The Materialist Mahatma: Principle, Practice and Everyday Activity in Gandhi’s Political Thought

Farah Godrej
Political Science
UC Riverside

Most scholars of M.K. Gandhi’s political thought see him as an idealist who rejects utilitarian or pragmatic forms of strategic action. This project challenges this conventional wisdom, exploring how practical modes of everyday activity stand in relation to the normative foundations of Gandhi’s thought. While commitments to truth are crucial, Gandhi requires that we instantiate such commitments through everyday practical activities. This emphasis on practice will highlight the “materialism” that underlies Gandhi’s thought: his insistence on privileging the corporeal over the ideal, and on prioritizing everyday dimensions of physical activity over the “transcendental” realm of ideas. For Gandhi, the dangerous effects of empire, technology and industry can be challenged by emphasizing the importance of everyday materiality of bodily practices matters for public life, so as to dismantle disciplinary formations that seek to exercise intensive control over the most intimate habits of daily existence.