This paper is more methodological than empirical. In 2010 when I first saw Gigi Skaria’s Gandhi-Mao parallel photo-essay, it occurred to me that we were launched on a parallel if not convergent project. I argue that history is circulatory and not linear, tunnel-oriented and bounded by national or other boundaries, although of course institutional and local-national affairs do inflect these developments significantly.

Convergent comparisons refer to the ways in which circulatory global forces are institutionalized in different societies.  Historical forces have circulated-- transmuting as they circulate-- since the rise of empires in Eurasia; but the pace of circulation has accelerated since the mid-19th century.  What I call the zone of convergence is the impact of circulatory forces that demand a response; the various regional and national responses, in turn, form the basis of convergent comparison.

I will argue that non-discursive modes of adopting ‘foreign’ processes are crucial to their acceptance particularly since extra-national penetrations in the emergent national body need to take place below the discursive radar. They include visual, aural, olfactory and, in general, sensorial modes of vernacularization of circulatory processes. When we adopt this perspective, we begin to see the parallels among developments and forms which have until recently remained the ‘ground’ in relation to the ‘figure’ of unique developments within the nation or society.  Recognizing this gestalt produces significant transformation of our view of history - how its ownership can or cannot be claimed--and the problem of national sovereignty.

Prasenjit Duara is Professor of East Asian Studies at Duke University.