A Blueprint for Tomorrow

 On a suggestion from Dr. Ravina Aggarwal, Program Officer of the Ford Foundation, New Delhi , a committee of academics connected with the Forum on Contemporary Theory met for two days during 28-29 January 2012 at Jambughoda Resort to prepare a blueprint for the activities of the Forum for the coming 10 years. The committee comprised Prafulla Kar, Director, Centre for Contemporary Theory, and Centre for Balvant Parekh Centre for General Semantics and Other Human Sciences; Sitanshu Yashaschandra, Gujarati Poet and Playwright and former Professor of Gujarati, M. S. University of Baroda, and Trustees of both Forum on Contemporary Theory and Balvant Parekh Centre; Lajwanti Chatani, Associate Professor of Political Science, M. S. University of Baroda, and Trustee, Forum on Contemporary Theory; D. Venkat Rao, Professor of English, The English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad; E. V. Ramakrishnan, Professor of Comparative Literature, and Dean, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Central University of Gujarat, Gandhinagar; and Bini B. S., Academic Fellow, Balvant Parekh Centre. The committee’s mandate was to review the work done by the Forum from its inception, and to suggest possible changes needed in its administrative setup and academic emphasis for its continued relevance to the scholarly community in the years ahead. It may be recalled here that the Forum came into existence in 1989 and will complete almost 25 years when the present grant from the Ford Foundation expires in September 2013. When it started its mission was to promote inter-disciplinary studies in India , which seemed almost a fresh idea then, but with the passage of time, this idea has become commonplace, as many universities have adopted it into both their long-term and short-term academic goals and objectivities. So it is imperative that the Forum look ahead and initiate new initiatives which are both timely and visionary. With these objectives in mind, the committee spent two full days to concentrate its attention on this singular task of preparing a roadmap for guiding the Forum in its programs for the coming decade. After carefully examining the work done by the Forum since its founding until now, the committee has made the following broad recommendations:

             I.      The committee reviewed the activities that the Forum organized since its inception in 1989 till today. The activities include 14 international conferences since 1998, mostly in the areas of theoretical concern, held in various locations; 15 national workshops held in Baroda ; and 9 Theory/Praxis Courses for young researchers for a period of 4 weeks each. Besides, the Forum organized in Baroda several lecture-programs and mini-seminars around visiting scholars. The grant from the Ford Foundation in three phases, from 2005 to 2013, has enabled the Forum to set up in Baroda an advanced centre in Theory with a well-equipped library and facilities for research and conferences. The grant also includes fellowships for both Indian and South Asia scholars to visit the Centre for Contemporary Theory and to interact with local scholars and the fellows at the Centre. The Forum has been active in its publication program since 1991, when it brought out the first issue of the Journal of Contemporary Thought, which is an international refereed journal dealing with issues of inter-disciplinary nature. The Journal has so far published 34 issues, some of which are special numbers dedicated to areas of contemporary relevance. The Forum has recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the University of North Texas at Denton for collaborating with that University for an initial period of 3 years in the publication of the Journal. This academic collaboration will bring the Journal greater global visibility and will hopefully improve its quality of production and contribution. Besides, the Forum has been bringing out every year since 2003 a volume of select papers from its international conference. It has signed a contract with Routledge , India , which will undertake the publication of the volume for an initial period of 5 years under the broad rubric of “Critical Interventions in Theory and Praxis.” Before this contract, the conference volumes were published by Pencraft International, Delhi . So far 9 volumes have been published. The Forum has been bringing out a Newsletter twice a year since 1996. Under its fellowships program several scholars from India and South Asia have visited the Centre to consult its library and academic staff. During their stay at the Centre they have organized mini-seminars and made presentations during Friday Scholars’ Meetings, besides participating in the Forum’s international conferences and national workshops. The Forum’s staff includes the director, an academic fellow, a librarian, a fiscal and administrative officer, and an attendant. The Forum is registered as both a charitable trust and society with the Joint Charity Commissioner in Baroda .  It has around 800 life members from both India and abroad, who are the stakeholders of the organization. It is administered by a Board of Trust consisting of 7 members, who are connected with the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda. It shares its space with Balvant Parekh Centre for General Semantics and Other Human Sciences at a commercial complex at Faramji Road , Baroda . It is understood that both the institutions will work together in close cooperation in promoting inter-disciplinary studies in the humanities and other liberal arts.

 

          II.      After examining the content of the work done so far, the committee feels that the time has come for the Forum to move ahead from its emphasis on Western-dominated theory, which was the dominant genre in the late 20th century, to a more nuanced focus upon what could broadly be called “The Theories of the Global South.”  The shift here is not only from a study of one geographical location to another, but from a singular holistic Theory to theories in the plural, and more importantly from a hegemonic entrenched discourse to varieties of theoretical discourse from the periphery. This shift will encompass a range of theoretical concerns from multiple locations that were absent in major critical interventions in the recent past dominated by Western theory. However, this does not mean that western theories need to be fully abandoned; on the contrary, an   exposure to Western theory will provide a perspective and a context for situating these new concerns, which have to be understood as necessarily inevitable consequences of our overall interest in the critical and philosophical underpinnings of cultural and social practices of everyday life around us. So the kinds of activities that the Forum emphasized all these years will no doubt form a solid base for an undertaking that would address the reformed agenda of this vision document.  The following areas are identified for development. Each of these areas will be looked after by a senior faculty, who, in consultation with the academic staff of the Centre, will design programs and work out the details of their implementation.

 

a)      Theories of Justice

b)      Gujarat in Theory and Practice

c)      Historiography

d)     Cultural Theory

e)      Performative and Visual Cultures  

 

       III.      For ensuring the continuity of administrative structure and academic programs of the Forum, the committee makes the following recommendations:

 

a)      The Forum on Contemporary Theory and Balvant Parekh Centre for General Semantics and Other Human Sciences should have a common director.

b)      Prafulla C. Kar should continue as director of both the Centres as long as he desires.

c)      After the end of his directorship, the Board of Trust of both the Centres will invite applications from candidates of professorial level and select a suitable candidate for an initial period of three years, which may be renewed.

d)     The director should be a co-opted member of the Boards of Trust of both the organizations.

e)      The committee also recommends that two academic fellows (one in the humanities; the other in the social sciences) be appointed to run the programs and assist the director in day-to-day activities.

f)       The committee further recommends that each academic area identified for development in a phased manner during the coming 10 years should have two specialists.

g)      The committee feels that the activities under way through the support of the Ford Foundation should continue until they are gradually replaced by fresh activities supported by the new funding agency.  

h)      An archivist for helping the creation of an archive for “ Gujarat in theory and practice” should be appointed so that this important area may start soon.

i)        It is recommended that this committee which has prepared this summary meet periodically to review the progress of the work and to recommend further action, if needed. One more social scientist may be co-opted into this committee.

 

The Board of Trust of the Forum in its meeting held in April 2012 approved these recommendations.