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In Habitations of Modernity, Dipesh Chakrabarty explores the complexities of modernism in India and seeks principles of humaneness grounded in everyday life that may elude grand political theories. The questions that motivate Chakrabarty are shared by all postcolonial historians and anthropologists: How do we think about the legacy of the European Enlightenment in lands far from Europe in geography or history? How can we envision ways of being modern that speak to what is shared around the world, as well as to cultural diversity? How do we resist the tendency to justify the violence accompanying triumphalist moments of modernity?
Chakrabarty pursues these issues in a series of closely linked essays, ranging from a history of the influential Indian series Subaltern Studies to examinations of specific cultural practices in modern India, such as the use of khadi—Gandhian style of dress—by male politicians and the politics of civic consciousness in public spaces. He concludes with considerations of the ethical dilemmas that arise when one writes on behalf of social justice projects.