Amartya Sen

Identity and Violence Publication date : February 11, 2010

Rejecting the idea that the Middle East and the West are monolithic entities, breaking with the notion that there is a “clash” opposing the different blocs, and asserting his Indian intellectual roots as well as his debt to the culture of the West, where he lives and works, Amartya Sen examines the errors and illusions surrounding the much-misunderstood concept of identity.

Having witnessed, in 1947, the terrible violence between Muslims and Hindus following Partition, he argues that it is the illusion that we each possess a unique, closed identity that leads to the tensions and violence of today, and, indeed, has done so in the past. Isn't the world in the process of becoming a federation of religions, cultures and civilisations — categories into which we are all enjoined to fit? Haven't attempts to put an end to violence remained locked inside this rigid notion of identity? If relations between human beings can be reduced to a “clash between civilizations”, what happens to choice and individual freedom?

Faced with multiculturalism, post-colonialism, fundamentalism, terrorism and globalisation, Sen argues that human freedom — the freedom of individuals to choose their own identity affiliations, beyond camps and blocs, thanks to the diversity of their roots, influences and affinities — may be the only way to combat violence and war.

A serious reflection on how we can go about building a more peaceful world, as well as a radical rebuttal of narrow-minded, rigid identities.

“Amartya Sen provides a lucid and convincing critique of current trends in communitarian and culturalist thinking, underlining ... the complexity and multidimensionality of modern identity.” Francis Fukuyama

“The rare synthesis of great intellect and total personal involvement combine in Amartya Sen…. This book rescues us from that ghastly militarist theory, the War of Civilizations.” Nadine Gordimer, 1991 Nobel laureate in Literature.

The author of Development as Freedom, winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Economics, and the inspiration behind the United Nations Development Programme, Amartya Sen is one of India's most eminent and internationally respected intellectuals. For many years the Master of Trinity College, Cambridge University, he is now a professor at Harvard. He is one of the authors of the recent report of the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress.