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Home arrow Sociology arrow Cosmopolitan Lives on the Cusp of Empire: Interfaith, Cross-Cultural and Transnational Networks, 1860-1950


Rather than judging nationalist sentiment in terms of rejecting or accepting Dominion status, Partha Chatterjee states that all Indian nationalists, in one way or another, adapted European civilization for their own use.57 In her account of Indian women who participated in European-dominated women’s international networks, Mrinalini Sinha similarly argues that their critiques of European universalism expressed both the ‘simultaneous indispensability and inadequacy of European concepts’ and a desire to make them ‘potentially universal’.58 Arguably, Indians like Datta treated similarly the cosmopolitanism espoused by Pan-Pacific internationalism: wishing to make a eurocentric worldview into one that was more inclusive. Australian, British and American Pan-Pacific internationalists hoped that the spirituality and communalism they saw in ‘the East’ would help to rehumanise European modernity. But the limits of these aspirations can be heard in first-hand accounts contributed by Datta and others concerning the actual conditions of Indian (or Japanese and Chinese) factory workers and the contradictory implications of universal reforms designed to improve their conditions that might well increase poverty and social dislocation).

In his report for the West China Missionary News on the IPR conference in 1929, Rev A.J. Brace, General Secretary of the YMCA in China, began with a rhetorical question: ‘Is there a chance through friendly negotiation between plain citizens to narrow the field of conflicts between nations and... [thus] prevent conflict?’ In his view, this chance had been embraced at the round-table discussions initiated by James Shotwell, the professor of History at Columbia credited with drafting the Kellog Peace Pact through which the international agreement had rejected war. According to Brace, Shotwell had instructed the members of round tables at the IPR to remain critical of the contradictory effects of progress upon human existence. The challenge for the world community was ‘whether we can in our progress improve the greatest art of all - namely the science of living’.59 According to Shotwell’s own press report for the conference, he declared that ‘In a Friendly Spirit Many Vexing Problems Disappear’.60 In resolutely declamatory terms, Shotwell reiterated the official line of the IPR that it provided a uniquely cosmopolitan location for the synthesis ofprogressive Christian and secular thought. Here, the aspirational cosmopolitanism discussed in this book was articulated in the language ofliberal reform, if, as has been argued, less evenly in interpersonal terms. It was at the interpersonal, however, that the problem of universalism was brought into debate.

For the Western participants the experience of Pan-Pacific was often experienced in rather self-consciously cosmopolitan fashion. According to Hinder, writing for The White Ribbon Signal, the Pan-Pacific movement gave Australian women the chance to find ‘themselves matched in mentality and achievement’ by their counterparts from ‘Oriental countries’. This experience was particularly important for Australians where (thanks to White Australia) the ‘homogeneity of the population is of itself an insidious factor inducing the idea that what differs from us is inferior to us’.61 Thus, cosmopolitanism enacted at international conferences brought for many such delegates a realisation that what was considered advanced became problematic when critiqued by fellow delegates from so- called less modern countries. Indeed, differences between delegates seemed to become heightened when it came to discussing the expectations of the workers and the conditions of the masses in each of their countries.

While Pan-Pacific internationalism was implicated in these very inequalities, for many ‘Western’ and ‘Eastern’ participants conferences offered the possibility of enjoying the cosmopolitan experience of alternative ‘zones of conversation’ that seemed at least partially to exceed the parameters of empire.62 While Datta’s experience of the IPR or indeed Rao’s impressions of Australia cannot be assumed, their interactions with Pan-Pacific cosmopolitanism seem unlikely to have made the same impact upon them as described by Hinder, Rischbieth and others. Indian nationalists educated in Christian mission or progressive networks were undoubtedly well versed in Australian, British and American ways of being cosmopolitan advocates of the British Commonwealth. And yet doubt can be heard at the end of the first session of the Industrialisation Roundtable, when Datta returned to the underlying question about the impact of factory work upon the individual, asking: ‘Is there not a psychological feeling of suffering in being tied to a machine?’63 His final question points to the ways in which the capacity of the non-Western subject to become modern and ultimately cosmopolitan was widely considered to be limited, especially the factory worker torn so recently from peasant life.

Whatever his thoughts on the success or otherwise of the IPR, Datta remained an enthusiastic supporter of the fostering international relationships between India, the USA, Britain and China. At the invitation of Edward Carter, he would attend as an observer for India at the IPR conference held in Mont Tremblant, Canada, in 1942, shortly before his death. He and Carter had remained close friends.64 Indian representatives would also be among participants at the important IPR conference held in Hot Springs, a precursor to the formation of the United Nations in 1945.65 While Carter who had been involved in the formation of an Indian Institute of International Affairs in 1935, an affiliate of the Royal Institute in London at Chatham House, during the increasingly anti-imperial rhetoric of the war years contributed to the establishment of the Indian Council of World Affairs through which Jawaharlal Nehru would convene the first Asian Relations Conference in 1947.66

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