal Tribes Act of 1871; the contemporary traces of this policing in the everyday practices of moral management by cultivators on their oxen; and the persistent legacies of a cultural idiom of restraining populations of humans and animals judged incapable of restraining themselves. Pandian’s analysis of rural India breaks down the paradox Foucault’s theory seems to set up between sympathetic care and brutal control, and details how the virtues and vices attributed to animal subjects by their human masters share resonances with prevailing modern attitudes on human government. The essay will be of interest to anthropologists, postcolonial theorists and political philosophers interested in biopolitics, the relationship between citizens and the state, and in cultural constructions of identity, marginality, and oppression.