Theses Doctoral

Genealogies of the Postcolonial State: Insurgency, Emergency, and Democracy in Sri Lanka

Hewage, Thushara Naresh S.

This dissertation comprises an investigation into the conditions and contemporary implications of an historical event, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) insurrection of 1971. At the broadest level, it revisits the insurrection and its aftermaths to reframe the contemporary question of emergency in Sri Lanka. This dissertation poses emergency, a defining feature of Sri Lanka's postcolonial experience, as a problem native to the emergence of democracy in Sri Lanka. It resituates emergency rule and the concept of necessity which subtends it on the terrain of the secularizing political rationality, which has constituted the emancipatory raison d'etre of the postcolonial state. The visibility of this rationality has been obscured by liberal constitutionalism's ideological narrative of Sri Lankan constitutional history, and I recover and explore the anticolonial, nationalist contexts of its formation, first in the demand for a constitutional bill of rights, then in the movement toward constitutional autochthony, and finally in the creation of the sovereign republic in 1972. I show how this political rationality incorporates certain secular-political assumptions, fundamental to the colonial inauguration of democracy in Sri Lanka. One such assumption is that democracy is a matter of naturally occurring majorities and minorities, and that the political rights of minorities are best addressed through the concession of constitutional protections or safeguards, rather than any more generative solution at the level of political representation. I suggest this finding should cause us to radically revise the normative ethical-political coordinates which implicitly orient a greater part of the social scientific study of Sri Lanka. That conventional question has revolved around the transgression of secular norms by the force of ethnicity and nationalism, and hence much work has taken up the challenge of deconstructing and explaining the cultural force of Sinhala nationalist ideology. My dissertation asks that we set aside this problematic and instead foreground the question of the secular inheritances of the state as the target of our critical strategies.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Scott, David A.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 27, 2013