In The Blood of Guatemala, Greg Grandin poses a hypothetical: “Would the [Guatemalan] revolution have endured if the United States had not interfered or would internal contradictions have forced its demise?” Rather than pursuing the counterfactual, Grandin goes on to admit the answer cannot be known. But he nonetheless defends the question’s utility for it “shifts the focus to include the role Guatemalans played in the making of their own history.” Thus, while Grandin is interested in understanding how “larger structures of power articulate with local interests and tensions,” he ultimately contends that the best way to do that is by closely examining the local, for “if capitalism and imperialism think globally, they need to act locally if they are to succeed.”
Grandin’s concept of the local, however, is not simply global capitalist imperialism’s Other, nor is it a unified national polity. Instead it lies at the interstices of three assumptions: 1) that Nation is produced through social relations and thus a cultural artifact, not a superstructure; 2) that as a cultural artifact, nation is produced by multiple and competing processes, and thus can be localized; 3) the local is not only a site where nation is negotiated, but it is where hegemonic processes encounter global structures.
In this essay I examine three general and interwoven literatures as well as how they reflect these three ideas underlying the local. Beginning with a discussion of nationalism and Nation, I outline how ideas of imagining have extended the local beyond a mere spatial category. As part of the New Cultural History, the local has become an enunciation; more than just a town, or “the street,” literature and performance have been treated as sites of contestation and resistance. Next I look at the interventions of Subaltern Studies and the ways that “decentering” has produced a shift to the local. Finally, I explore how concepts of the “contact zone” and the encounter have infused the local with a global hue.
This essay looks at the environmental thinking and legacy of Mahatma Gandhi. Here Guha probes Gandhi’s writings for critiques of industrialization—and the coming Green Revolution in a 1946 account of soil fertility—modern civilization and village industry and he traces those ideas through the work of Gandhian disciples such as JC Kamarrapa (public finance), Mira Behn (Himalayan forestry and agriculture) and more recent activists involved in the Chipko movement, Chandi Prasad Bhatt and Sunderlal Bahuguna.
Interestingly, Guha also takes on the myth surrounding Gandhi and Nehru’s opposing visions of national development, not by denying they had opposing views, one proto-environmentalist and the other fiercely developmentalist, but by showing how the two men, despite disagreeing, never harbored animosity toward one another, and by showing that by independence Gandhi’s village-centered vision had long-since fallen out of favour with most in the nationalist movement. Thus, Guha suggests that to have adopted the proposals of Gandhi and Kamarrapa at the time would have signified a fundamentally undemocratic move, going against the view of the polity. Further, I like Guha’s summary, stating: “One may justly honour Gandhi and Kumarrapa for being ahead of their time; but it is grossly unhistorical to, as well as unfair, to condemn Nehru for being, merely, a man of his time.” (165) That said, it nonetheless makes for a powerful myth-reinforcing illustration when you see Medha Patkar and the NBA using Gandhian tactics of civil disobedience to resist the Sardar Sarovar Dam, which was conceived by Nehru.