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1Right when we were discussing this special issue on subalterns, we were immensely saddened to learn of the death of our colleague, the historian Jacques Pouchepadass (1942–2021). Jacques was there when SAMAJ was created, standing by us with kindness and advice, and until very recently he was a member of the journal’s advisory board. But if we choose to publish here, as a preface to this issue, a short commemorative text, it is because he played a fundamental role in the French public’s discovery of the writings of the Subaltern Studies group, which will often be mentioned in this issue.

  • 1 It should be noted, however, that as early as 1988, Roland Lardinois decided to commission a transl (...)

2When he published a review article in 2000 entitled “Les Subaltern Studies ou la critique postcoloniale de la modernité [Subaltern Studies or the Postcolonial Critique of Modernity]” (Pouchepadass 2000) the publications of this collective, the earliest of which date back to the early 1980s, were still almost unknown in France.1 The first French-language anthology had just been published the previous year (Diouf 1999). Significantly, however, it had been put together by the Senegalese historian Mamadou Diouf. Diouf was working in Dakar at the time and took on the project to open up a dialogue with African historiography. Subaltern Studies thus first entered into Francophone space through its academic margins. There are three main reasons for this delayed reception. First, there is the relative difficulty of accessing the texts, as there were few translations available before the beginning of the 2000s. Then, as Michelle Zancarini-Fournel has pointed out, the state of the field of social history in France, which was marked by a strong rejection of Marxism from 1975 onwards, must be taken into account. This state of affairs made it difficult to get involved in an editorial project that wanted to write a radical history and initially claimed to be very openly inspired by the writings of Antonio Gramsci (Zancarini-Fournel 2012/1). Concomitantly, the prevalence in the French academic field of the notion of universalism hindered the dissemination of the writings of the second phase of Subaltern Studies, initiated in the 1990s, when the current merged into that of postcolonial studies.

3The late emergence in the French public space of debates around postcolonial issues—notably around the very controversial law of February 2005 whose article 4, which was ultimately repealed because of public outcry and demonstrations, celebrated “the benefits of colonization”—awakened interest in Subaltern Studies. During the 2000s, many texts and works by the group and its main authors were translated, while French-language contestatory and review articles about this movement multiplied. In addition to his 2000 article, which is now considered foundational, Jacques Pouchepadass continued to fuel this discussion. Between 2000 and 2018, he published no less than 15 articles, dictionary entries, and book chapters dedicated to these issues. His contributions stand out in two ways. On the one hand, while the majority of translations and discussions were then focused on the “postcolonial” period of Subaltern Studies, he consistently returned to the first period, capturing with great finesse the contributions but also the depth of the debates raised, particularly in India, by the work of this history from below. On the other hand, and in contrast to the warped and distorted reception of postcolonial studies that has often characterized the French public and academic space, Jacques always adopted a nuanced and situated approach to them, taking their proposals seriously and discussing them with a keen intellectual appetite.

4The intellectual curiosity, always combined with benevolence, that characterized him undoubtedly predisposed him to play with brio this role of intermediary between France and India. But, by virtue of his research subjects, he was also a pillar of social history and a historian of the subalterns. His first works, begun in the 1970s, focused on the peasant classes of Bihar, in the Champaran region. In addition to an analysis of agrarian structures, he conducted a detailed study of peasant mobilizations, focusing in particular on the role played by rumors in the latter.2 Thereafter, while he did deal with differently focused subjects, he continued to devote part of his work to the history of subaltern groups: “criminal” tribes, Adivasi, non-free labor, inhabitants of the forests of South India, etc., with endeavoring constantly to entwine together environmental and social history in particular.3

5This collective special issue therefore provides us with a wonderful opportunity to salute him and to highlight his important contribution, both to the knowledge of the Subaltern Studies movement in France, and the field of Indian social history in general—the history of the subalterns in particular.

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Jacques Pouchepadass, articles on the subaltern issue

2000. “Subaltern Studies, or the Postcolonial Critique of Modernity.” L’Homme 156:161–85. [2002. “Subaltern Studies as Postcolonial Critique of Modernity.” Pp. 84–102 in Thinking Social Science in India: Essays in Honour of Alice Thorner, edited by S. Patel, J. Bagchi, and K. Raj. New Delhi: Sage Publications-India.]

2003. “Around a book. De la postcolonie, by Achille Mbembe.” Politique Africaine 91:171–76.

2004. “What Remains of Subaltern Studies?” International Criticism 24:67–79.

2005. “Provincializing Europe: Indian Historians and the Critique of Eurocentrism in History.” Pp. 301–08 in D’un Orient l’autre. Actes des Troisièmes Journées de l’Orient, Bordeaux, 2–4 octobre 2002, edited by J. L. Bacqué-Grammont, A. Pino, and S. Khoury. Paris; Louvain: Éditions Peeters (Cahiers de la Société Asiatique, tome IV).

2007. “Le Projet critique des postcolonial studies entre hier et demain.” Pp. 173–218 in La Situation postcoloniale. Les Postcolonial studies dans le débat français, edited by M. C. Smouts. Paris: Presses de Sciences Po.

2007. “L’Histoire coloniale sous le regard des dominés: l’école indienne des ‘Subaltern Studies.’” Pp. 29–34 in Histoires coloniales. Héritages et transmissions (Actes du colloque organisé par la Bibliothèque Publique d’Information au Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 18-19 novembre 2005). Paris: Bibliothèque Publique d’Information/Centre Pompidou.

2007. “Où vont les Postcolonial Studies? (editorial).” Réseau-Asie, September (

2008. “A proposito della critica postcoloniale sul ‘discorso’ dell’archivio.” Quaderni Storici 43(3–129):675–90.

2008. “Are the ‘93’ Riots Postcolonial?” L’Homme 187–88:413–21.

2010. “Subaltern and Postcolonial Studies.” Pp. 636–46 in Historiographies. Concepts et débats, edited by C. Delacroix, F. Dosse, P. Garcia and N. Offenstadt. Paris: Gallimard (“Folio/Histoire” tome 1).

2010. “Subaltern and Postcolonial.” Pp. 479–81 in Dictionary of Contemporary India, edited by F. Landy: Paris: Armand Colin.

2011. “The Contesting Scope of Postcolonial Studies.” Interview conducted in 5 parts with written transcript. Retrieved May 4, 2022 (

2013. “Le Postcolonialisme (1980–2010).” Pp. 219–35 in 1970–2010: les sciences de l’homme en débat, edited by Y. Brailowsky and H. Inglebert. Nanterre: Presses Universitaires de Paris Ouest.

2014. “Un Révisionnisme anti-élitiste. L’Historiographie indienne des Subaltern Studies.” Pp. 263–73 in Historiographies d’ailleurs. Comment écrit-on l’histoire en dehors du monde occidental?, edited by N. Kouamé. Paris: Karthala.

2018. “Indian Subalterns and Gramsci’s Thought: Political and Intellectual Conjunctures.” Pp. 199–218 in India and Italy. Rencontres intellectuelles, politiques et artistiques, edited by C. Markovits, T. Leucci and M. Fourcade. Paris: Éditions de l’EHESS (Purushartha 35).

Other references

Diouf, Mamadou. 1999. L’Historiographie de l’Inde en débat. Colonialisme, nationalisme et sociétés postcoloniales. Paris: Karthala-Sephis.

Lardinois, Roland. 1988. Miroir de l’Inde. Études indiennes en sciences sociales. Paris: Éditions de la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme.

Pouchepadass, Jacques. 1999. Champaran and Gandhi: Planters, Peasants and Gandhian Politics. Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Pouchepadass, Jacques. 2000. Land, Power and Market: A Bihar District under Colonial Rule, 1860–1947. New Delhi: Thousand Oaks; London: Sage Publications.

Zancarini-Fournel, Michelle. 2012/1. “À propos du ‘retard’ de la réception en France des Subaltern Studies.” Actuel Marx 51:150–64.

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1 It should be noted, however, that as early as 1988, Roland Lardinois decided to commission a translation of the introduction to Ranajit Guha’s Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India (Lardinois 1988).

2 These works have given rise to the publication of two books in French, which were subsequently translated into English; we provide the references in this language here: Jacques Pouchepadass. 1999. Champaran and Gandhi: Planters, Peasants and Gandhian Politics. Delhi: Oxford University Press; 2000. Land, Power and Market: A Bihar District under Colonial Rule, 1860–1947. New Delhi: Thousand Oaks; London: Sage Publications.

3 A complete list of his publications can be found at

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Electronic reference

Vanessa Caru, Editorial: Jacques Pouchepadass, In MemoriamSouth Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal [Online], 28 | 2022, Online since 20 June 2022, connection on 12 August 2022. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Vanessa Caru

Research Fellow, Centre d’Études de l’Inde et de l’Asie du Sud (CNRS-EHESS), Paris

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