Amartya Sen on Identity, Decolonization and How to Change the World

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Amartya Sen recently spoke from his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to the New Statesman’s ideas editor, Gavin Jacobson.

Illustration by Sadia Tariq

Gavin Jacobson in The New Statesman: The history of economics owes many of its greatest contributions to the philosophers. Like Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx and Friedrich von Hayek, Amartya Sen, who won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1998, has a formidable reputation both as a world authority on development, welfare and famine, and as a distinguished theorist and moral philosopher. Born in Bengal in 1933, Sen’s life has been one of border-crossings – geographic and intellectual – as well as the rejection of narrow identities. He is, as he once put it: “An Asian, an Indian citizen, a Bengali with Bangladeshi ancestry, an American or Great Britain resident, an economist, a dabbler in philosophy, an author, a Sanskritist, a strong believer in secularism and democracy, a man, a feminist, a heterosexual, a defender of gay and lesbian rights, with a non-religious lifestyle, from a Hindu background, a non-Brahmin, a non-believer in an afterlife, and also, if the question is asked, a non-believer in before-life. This is just a small sample of diverse categories. There are a number of other categories which can inform and engage me.”

Home in the World (2021) is a memoir of an intellectual life, one that trades inner revelation for sharp scholarly observation and social insight. Humbly recounting his upbringing and then his career as a young academic, the book charts Sen’s peregrinations through the key imperial quarters – India, Burma, Cambridge – as well as offering elegant disquisitions on those thinkers who helped shape his own work and world-view.

Amartya Sen

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