Imagining the Public in Modern South Asia

This book was made possible by a symposium sponsored by the Buffett Institute's Equality Development and Globalization Studies (EDGS) and co-edited by faculty affiliate Brannon D. Ingram. 

The print edition, released in 2016, was published by Routledge.


In South Asia, as elsewhere, the category of ‘the public’ has come under increased scholarly and popular scrutiny in recent years. To better understand this current conjuncture, we need a fuller understanding of the specifically South Asian history of the term. To that end, this book surveys the modern Indian ‘public’ across multiple historical contexts and sites, with contributions from leading scholars of South Asia in anthropology, history, literary studies and religious studies. As a whole, this volume highlights the complex genealogies of the public in the Indian subcontinent during the colonial and postcolonial eras, showing in particular how British notions of ‘the public’ intersected with South Asian forms of publicity. Two principal methods or approaches—the genealogical and the typological—have characterised this scholarship. This book suggests, more in the mode of genealogy, that the category of the public has been closely linked to the sub-continental history of political liberalism. Also discussed is how the studies collected in this volume challenge some of liberalism’s key presuppositions about the public and its relationship to law and religion. This book was originally published as a special issue of South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies.


  1. What is a Public? Notes from South Asia by J. Barton Scott and Brannon D. Ingram
  2. Rethinking the Public through the Lens of Sovereignty by David Gilmartin
  3. How to Defame a God: Public Selfhood in the Maharaj Libel Case by J. Barton Scott
  4. Crises of the Public in Muslim India: Critiquing ‘Custom’ at Aligarh and Deoband by Brannon D. Ingram
  5. Contesting Friendship in Colonial Muslim India by SherAli Tareen
  6. Booklets and Sants: Religious Publics and Literary History by Francesca Orsini
  7. Ambedkar, Marx and the Buddhist Question by Ajay Skaria
  8. Jurisprudence of Emergence: Neo-Liberalism and the Public as Market in India by Ritu Birla
  9. A Different Kind of Flesh: Public Obscenity, Globalization and the Mumbai Dance Bar Ban by William Mazzarella
  10. Commissioning Representation: The Misra Report, Deliberation and the Government of the People in Modern India by Rupa Viswanath
  11. Postscript: Exploring Aspects of ‘the Public’ from 1991 to 2014 by Sandria B. Freitag