Professor Vinay Lal

Professor Vinay Lal, Professor of History, University of Delhi gave two talks on 28 & 29 January 2011 at the Centre for Contemporary Theory, Baroda . Professor Lal has published nearly two hundred papers, scholarly articles, reviews and essays in a wide spectrum of publications, including scholarly journals such as Social Text, Third Text, American Historical Review, Genders, Patterns of Prejudice, Social Epistemology, Diaspora, Journal of the History of Sexuality, Environmental Ethics, and Studies in History.  He has also been a frequent contributor to leading Indian publications such as Economic and Political Weekly, Seminar, and The Little Magazine besides other published in newspapers such as Los Angeles Times, Times of India, Hindustan Times, the Indian Express, Toronto Star, the Hindu, The Island ( Sri Lanka ), and Daily Star ( Dhaka ). He has authored number of books. Some of his recent publications include Deewaar: The Footpath, the City, and the Angry Young Man ( New Delhi : HarperCollins, 2010); Political Hinduism: The Religious Imagination in Public Spheres (ed.). New Delhi : Oxford UP, (2009); The Other Indians: A Political and Cultural History of South Asians in America . New Delhi :  HarperCollins, 2008; Los Angeles :  Asian American Studies Center Press, UCLA, 2008.

In his first lecture on Ecumenical Futures and the Imperative of Incommensurability: The Politics of Culture in the Modern World System”, Professor Lal expressed that the diversity and conflict of cultures and ideologies in the contemporary world have to be understood with its contextual implications and the role of ‘dialogue’ has to be thought of.  According to him, the question before us is whether the theoretical trajectories of the last few decades have not, inadvertently or otherwise, also opened up formerly colonized subjects to the knowledge systems of the West and thereby paved the way for the extinction of the little cultural and intellectual autonomy that might have remained in colonized societies.  Professor Lal posed questions like whether there is any dissent beyond what now passes for dissent and also pondered if the Global South is so colonized that it must borrow even its models of dissent from the West?  His concern is that the Global South cannot even remotely claim intellectual autonomy since the practice of the social sciences is borrowed entirely from the West. He observed that though Gandhi accepted English, America , and European friends as allies in the struggle for Indian independence, he also never wavered from his firm belief that ultimately Indians had to fight their own battles.


 In his second lecture, titled “The Intellectual in an Age of Violence:  Criticism, Ethics, and Democratic Futures” Professor Lal observed that “overt violence may not always play the primary role in producing the homogenous subject, but social phenomena such as schooling cannot be viewed merely as innocuous enterprises designed to ‘educate’ subjects of the state.  “He discussed the erasures and silencing of voices in history. According to Professor Lal, the birth of the nation state and authorizing an official version of the history of the nation in the making are simultaneous.  The project of writing back women, religious and ethnic minorities, and so on into histories is ongoing, but not in an unproblematic way. He elaborated on global imperialism, democracy and the strategy of covertly controlling knowledge and knowledge systems which amounts to a subtle violence.