Penn Calendar Penn A-Z School of Arts and Sciences University of Pennsylvania

GRAD WORKSHOP - Taken for Granted? Challenging the Foundations of Nationhood Through Narrative and Practice

Wednesday, September 18, 2019 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm

Room 350, Ronald O. Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics (133 S. 36th Street)
Food provided / Free and open to the public

Matthew Graham (Yale Political Science)
Democracy in America? Partisanship, Polarization, and the Robustness of Support for Democracy in the U.S. (PDF)
Co-authored with Milan W. Svolik

Sushmita Sircar (NYU Dept. of English)
Military Cosmopolitanism and Romantic Indigeneity: Crafting Claims to Statehood in India’s North-Eastern Frontier (PDF)

Is support for democracy in the United States robust enough to deter undemocratic behavior by elected politicians? MATTHEW GRAHAM and his co-author Milan W. Svolik develop a model of the public as a democratic check and evaluates it using two empirical strategies: an original, nationally representative candidate choice experiment in which some politicians take positions that violate key democratic principles, and a natural experiment that occurred during Montana’s 2017 special election for the U.S. House. Their research design allows him to infer Americans’ willingness to trade off democratic principles for other valid but potentially conflicting considerations such as political ideology, partisan loyalty, and policy preferences. They finds the U.S. public’s viability as a democratic check to be strikingly limited. Only a small fraction of Americans prioritize democratic principles in their electoral choices and their tendency to do so is decreasing in several measures of polarization, including the strength of partisanship, policy extremism, and candidate platform divergence. Graham and Svolik's findings echo classic arguments about the importance of political moderation and cross-cutting cleavages for democratic stability and highlight the dangers that polarization represents for democracy.

SUSHMITA SIRCAR examines how secessionist movements in India’s north-eastern frontier negotiate two competing foundations of nationhood: a cosmopolitan military identity forged through the two world wars, and an indigenous identity based on a claim to the land. The world wars, by recruiting people from the region for the British Army, and through the invasion of the region by the Japanese Army, led to the emergence of various “militant nationalisms,” which transformed previously anthropological categories into ethnic minorities that mobilized against the state. These movements undertook a complex reworking of the figure of the “soldier,” central to so many accounts of national integrity, that in turn remade their minor nationalisms around on an ideal of military brotherhood. This is visible in Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss (2006), which depicts the Gorkhaland uprising of the 1980s in the Kalimpong district of West Bengal, and in Easterine Kire’s Bitter Wormwood (2011), which describes the Naga peoples’ traditional way of life against the backdrop of attempts to declare independence from the Indian state. Sircar argues that state documents and contemporary literature efface the legitimacy of such a “militant nationalism” by juxtaposing it to an indigenous identity. This bias also explains why the region is subsequently granted autonomy under the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution, which sets out provisions for the “Administration of Tribal Areas.” Reproducing the nationalist logic of the Indian state, the aforementioned novels more readily recognize an “indigenous” identity based on a claim to the land as the political basis of nationhood. Hence, these novels reveal how certain narratives of nation formation become the only legitimate means for making claims to political rights and independent statehood over the course of the twentieth century.