Report on

Thirteenth International Conference

15-18 December 2010

The Virtual Transformation of the Public Sphere


The Thirteenth International Conference of the Forum on Contemporary Theory was held at Hotel Parkview in Chandigarh from the 15th to 18th December 2010 in collaboration with the Department of English and Cultural Studies, Panjab University , Chandigarh . The general theme of the conference was “The Virtual Transformation of the Public Sphere.” Gaurav Desai, Professor of English, Tulane University, New Orleans, USA, the Convener of the Conference, in his concept note publicized through Forum’s website and Newsletter had elaborated on the Habermasian notion of the public sphere, of which critics have argued that such transformation was not a degeneration but  marker of  a more egalitarian and democratic public culture. The conference, therefore, re-examined the contours of the debate in the light of the significant transformations in digital technology and human communication that have taken place over the last few decades. The responses from scholars and academics from different parts of the world were diverse and abstracts of papers were selected after thorough scrutiny by the convener.  

The Conference began with a day dedicated to sight seeing, which in a way was an act of interacting while exploring the places of interest which are abundant in the region. The participants visited the Rock Garden developed by Nek Chand from discarded waste materials, the Zakir Rose Garden, the largest in Asia, to name  a few, and other places of interest. This served as an opportunity of knowing each other in an informal way, share each other’s interest and knowledge. Participants went to nearby places in small groups and thus got a chance to mingle with people of similar taste and interest. The participants from the world over braved the cold chilly weather of Chandigarh and participated in the discussions with enthusiasm.  

Inaugural Function

The Conference Sessions commenced formally on 16th December with an inaugural ceremony chaired by Moti Lal Raina, former Professor of English, Panjab University , Chandigarh . In his welcome address, Professor Raina, briefly spoke about the relevance of the Conference theme with the present scenario of the transformation of the ‘public sphere’ into a virtual one which is more democratic in the digital age. While welcoming the participants to the Conference in Chandigarh he also expressed his gratitude towards the Forum and expectations to conduct such events in Chandigarh in the coming years too. Professor Prafulla C. Kar welcomed the participants to the Conference and shared that he was skeptical about the conference as it was the ‘thirteenth’ conference. Recounting the Forum’s humble beginnings, he discussed the achievements of the Forum in a nutshell by mapping its activities in the last couple of decades and future plans. Professor Gaurav Desai gave a brief thematic introduction of the conference. He shared the idea of how he felt the need of studying, discussing and debating the changes happening around. The most relevant to the present day society is the internet, mass media and social networking sites of the digital age which has virtually transformed the public sphere drawing a thin line between the private and the public space of individuals needs to be studied.  

During the inaugural ceremony the Special issue of the Journal of Contemporary Thought on Degrees of Statelessness guest edited by Lewis R. Gordon was released by Professor Nicholas D. Mirzoeff. Abraham Lincoln without Borders: Lincoln’s Legacy Outside The United States, edited by William D. Pederson and et al, the conference volume of the Conference on “Abraham Lincoln without Borders” organized by the Forum at Indian Institute of Technology Madras during 19-20 December 2009 to mark the bi-centennial of Lincoln’s birth was also released by Professor Moti Lal Raina. The conference volume of the Eleventh International Conference entitled Democratic Culture: Historical and Philosophical Essays organized by the Forum in collaboration with the Department of English, Banaras Hindu University edited by Professor Akeel Bilgrami was released by Professor Javeed Alam, Chairperson, Indian Council of Social Science Research, New Delhi . Surbhi Goel, assistant professor of the Department of English and Cultural Studies, Panjab University , Chandigarh proposed the vote of thanks.  

Release of Lincoln Volume

In one of the evening during the Conference students of the Department of English and Cultural Studies presented a cultural program making the moods of the academicians light. The students performed the traditional Punjabi dance forms, presented songs and recited poems which enthralled the participants.  

Cultural Program

The plenary session on The Survivors chaired by Professor Gour K. Das, critically analyzed the connected issues of national importance such as the persistence of the caste system, class differentiation under globalization, the disintegration of kinship culture and community life, etc.  The novel deals on the issue of ordinary individuals in a small town in the Malwa region of Punjab in India who strive to maintain their dignity and self-respect against injustice and oppression perpetrated by a hierarchical social order that continues to thrive despite the nation’s independence.  

The Conference was a success in reconceptualizing public sphere and its transformation to a virtual sphere with different theoretical frameworks such as media and communication theory, Foucauldian, psychoanalytic, and postmodern theories on democracy, society, gender, mass-media and culture. Through the insightful keynote address delivered by Nicholas D. Mirzeoff, plenary sessions in which eminent scholars from many parts of the world shared their views and voiced their concerns, participants’ presentations on various issues and topics followed by formal and informal discussions that facilitated a meaningful exchange of ideas, implications of the transformation were analyzed and debated.  

A section of participants