A Report on Xth Theory/Praxis Course 2012

(18 June – 14 July)

Centre for International Programmes of Osmania University hosted the Forum’s Xth International Theory/Praxis Course in Hyderabad from 18 June to 14 July, 2012. Twenty seven scholars from all over India and Nepal came to participate in the month long course which was organized by Professor Prafulla Kar, and facilitated by Professor B.T. Seetha at the Advanced Centre for American Studies of the Osmania University Centre. The course enabled scholars across disciplines to exchange ideas regarding new developments in Theory and their application. The course included intensive textual readings in specific areas, supported by seminars, presentations, and talks on broader related issues. The course was organized around the topics that were discussed in-depth by the core faculty, supported by public lectures and mini-seminars by the invited scholars. The participants presented individual research related to the themes of the course and analyzed critical topics in the Humanities and Social Sciences in India and the world. During their stay, the participants also accessed the print and visual media libraries at the Centre, attended public lectures by renowned visitors, and ventured to relevant historical sites in the vicinity of Hyderabad . The class forayed together a journey into global studies and philosophies of being in and looking at the world which stimulated new ways of considering human perspectives and experiences in theory and in practice.

 

The participants and the faculty

 The courses taken up by the core faculty included “The Vernacular in a Comparative Frame” (Faculty: Rashmi Dube Bhatnagar, Visiting Scholar at the Humanities Center at the University of Pittsburgh, June 18- June 30, 2012); “When was the Postcolonial?” (Faculty: Gaurav Desai, Associate Professor of English at Tulane University, June 18-23, 2012); “Trajectories of Secularism” (Faculty: Rajeswari Sunder Rajan, Global Distinguished Professor at New York University, in the Department of English 25 - 26 June 2012); “The Moral Psychology of Political Power” (Faculty: Mohamed Mehdi, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Humanities at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines, Illinois, July 1-14, 2012).

The following section illustrates a brief summary of the course on Theory/Praxis.

Week 1

The Programme was inaugurated in the presence of the chief guest, Prof. S. Satyanarayana, Vice Chancellor, Osmania University . The ceremony was graced by Professor B.T.Seetha, Chairman, OUCIP; Professor Prafulla Kar, Convener, Forum on Contemporary Theory, Professor Kousar. J. Azam, Advisor, OUCIP.

Professor Gaurav Desai, led the first session of the Theory/Praxis Course. In the classes, he discussed the operations of colonialism and its aftermath that we popularly term as ‘postcolonial studies’. Students were introduced to some of the seminal texts in the field of ‘colonial and postcolonial cultural studies’. This was an attempt to prepare them for serious study of literary and other cultural texts from the ‘ Third World ’. Discussions included an evaluation of categories such as ‘Third World’, ‘postcolonial’, ‘global’, ‘ethnic’, ‘minority’, ‘marginal’, ‘subaltern’ and ‘hybrid’ and focused on the ways in which various colonial and postcolonial conditions may be re-imagined. The emphasis was on the issues of class, race, gender and sexual identities and their various relations to nationalism. Some of the important topics covered were Colonialism and its Critiques, Nativism / Indigeneity, Nationalism and its Discontents, The Politics of Language and Literary Studies, Gender and the Subaltern, and Re-thinking the Postcolonial. Professor Desai also gave a public lecture entitled ‘Commerce with the Universe: Travel, Trade and the Afrasian Imagination’.

 

 The participants attending a lecture

Professor Rashmi Dube Bhatnagar, took up the classes in the second half of the sessions where she discussed the importance of language that not only determines human thought, but also passes through us and is not fully subject to human intentionality. One of the issues raised in this course was whether there is a fundamental error in the association of vernaculars with tradition. She introduced to us the traditionalist concept of language which still maintains the illusion of vernaculars as belonging to pre-colonial tradition by not accounting for the historical processes of rupture initiated by Europe ’s discovery of Hindustani tongues. We also interrogated the modernist association of non-European vernaculars with pre-modern superstition, lethargy, fundamentalisms and outmoded belief systems. Within the schema of identitarian thought the place of vernaculars in the affective interiority of the colonial subject and the citizen in decolonized space is to articulate ethnic identity as the mother tongue. In this section, she looked at the provenance of identitarian approaches to vernaculars – its birth as an idea, its mythic proportions as well as alternative imaginings of vernaculars. The course also enabled discussions and readings that explore pre-Orientalist conceptions of the vernacular that persisted or adapted or that were consigned to the pre history of the modern vernacular. Some of important topics covered were ‘Orientalism’ (Mufti), ‘Origin of Languages’ (Herder), ‘Aesthetic Education’ (Spivak) , ‘Cosmopolitan and Vernacular’ (Pollock), ‘Vernacular Cosmopolitanism’ (Bhabha). ‘Old Languages, New Models’ ( Anderson ), ‘Learning Turkish’ (Spitzer), ‘Monolingualism of the Other’ (Derrida).

Week 2

Dr. Rajeswari Sundarajan, gave a two day course on ‘Trajectories of Secularism’. She discussed the role of secularism in contemporary global geo-politics which has opened up its historical genealogies and trajectories to renewed scrutiny. The class was an interesting revision of complex issues relating to caste, gender and minorities embedded it in the politics of nation-state and democracy of India . Some of the important articles covered included the essays by Ashis Nandy, Partha Chatterjee, Nivedita Menon, Gyan Pandey, Gyan Prakash. Prof. Sundarajan also gave a public lecture entitled ‘Secularism and Democracy in India : The View from Literature’.

Dr. Rajeswari Sundarajan with the participants

Some of the topics covered in Professor Rashmi Dube Bhatnagar’s session were ‘Language and Power’ (Fabian), ‘Decolonising the Mind’ (Thiongo),  ‘Moving the Center’ (Thiongo), ‘Braj Beyond Braj’ (Busch) ‘The Progress of Hindi’ (McGregor), ‘When Men Speak as Women’ (Petievich) ‘The Crooked Line’ (Chughtai), ‘Grandpa Thakuri’ (Verma) ‘Meera’s Medieval Lyric in Postcolonial India’ , ‘Dnyaneswari’ Part 1 and 2 (Wakankar), ‘The Anomaly of Kabir’ (Wakankar), ‘Flaming Feet’ (Nagaraj) ‘Brahmin Nonbrahmin’ (Pandian). ‘An Indian Sufi Romance’ (Behl). There was also a public lecture given by Rashmi Dube Bhatnagar titled, ‘Against Linguistic Essentialism: Towards a Vernacular Centered Theory of World Literature’.

The entire Xth Theory/Praxis community including the Core Faculty and participants were taken out for a fantastic dinner at The Central Court on 25th June. Professor S. Satyanarayana, B.T.Seetha, Professor Kousar Azam, and Professor Prafulla Kar were kind enough to join the young participants and made the evening an occasion to be cherished forever.

Week 3 & Week 4

The last two weeks were occupied with studies in Moral Psychology. Dr. Mohammed Mehdi, introduced his first session on Power, Fear and Politics in two ancient texts – Plato’s Geogias and Daodejing. He took up interesting insights into the concept of non-violence, power, and fearlessness while dealing with texts like Hind Swaraj and letters exchanged between Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi. In the last week Professor Mehdi took up the idea of Politics of Fear and Politics of Emotions. The texts which were taken up for discussion were Corey Robin’s Fear and Sara Ahmed’s The Cultural Politics of Emotions. The two week seminar revolved around what it means to speak about emotions like fear, shame, hurt feelings in face of political collectivities. This course gave important insights into the concept related to Moral Psychology. Also, all the participants along with Professor Mehdi went for a short one-day trip to the places of historical important around Hyderabad like the Golconda Fort and the Qutub Shahi tombs. Professor Mehdi also delivered a public lecture entitled ‘Political Judgment and the Subject of Emotions’. The valedictory session on 14th July was hailed as a beginning rather than an end by Professor Seetha. She said that it was the stepping stone of a new bond between yet another enthusiastic group of young intellectuals and a platform offering knowledge of theory and praxis.

 

Professor Prafulla Kar and Javeed Alam

The Xth Theory/Praxis Course in Hyderabad harbored a vibrant exchange about concepts, ideas, and theories in the contemporary world. Professors with international repute set the journey along with the enthusiastic scholars to explore the areas of global studies concentrating particularly on post colonialism, language and vernacular, secularism and nationalism, and moral psychology and politics of fear and emotions. The Course provided a wonderful opportunity to engage in theoretical studies and philosophies in being and looking at the world, transcend conventional ideas and normative models, which facilitated the enhancement of their research outlooks. The four-week seminar of the Xth Theory/Praxis Forum enriched our understanding of social theory and felicitated the praxis as its implication on us as deliberative social beings.

 A Report by:

Payel.C.Mukherjee,

Research Scholar in English,

Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar.