Dialectical Anthropology

, 33:271

In search of certainty in revolutionary India


DOI: 10.1007/s10624-009-9133-6

Cite this article as:
Shah, A. Dialect Anthropol (2009) 33: 271. doi:10.1007/s10624-009-9133-6


In this article, I focus on the dilemmas of a friend in Jharkhand who might have joined the revolutionary armed squads of the Maoist insurgency in India. I show how the question of why one supports a revolutionary movement, as well as the nature of that support, can change over time. In particular, I stress the importance of the dialectics between epistemological and ontological uncertainty and certainty, which may be central to the making of a revolutionary in a particular phase of a revolutionary movement. These dialectics are not just the result of an ontological uncertainty of ideological commitment to the movement, but are crucially also about the search for epistemological clarity in social relations imagined to be less opaque and hence more trustworthy. Doubt, an uncertainty about what one knows about one’s social relationships is characteristic of the epistemic murk that accompanies the breakdown of the normative order in the revolutionary situation analysed here. In this context, Maoist terror arises from the creation of epistemic clarity—the possibility that on the other side norms and relationships will be more certain. This is a certainty that is carved out of uncertainty and ambivalence, a certainty that denies or projects away uncertainty. Its weapon is paranoia, an ability to make enemies where there would be doubt, betrayal where there would be benefit of the doubt. The potential revolutionary is therefore not only unsure about his/her ideological commitments, but moreover, a crucial component of their predicament might be an uncertainty about the social relations in which they find themselves and the hope that revolutionary engagement might come with more guarantees. Becoming a revolutionary is also about being in search of certainty.


Maoism India Revolution Jharkhand Motivation Certainty Betrayal Doubt Uncertainty Insurgency Terrorism Protection Indigenous 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Goldsmiths, University of LondonLondonUK

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