An International Seminar on the Silver Jubilee of the Forum

“Theorizing Today – 25 Years Later”

10-11 February 2014  

Keynote address

In its Silver Jubilee Year, the Forum of Contemporary Theory (FCT), Baroda in collaboration with the Department of Political Science, the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda organized a two-day International Seminar on “Theorizing Today – 25 Years Later” on 10th and 11th February 2014 at Shri Aurobindo Hall situated in the campus of the University. The celebratory yet academically rigorous seminar was attended by around 50 participants from India and abroad. In his welcome address, Prof P.C. Kar recounted the beginning of FCT in 1989 as a forum to grapple with the questions of newly emerging theories as well as the interdisciplinarity of knowledge. He termed the Silver Jubilee Celebration as a sort of home-coming as it took birth in the department of political science. In her thematic introduction, Prof Lajwanti Chatani, Convener of the Seminar, underlined the difference of theory from other intellectual endeavours. She hinted that while theory aims to clarify a concept, it often confuses if not confounds us but at the same time it has contributed immensely to our understanding of the world. She outlined the development of theory and FCT in last 25 years and invited the participants to the academic deliberations in the year of the Forum’s Silver Jubilee celebration.  

Prof R. Radhakrishnan in his keynote address titled “Theory Today: Why Theory? Why Today?” reflected upon contemporary theory and the issues it helped bringing to surface. At the same time, he interrogated the theory’s claim to be self-reflexive and hinted at the ambivalent position theory occupies between macro- and micro- discourses. He emphasized that theory, while it maps a broad domain, can at the same time be very specific. The ambivalent position of theory was also highlighted by Prof J Birjepatil when he traced the trajectory of various theoretical positions historically. He analyzed theories’ implications in interpreting literary texts and politics of writing citing examples from literature, painting and philosophies. His talk titled “Literature and Theory: Dog-Fight or Dance” captured the conflicted and liberatory/celebratory aspects of theoretical interventions into different realms of scholarship. Dr Costica Bradatan looked philosophy at theory as a performative practices of the ‘self’ leading to a more fruitful, intelligible and intelligent life. Philosophy helps one in making sense of the experiential domain, taking cues from the nuances of existence. He explored ancient and analytical philosophy. In his talk, “Theorizing (Philosophical) Practice,” Bradatan reflected on Foucault’s interventions to explain ‘practices of the self’ and ‘transformations’. He inquired whether a synthesis of ancient philosophy and contemporary life world is possible and emphasized the need for philosophical self-examination.  

In his paper, “Political Econographies and Capital,” Aditya Nigam revisited the debate in India in 1980s to look at the state of passive revolution in India . The debated was predicated on the understanding that capitalism is not playing out in India on the Marxian line and it was clear that Marxists failed to take into account the changing contours of postcolonial India . While making his own critique, Dr Nigam used the term political econographies which meant writing the economic through the political. He posited this term as an alternative because the boundaries between the economic and political keep on being drawn and redrawn by constellations of knowledge and power that underwrite it.  

Nirmal Selvamony in his paper “The Ontic Quandary of Theory” challenged Claude Levi-Strauss’ definition of nature and culture which was based on laws of thoughts which in turn were based on an ontology of discreteness. He suggested that there is a need to challenge the discreteness of reality to account for the ‘scandalous’ projection of incest in Levi-Strauss which proved to be the ontic quandary of theory. Using Foucault’s work on sex to illustrate how sex is natural, cultural, biological, political, legal, social and much more at the same time, Selvamony argued for an alternative ontology of differentiability as is visible in eco-criticism.  

Valerian and Aditya Nigam

Prof Deeptha Achar in her paper “Cultural Studies and the Baroda Experiment” revisited the introduction and the debate surrounding a course paper titled “Politics, Ideology and the Teaching of English in India” at M.A. (English) program at the Department of English, the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda in early 1990s. This particular course came to be later described by literary critic and scholar Meenakshi Mukherjee as ‘the Baroda Experiment’. Prof Achar located this course in the terrain of Cultural Studies and argued that it derived its energy in the ‘crisis debate’ of 1990s. Prof Achar argued that this course was perhaps the first manifestation of logics of activism shaping the propositions of academic knowledge. She also offered a critique of the course saying that the course had all this while been outward looking, that is, it critiqued the colonial and imperial logic but it has never drawn its gaze inward, that is to say, the course has not engaged with the question of caste, religion, gender in India vis-à-vis the study of English.  

In his paper “Literary Theory: Unhoused/Rehoused”, Dr Rajan Barrett looked at the unhousing of literary theory and theorists and their eventual rehousing in the broader realm of theory and theorists, that is to say, the demise of literary theory as a category and its re-emergence in the broader domain of theory. Dr Barrett looked at the discipline of literary theory and how it got transformed through its interface with various theories. He said that literary theory was altered unrecognizably with the advent of theory and he located this alteration in the additional variety of movements and tastes which theory made available while engaging with the texts.  

Valerian Rodrigues interrogated the debate between nation and region in modern Indian thought in his paper “Nation and Region in Modern Indian Thought.” He showed that whereas nation has been defined and imagined distinctly in thinkers such as Gandhi, Nehru, Ambedkar and Tagore, the region somehow is just ascribed as a set of connotations which later on was co-opted in the larger idea of nation. As against the essentializing tendency of the nation, Prof Rodrigues argued, through readings from the texts of Jyotiba Phule, Jaipal Singh, Periyar and others that region emanates critical mass of energy and we need to look at this critical mass which desires recognition of its own. He affirmed that negotiating the terrain to nation by being rooted in the ideas of region will be helpful to us.  

In his paper, “The Historian and the Past: Empathy, Distance and the Politics of Understanding,” Prof Neeladri Bhattacharya looked at different stages of historians’ relationship with the past and offered a critique of each stage. He suggested that after Paul Ricoeur, there is an understanding that we need to use both Collingwoodian frame as well as the narrative frame, that is to say that we must try to enter into the past but with the awareness that doing so is very difficult and that we should empathize with the past but must not identify with it. This new frame emphasized expanding the notion of ‘traces’ and ‘archives’ and also to problematize both of these.  

T S Girishkumar in his paper “Of Theorizing” contrasted European knowledge tradition vis-à-vis Indian knowledge tradition. His paper highlighted the continuity of Indian knowledge system beginning from Vedas and contrasted it with extreme ruptures in European knowledge tradition. Anupam Yadav located the origin of western philosophical tradition in the term ‘theoria’ and in a particular understanding of theory which became the base for scientific rationalism in the West. In her paper, “Theoria, Rationality and Social Critique,” she traced the critique of this phenomenon in contemporary western philosophy through thinkers such as Heidegger, Gadamer, Feyerabend, Thomas Kuhn, Derrida and others.  

Debarati Dutta used the template of Antonio Negri’s commonality to as an entry point to understand social movement of our times in India as well as in Global South. Her paper “Empowering the Global: Antonio Negri and Postcolonial Intervention” threw light on global phenomenon of movements and uprising especially on Global South and tried to bring out some interventionist dialogue the postcolonial nation-state is brimming with. Madhumita Roy used Henry Lefebvre’s influential thesis on production of space and its extension by Edward Soja. In her paper, “The Future of the Spatial Turn: A Note on the Theories of the Lived Space,” she argued that these theories have opened a third aperture of dialogue between seemingly incompatible discipline and methodologies of discursive thinking and application based empirical approaches to space which might empower present spatial thinking beyond innovative thinking and provide a point of entry to the social space. Mandakini Jha in her paper “Trends in Sociological Theorizing” traced the trajectory of discipline of sociological theories across the ages. She noted that after two centuries of continuous and discontinuous traditions in sociological theory, there is now a move toward social theory of periphery and this move is a welcome stage in decolonizing of knowledge.  

In her paper, “Critical Encounters: Teaching Theory,” Mukul Chaturvedi drew on her experience of teaching literature and literary theory to undergraduate student in a college of Delhi University to argue that we need to teach and deal with theory in the classroom in such a way that it has resonance in the outside world too. In his paper, “Cognitive Linguistics and Bollywood” Ajay Sarvaiya used the metaphor of Gujarati Thali as an assortment to offer an analysis of Bollywood film Chennai Express. In her paper, “Art History and Aesthetic Study Today,” M Balamani looks at a newspaper picture of two giraffes put on display at a zoo in Andhra Pradesh and explored different aspects of art history focusing specifically on the reception of the images by the audience. She used this image as an entry point to go back in the past to see how images in the past were received by the audience keeping in mind changing tastes and ideologies in heterogeneous societies. 

The two-day came to an end with the vote of thanks proposed by the convener of the seminar, Prof Lajwanti Chatani.  

Amarendra Pandey, Gujarat Vidyapith, Sadra, Gujarat