2014: Cultures, Past and Present

April 11-12, 2014

Keynote: Gyan Prakash, Princeton University

The concept of “culture” has emerged as the mainstay of scholarship in early modern and modern South Asian studies in the last few decades. From Louis Dumont’s Homo Hierarchicus to Partha Chatterjee’s “inner” and “outer” domains of colonial society, debates over the merits of “culture” as a field of analysis have been central to these studies. More recently, some concepts of culture have enabled linguistic and religious parochialism, but others have become a rallying point for the opposition of the hegemony of social structures.  While some of these applications of the culture-concept have been discredited, many others are still being intensely debated. In the context of the past scholarship and ongoing debates and controversies, this workshop aims to bring together participants from multiple disciplines and facilitate an intellectual exchange to review the career of “culture” in South Asian Studies, assess its importance today and engage in insightful prognostications of its future.

We invite papers from early career scholars (graduate students and junior faculty) in all disciplines that engage with South Asia. Papers may address, but are not limited to the following sub themes:

The Pasts of Culture: What are the ways or means of writing a genealogy of culture? This may include reflections on “culture” not as an abstract concept alone but as an embedded concept or an immanent subtext in genealogical explorations.

Culture/Power: How should we account for the interface of power and culture? Can these two be equated or should they name two heterogeneous, irreconcilable concepts and phenomena? How should these two terms be related in the explorations of pre-modernity? Does modernity produce a disjunction in the previous ways of connecting culture and power?

Culture and Politics: Has culture been a mode of resistance to the dominance of capital? Is culture especially productive for rethinking the ways of belonging in a capitalist and globalizing world? We invite papers that locate culture as the plane of resistance to the forces shaping the world today as well as the smokescreen that hinders comprehension of the actual means and measures of exploitation and exclusion in the contemporary world.

Cultural Texts and Records: How do the privileged archives constituted by cultural identity inform our understanding of the past and the present? What are the languages and expressions of resistance and difference that bind the past and the present and make possible for a community to provide a coherent representation of its own self? Are they to be found in popular literature, Dalit fictions, populist movements, election manifestos, legal petitions, or some often ignored, dissimulated codes that the scholar must learn to read?

Popular Culture: Can we trace the alternate routes to our future in the works of popular art? Do specific genres like Fantasy or Science Fiction anticipate a radically altered future for South Asia? What role has popular art and music played in articulating a resistance to State and society? How has South Asian cinema shaped and heralded the future of South Asian culture?

Culture and Exclusion: Does culture become a tool in the hands of the powerful to exclude different sections of the society from sharing power, authority and social goods? Is it justified to say that culture becomes an alibi for discrimination in South Asia? We encourage Feminist and Queer critiques of the many uses of culture in South Asian society.

Culture and Religion: To what extent has culture become synonymous with religion? How can we reconcile increasing cultural homogeneity with a society fracturing along the lines of religion and caste?

Proposal Guidelines

Paper proposals should include a title, a 300-word abstract, institutional affiliation and contact information. Please submit proposals at the following link by January 15, 2014: <closed>. The Workshop will be held on April 11-12, 2014 at Princeton, NJ. The University will provide for accommodation for two nights and will contribute towards travel expenses. For more information, please write to <princeton.sas2014@gmail.com>.

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The organizing committee would like to acknowledge the generous support of Sarnath Banerjee for the use of the above images.  

All images © Sarnath Banerjee

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