Language, power and knowledge in the Lusosphere


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THE invitation to contribute to this issue of Seminar proposed a focus on ‘what Indian students are missing by focusing on the Anglosphere’, suggesting also a discussion on the ‘study and research opportunities in the Lusosphere.’ The Lusosphere, however, is a broad and diverse sphere, encompassing multiple continents and political jurisdictions, and it would be impossible to do justice to the range of options in a discussion contained within the limits of an essay. Furthermore, the term Lusosphere in itself could possibly lead to confusion, especially in face of ‘Lusofonia’another term in use, one especially pushed by the Portuguese state.

There will not be space in this essay to discuss the implications of the Lusofonia; however, it would suffice to say that the term is loaded with colonial and neo-imperial baggage. Furthermore, many of the spaces that are defined as comprising the community of Portuguese speaking states (Comunidade dos Países de Língua Portuguesa) are populated by groups that do not in the main, speak Portuguese, or define themselves as Portuguese speaking.

For these reasons therefore, we would do well to distinguish between Lusofonia and Lusosphere, the latter attempting to step outside of the realms of Lusofonia that may be marked by Portuguese nationalism and burdened by the continuing effects of late Portuguese imperialism.

The term Lusosphere could be used in a broader sense to mark not only those areas that were Portuguese territories or colonies, but also those territories or population groups that were linked in one way or the other to the exploits of the Portuguese state and its agents through the ages. This term is however no less problematic, given that it suggests an undesirable centrality to the Portuguese metropole, obscuring the other non-metropolitan, and non-Portuguese, players who operated in the shadow of that empire. In the course of this essay, while the term Lusosphere is often used to go beyond continental Europe, more often than not it is a reference to Portugal, a space that in the past couple of years, as a doctoral student in this space, I have gained some familiarity with. In light of these constraints therefore, our discussion must necessarily fall to a much broader, but no less critical, conceptual discussion of what Indian academics, both students as well as professionals, miss when they focus on the Anglo-sphere, and also why they do so.

This critical discussion must necessarily commence from a recognition of the intimate links that exist between power and knowledge. Power and knowledge are twinned in a cyclical relationship with each other, where power or material dominance allows one’s view of the world to be recognized as valid and privileged knowledge. This recognition of a particular perspective as ‘knowledge’ permits in turn an entrenchment of the power relations that produced this knowledge in the first place. Universities are critical places where this knowledge, and the power relations it accompanies and facilitates, is not only enshrined but actively reproduced as well. Thus, the student is not merely a consumer of knowledge, but also subsequently and simultaneously a reproducer, both of this knowledge structure as well as power. Thus while the pursuit of a higher degree is a personal decision geared toward personal success and mobility, it is also tied intimately to larger processes that secure power and distinct knowledge generation frameworks in our world.


Having laid out the terms for this discussion, we would need to return to the constraints within which this essay is being written. Posing the frame for this essay in terms of what Indian students miss when they focus exclusively on the ‘Anglosphere’ presents another challenge, since the author is not just an Indian, but Goan (or more appropriately ‘Indo-Portuguese’, though regrettably this essay will limit itself to the Indo-Portuguese, a term that could include Mangaloreans, East Indians, Gujaratis, Bengalis, even solely to the Goan) as well. This duality is not necessarily a problem, however, since these two identities bring different, and in their own right, unique perspectives to the issue.

To stress this duality (or multiplicity) of identities is not to return to the old question of whether the Indian action in 1961 was an ‘invasion’ or a ‘liberation’. On the contrary, this distinction seeks to stress the necessary recognition of the diversity of the Indian polity, and acknowledge the fact, one that seems unfortunately threatened in these times of ‘India Rising’, that we can comfortably inhabit multiple selves simultaneously. Indeed, we must assert this proposition if we are to safeguard the diversity that is critical to the idea of India, as well as secure multiple options as India projects itself as a global leader in the not-so-distant future.


The fact, however, remains that all too often, not just in Goa, but in other parts of India as well, the peculiar manner in which some Goans identify with their Luso-heritage and history is seen to be in opposition to their ‘integration’ into India. This suspicion vis-a-vis the loyalty of the Goan (and especially the Goan Catholic) is perhaps not very different in origins from the suspicion levelled against the Indian Muslim. The sad reality of Goa is that while the British-Indian aspect of the ‘Indian’ is often celebrated, or at the very least recognized, or simply taken for granted, the Portuguese-Indian self is often unable to either be recognized, celebrated, or explored strategically in more substantial terms beyond the touristic. The reasons for this inability are not unrelated to the question of why Indian students focus primarily on the Anglosphere, and hence it would make sense to quickly scan these reasons.

It is often assumed that the roots of this inability to celebrate and explore the Portuguese-Indian lie in the unpleasant manner in which Goa was incorporated into the Indian Union in the face of the Estado Novo’s intransigence over the Goa question. What we do not often take into consideration, however, are the Hindu nationalist urges that fuel some of the passions of Indian nationalism. As Peter Ronald de Souza has suggested, ‘Goa was and is a place, in the cognitive universe and cultural politics of the Sangh Parivar, where the residues of its colonial history need to be erased. Goa, which has produced a pluricultural present replete with syncretic religious practices, is a place where the cultural struggle to make it "truly Indian" is being waged, with one side arguing that "truly Indian" means a diversity of cultures within the nation and the other arguing against such diversity.’

Peter deSouza’s observation comes in the wake of multiple acts by diverse groups from the Hindu Right, from right before the Indian action, until present times, that have violently sought to exclude the suggestion of a Lusitanian element to Goa’s cultural context. The Portuguese component of the Lusosphere, therefore, may perhaps occupy a similar position in the Indian nationalist mind, as do spaces of the Islamicate, another bug bear for the Sangh Parivar. Finally, we need to inquire if the project of the Indian nation state has not fallen, unwittingly or otherwise, into continuing the project or habitus of the Raj, the colonial British-Indian state.


For a large part of the Indian populace, a ‘foreign education’ translates to an education in ‘the West’, which in its turn is largely translated to mean the Anglophone West, i.e. Canada, Australia, the UK and the US. Not much attention is given to the rest of the western world, or to ‘the rest of the world’, in terms of learning from, with, or in them. A simplistic response to this observation would be that given the dominance of English within India, indeed to the effect that English is de facto an Indian language, it makes sense to continue one’s higher education in English. There is perhaps more in operation here than merely a desire to remain within the comfort zone of learning in a language that one has grown up with. To learn in these locations is to also by-and-large reproduce the gaze of the Anglophone, a gaze that even in post-colonial times shares much with the colonizing gaze of the hegemonic colonizers of the world.


The inheritance of the gaze and habitus of the Raj would explain to us the general reluctance to pursue higher education in spaces outside of the Anglophone or dominant global powers. This reluctance exists because of the belief, born from a colonial superiority, and reproduced through the spirit of the colonial library, that there is to a large extent nothing that the post-colonial Indian has to learn from Africa, or American spaces outside of North America (Lusophone or otherwise). In the colonial tradition, these spaces can be equally studied about; rather than in, or from, these locations of continuing power. Hence, the preference for education within the citadels of globally hegemonic academic power.

The epistemological implications of this inheritance is that the reach of this gaze is often limited to a history of the British and Anglo-American experience. When it engages with other histories, these histories are read largely from this British, Anglo-American perspective, giving short-shrift to these other perspectives. Adopting this limited gaze, no doubt serves the Anglophone Indian to the extent that they are accommodated within the hierarchies of the Anglo-phone world. However, and this issue must be seriously engaged with by a nation state seeking to provide global leadership, such a trajectory severely limits the possibilities of the articulation of an independent voice born from an intellectual framework that can extend beyond the limits of the Anglophone perspective.

In addition to reproducing the intellectual dominance embodied within the Anglophone experience, and the gaze of this hegemonic power, there is also the fact that it inculcates in the Indian an extremely limiting gaze of the self. Given that knowledge is largely produced from the history of those that have developed as a result of colonial expropriation, the Indian self is constantly compared, in terms of lifestyles, political institutions, economic options, to societies that, at least at a discursive level, are dramatically unlike the Indian. This comparison to unlikes, and the concomitant desire to catch-up, results in fuelling the deep inferiority that lies at the bottom of much of public discourse in Indian developmentalism. Perhaps we would be better served by looking at countries outside of these frames, at their democratic experiences, economic adventures, social challenges, and their discourses, to right our perspective, and to create a new base for knowledge and the power that comes with it.


In this context, the Lusosphere is not a bad place to start from, or contemplate engaging with. There are the obvious similarities that India shares with Brazil in terms of international ambitions, social conditions and challenges. One can also look at the former Portuguese colony of Angola and the not dissimilar situation of a small and powerful local elite grown fat through the dubious expropriation of natural resources in tandem with multinational corporations. Portugal itself has much to offer in terms of a different location. Despite its physical presence in Europe, and its own self-image that drawing from a history of colonialism locates itself as northern and unproblematically European, Portugal is very much a part of the South, being not only a peripheral member of the EU, but with an uneven track record in democracy, and democratization of its social structure, often seen as not only an unsuccessful colonizer, but also as lacking in European (that is to say First World, and hence models worthy of uncritical emulation) standards of productivity, efficiency and the like. An advanced degree in these locations, especially Brazil and Portugal, would provide a reflexive Indian student much opportunity to reformulate one’s perspectives on the world.


Moving to obtain a degree in the Lusosphere is not necessarily an easy task, however, and the choice would be plagued by the usual demons. What is the value of the degree in an academic market outside of the Lusosphere? Where are the supportive networks that are created by other Indian scholars who go off to the Ivy League, and other important universities in the UK and the USA? If the options for opportunities are what framed the invitation to write this contribution, and indeed the question of higher education cannot be limited to structural interests alone, but include space for securing personal security as well, the question must be asked: What are the opportunities subsequent to obtaining a Lusophone degree?

These are not questions that can be lightly dismissed and must be more systematically explored, and options created. The critical issue, however, is also one of challenging global hegemonies on the production of knowledge. The location of the knowledge producer, outside of the intellectual and the material frameworks of the US-UK university environment, and an active engagement with the environment that one finds in, opens up radically different perspectives on issues. Furthermore, while the Indian entrant into the Luso-academy treads in uncharted territory, it is not as if networks are entirely absent. As peripheral as they may currently be, these networks do exist, and can be utilized to larger, more substantial ends. More critically, we stand to create new networks, networks that one dare say, are as important as those that centre on the UK and USA, and those that may enable a more substantial intellectual dialogue to accompany the one being forged at the political level.


In the midst of this rallying, however, one must also caution the Indian student on the possible perils that lie within the Luso-academy. There is the very real possibility of chaffing at the systems and hierarchies within the Portuguese academy (perhaps the most articulate expression of the academy in the Lusosphere). The hierarchies and protocols of the Anglo-American academy are somewhat known to the bodies of Indian students seeking a ‘foreign’ education. With this knowledge is also the expectation of a certain kind of academic rigour and professionalism.

It is difficult to say if there is a genuine difference between the Anglophone and the Lusophone academy as regards the academic protocols and rigour employed, or whether the chaffing is a result of the kind of privileging that is automatically accorded to the Anglo-perspective while (under)-evaluating other academies. Nevertheless, one is often confronted with complaints regarding the Luso-academy being keenly divided into academic fiefs, where one is required to definitely ally with, and owe fealty to, a camp which one subsequently dares not abandon without securing favour of a more powerful patron for fear of retribution. Further are the complaints of a certain laxity in terms of academic standards, where it is form, rather than substance, that is privileged. If critical reflexivity is what one seeks to develop in the course of a graduate degree, then perhaps an entry into the Luso-academy is not a simple decision. However, there are a variety of institutes and individuals that can actively support the kind of agenda that has been developed in the preceding discussion.


The prospective Goan student in the Portuguese academy, to be sure participates in the possibilities open to the Indian student, but for obvious reasons has wider possibilities with an entry into the Lusophone academy. To begin with, such an entry would move us away from both the demonizing, as well as the romanticization of Portugal (and the Portuguese) that is a marked feature of the idea of Portugal in Goa. It would allow us to see Portugal from frames different than from those left behind in 1961.

An engagement of Goan students with the Lusophone academy would enable us to develop a richer postcolonial theory, not just for the Portuguese-Indian, but to supplement the general scope of theory in the larger field of postcolonial theory. The experience of Portuguese colonialism is markedly different, though as has been pointed out not necessarily better or worse, from that of British colonialism that so often forms the base of our theorizing (whether in the popular or the academic realm). Living in the former metropole would allow us a richer insight into the modes and manners that have played, and continue to play, a role in crafting our reality. Living in the metropole also offers to the Indo-Portuguese student the possibility of engaging with those from radically differing experiences of Portuguese colonialism. This experience could possibly result in the obvious shift away from a solely British-Indian view of the colonial experience to one more finely nuanced to the experience of Portuguese colonialism.

I stress the fact that these modes and manners continue to play a role in crafting our reality, for as Barry Hindess points out, citizenship, or national identities, are not crafted solely within the nation state. On the contrary, they are the products also of international relations and discourse. Perhaps nothing demonstrates this observation as clearly as the case of Goan citizenship. Here, the ghost of ‘the Portuguese’ continues to play a role in shaping cultural politics, a role not unaided by the oftentimes ill-thought out actions of the Portuguese state.


A recent example to offer would be that of the visit of the Sagres, a vessel of the Portuguese Naval School, that was circumnavigating the world, and chose to, though apparently on invitation from the Indian Navy, dock in Goa in the year 2010 to ‘celebrate’ the arrival of the Portuguese in the Orient and Extreme Orient. The celebration of this event unfortunately, however, also fell on the year that marked five hundred years of the conquest in 1510 of the island of Goa by Afonso de Albuquerque. Given that a substantial part of the lived cultural heritage of Goans, and especially the Catholics among them, comprises in a creative reconstruction of aspects once ‘Portuguese’, such rather irresponsible actions often have the impact of creating a suffocating internal political environment when Hindu rightist groups take up cudgels against such actions. The fact that there does not exist a deeper and theoretically nuanced Goan academy actively engaged with the Lusosphere, ensures that there is no way to present alternative responses to the actions of the Hindu Right.

Simultaneously, it results in the situation where there is no voice that can actively counter the academic and political establishments in Lisbon engaged in the production of often-times deeply problematic initiatives. As a result, every such debacle in Goa is seen to be the result of the irascible responses of the Hindu Right, rather than as an occasion to engage in a sophisticated introspection of the possibly self-involved postcolonial Portuguese celebrations of its national identity. In the absence of a critical and sophisticated Indian and Goan engagement with the Lusosphere then, the Goan is actively produced as a subaltern voice, unable to flex representational muscle in the discursive field that impinges on them.


The first step toward an engagement with the Lusosphere, and a movement away from this subalternity in terms of representation, must clearly commence with the learning of the Portuguese language. It should be stressed, however, that the learning of Portuguese by the contemporary Goan is not unconnected with the larger project of greater democratization of Goan society. To wholly understand the significance of this argument, it is essential that we underline the well-rehearsed argument that colonialism in any part of the world, and this holds true for Goa as well, was not merely the result of unilateral foreign domination. On the contrary, colonialism persisted thanks to the participation of local elites in the colonial project. Thus, just as the English language ensured access to power in the colonial administration, and education in English models of education ensured participation in the power forms of the British Empire, so too in Goa, the adoption of Portuguese was critical to gaining power not merely in the administrative and political sphere, but also in the social. There are consequently a number of profound reasons for encouraging the learning of Portuguese in Goa.


In colonial times the Portuguese language was so intimately associated with the elite groups, both Hindu as well as Catholic, that the knowledge of Portuguese was, and continues to be, effectively a marker of the dominant caste groups in Goan society. Thus for example, at least among Catholic circles, despite the predominance that English has come to take as a marker of social mobility and status, to come from a ‘Portuguese speaking background’, continues to indicate one’s privileged (and longer) location within the hierarchies of Goan Catholic society. Furthermore, it is not uncommon to have it pointed out that Portuguese was not a lingua franca within Goa but one largely used by the elites.

In making this factual assertion however, one is simultaneously also subtly marking the boundaries of Portuguese heritage within Goan society. Thus for example, as a result of this logic, it is overwhelmingly the homes of the landed elite that have been focused on as representative of Indo-Portuguese architecture, while the homes of the more humble remain largely ignored. These demarcations ensure a privileged focus on the lifestyles and material culture of just this small elite segment of Goan Catholic society, casting the rest largely into representational silence. To encourage a learning of Portuguese, and a context for this learning, would thus not only allow possibilities to enable a representational voice for those largely denied this capacity, but also effectively challenge this link between social status and the language. A challenge that can, and must be, mounted not just in the academy, where these tropes are repeated ad nauseum, but within the public sphere as well.

More critically, and moving beyond the possibly restricted frames of the Goan Catholic, knowledge of Portuguese was critical to the maintenance of control over the state administration as well as state documentation of land rights. Not a few family, and caste group, fortunes were made by virtue of this restricted access to the language in colonial Goa. While English has now replaced Portuguese as the state language, as the continuous stream of persons perusing land records in the state archives in Panjim would indicate, Portuguese continues to be critical to being able to assert, and mask, claims to land. Where subaltern groups face even greater threat to access to land rights, it would be a strategic error to allow control of the Portuguese language to be based in the hands of just the few, largely ‘upper’ caste, groups that have resumed learning the Portuguese language.


This restriction of those seeking to learn the language has also to do with the manner in which the history of the Portuguese period in Goa has largely been restricted to the gory tales of the initial conquest of the island of Goa, of the Inquisition, and the dramatization of the anti-colonial episodes in the territory’s history. To a large extent, this nationalist history dissuades Hindus from subaltern castes from studying the language. This absence, however, has also ensured that it is solely dominant caste narratives that are incorporated into the histories of the territory, preventing alternative and liberatory narratives to emerge from a re-reading of the texts and narratives of the period of Portuguese sovereignty over the territory.


It would not be wrong to say that the engagement with Portuguese India is marked by the social location of the scholars engaged in the field. Thus, we have either those from the Anglophone world, with their own prejudices when viewing the Iberian colonizers and the world they left behind; those from Portugal, whose work is marked by the politics internal to Portugal; and those from dominant social groups within Goa. The social location of these works have contorted the field of Portuguese-India to a substantial extent, making this period of history largely a period of study of the dominant groups in Goa. To expand the scope of the learning of the Portuguese language stands to potentially explode the perspectives from which the entire canon can be re-read and re-articulated. This expansion of the field is an absolute necessity if we are to carry forward a distinctly postcolonial political agenda of making space for subaltern voices. Exploring the options for a degree in the Lusosphere could well serve this larger, radically democratic purpose.

A final argument geared towards parity in representational power, is one that rests on the recognition that the emergence of equality is facilitated when there is parity in representational power. While a number of Portuguese scholars work on Goan history and society, it is extremely difficult to find Goan scholars who work on explaining Portuguese society, and those aspects of its history that may appear at first glance unrelated to Goa. When we are able to effectively build up this band of scholars, who can represent the work of the Portuguese to Goa, India, and the world; and engage in Portugal’s press and academy, with their representations of Goa; then we would lay the definitive foundations for greater equality between the two spaces. To do this, however, requires that the Goan learn Portuguese.


There is, however, no need for us to limit our option in the engagement with the Lusosphere to going ‘there’; we can also bring the Lusophone academy ‘here’. In addition to the interest in contemporary India for obvious reasons, and for reasons of its central location in the colonial project and Portuguese imperial imagination, there are groups of scholars from all across the Lusosphere that are interested in Goa (and the links effected via Portuguese presence across the subcontinent). Actively creating options – that involve actively creating Lusophone spaces – would allow for bilateral communication between the Indo and the Luso.

Some effort toward this end is already attempted via the Instituto Camões, a cultural initiative by the Portuguese state, both in Delhi and in Goa, and the interaction of the Instituto with the Delhi University as well as the Goa University. Similarly, the Brazilian state supports two chairs, one each at the universities in Delhi and in Goa. There is, however, more that could be done toward expanding options for academic exchange, and there is good reason for a variety of institutions in India to actively make the move towards facilitating these exchanges.

This essay commenced from a recognition of the intimate links between the reproduction of power and knowledge. From this recognition, however, the thrust of this essay was to speak to an India that is increasingly realizing its long cherished goal of being a leader on the global stage. Such a leadership, this essay has argued, rests not necessarily on continuing the exercise of earlier forms of power that have continued from colonial times, but in making a break from it. Recognizing the link between power and knowledge, the argument is that there would be a need for a fundamental break with the forms of knowledge that have thus far been created and support the existing relations of power. Given that dominant power stems from the Anglo-American perspective of the world, this epistemic break can best be attempted by seeking to integrate insights from experiences and histories outside of the Anglo-American world.


Toward this end, the Lusosphere, and the academies within it, are significant spaces to engage with. However, given the extent to which the Indian nation state has taken on the habitus of the British Raj, this essay has also spoken to the divergent case of Portuguese-India, focusing on Goa, and the manner in which an engagement with the Lusosphere could once more contribute not merely to an epistemic break, but also toward a radicalizing of the still ongoing project of democratization of Goan society.


* My thanks are due to Maria Paula Menezes whose comments helped me in adding nuance while crafting this essay.

** Jason Keith Fernandes is engaged in studying The Citizenship Experience of the Goan Catholic as a doctoral student. When not engaged in academic research, he proffers unsolicited opinions on events in the public sphere through the two op-ed columns he writes for newspapers in Goa. His writings may be accessed at


Peter Ronald deSouza, ‘Humiliation in a Crematorium’, in Gopal Guru (ed.), Humiliation: Claims and Context, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2009, pp. 124-139.

Barry Hindess, ‘Citizenship in the International Management of Populations’, American Behavioral Scientist 43(9), July 2000, pp. 1486-1497.

Barry Hindess, ‘Citizenship for All’, Citizenship Studies 8(3), 2004, pp. 305-315.

Thomas Metcalf, Imperial Connections: India in the Indian Ocean Arena, 1860-1920. University of California Press, Berkeley, 2007.

Boaventura Sousa Santos and Maria Paula Meneses (eds.), Epistemologias do Sul, Almedina, Coimbra, 2010.