Re-imagining the Contemporary in Indian Education; 21-23 April 2023

Venue: Indian Institute of Management, Kolkata

Date: April 21-23, 2023

Organisers: IIM Calcutta, Kolkata; MWS Delhi; University of Glasgow

This conference addresses some of the recently emerging debates in Indian education combining both granular sociological analyses as well as broader historical perspectives. Many of these debates were once thought to have been settled; yet, the contemporary moment in the educational landscape in India are re-animating these debates fomented by strong ideological currents and sharp intellectual fault-lines. Just to take the most recent example, the National Education Policy of 2020 (NEP 2020) has strongly foregrounded the contending visions of Indian education in the public domain. Whereas there is a concerted effort to implement the policy in its entirety at the national level, and in most of the states, the NEP 2020 has also attracted criticisms regarding its inherent ideals, and implementation strategies from a multiplicity of quarters. In effect, the NEP 2020 has animated multiple discourses and debates regarding the scope, nature, content and future of education in India. More often than not, such debates have remained intensely polarized, foregrounding irreconcilable ideological contentions and institutional templates. This is perhaps not surprising, as the field of education in India, remains in essence an ideologically fraught domain consisting of conflicting visions of nation, state, citizenship, good life and secular emancipation.

For a post-colonial society like India, the quest for an ideal education policy and future direction necessarily broaches more expansive questions about the nation’s vision for belonging in a broader international community. Should the nation aspire to be ‘Viswaguru’ on the terms inherent in the contemporary configuration of global geopolitics? Should we question the misplaced universality of global knowledge in relativistic nativist terms? Or should we aspire for strategic autonomy in terms of knowledge production and dissemination by drawing upon indigenous traditions in non-parochial ways? How do we reconcile the demands of global standards of excellence with the expectations of national relevance? In any case, the already fraught terrain of education in contemporary India is rendered exceptionally complex by the institutional presence and demands for inclusion of a wide array of aspirational groups and communities.

The contemporary Indian educational landscape has, thus, become a force field offering provocative ways of thinking about pervasive ideals of national belonging, social identities, public-private antinomies, civilizational claims as well as tropes of inclusion/exclusion. Ultimately what seems to be at stake is the re-imagination of the future under India’s unfolding modernity, even if that re-imagination is often propelled by the headwinds of history.

Against this backdrop, this conference invites papers to address the contemporary configurations of Indian education along with its past trajectories and future pathways. Contributors are free to bring in any disciplinary and methodological perspective as long
as their papers illuminate some aspects of the larger question of education: institutional practices, ideological contestations, nationalist designs, identity issues, access, equity and justice, social transformation, evolving notions of sovereignty and spaces of democratisation, withdrawal of the state and the increasing hold of private capital. We invite conference presentations on the following broad themes. They are merely indicative, and not exhaustive.

  1. Public Policy Debates on Education in Post-Independence India
  2. Institutional Changes in Indian Educational Landscape
  3. Education, Citizenship and the Refashioning of Identities
  4. Education, Skill Development, Employability and Employment
  5. Education, Empowerment and Social Justice
  6. NEP 2020 and the Idea of India

MWS OPUS Workshop

Agricultural Market Transformation: Past, Present, Future

with Barbara Harriss-White

24 March 2023, The Claridges, New Delhi

This is the first in the MWS OPUS series of workshops with distinguished scholars, where participants will read and critically engage with a selection of texts from the opus of respective scholars. This workshop with MWS’s Distinguished Research Fellow Barbara Harriss-White will examine a selection of her vast body of literature from field economics that is accessible to non-economists to understand transformations in agricultural commodity markets over the last half a century. The workshop will explore, develop and critique the idea that field and analytical approaches developed for the pre- and early-liberalization period are enduringly relevant in the current era. The workshop participants will think with a set of texts around the following broad themes: (i) methodologies of long-term case studies, (ii) economic roles of post-harvest markets, (iii) markets and class relations, (iv) state regulation and market-driven politics, and (v) forms of social authority in the economy.  

Barbara Harriss-White has been engaged in fieldwork across four (now six) districts of India since 1972: North Arcot (now Vellore and Tiruvannamalai) and Coimbatore (now Coimbatore and Tiruppur) in Tamil Nadu and Birbhum and Bardhaman in West Bengal. This long-term research has involved compiling business histories for hundreds of urban and rural wholesale and retail traders, brokers and financers, transporters and processors in towns, villages and periodic markets; interviews with market workers and officials involved in regulating markets; and collecting and analysing prices and official documents. It has generated  an extensive opus of 40 authored and edited/co-edited books and reports, over 270 scholarly papers and chapters, and over 100 working papers. Some of the books published on this research include Transitional Trade and Rural Development: Nature and Role of Agricultural Trade in a South Indian District (1981), Agricultural Change and the Mercantile State: A Study of Public Policy in Tamil Nadu (1985), A Political Economy of Agricultural Markets in South India: Masters of the Countryside (1996), Rural Commercial Capital: Agricultural Markets In West Bengal (2008), Agricultural Markets from Theory to Practice: Field Experience in Developing Countries (ed. 1998),India Working: Essays on Economy and Society (2003) and Middle India and Urban–Rural Development: Four Decades of Change (ed. 2016).

Barbara Harriss-White is Emeritus Professor and Fellow, Wolfson College, Oxford University; Visiting Professor, Jawarharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. 

MWS Seminar Series by Soheb Niazi (MWS Delhi), 17 February 2023

Contesting Genealogies: Hierarchy and Social Mobility among Muslim Occupational Classes in Colonial North India (1870-1940)

Speaker: Soheb Niazi, MWS Delhi

Event date and time: 17 February 2023 from 4 pm – 6 pm

Venue: Durgabai Deshmukh Memorial Lecture Hall, 53 Lodi Estate, New Delhi-110003

Debates on the historiography of Muslims in South Asia, based on the history of elite individuals or institutions, whether religious or political, have tended to designate their life worlds through the binaries of nationalism and separatism. The first quarter of the twentieth century saw the founding of several social and political organisations led by Muslim peshewar (occupational) classes. The peshewar Muslims challenged the genealogical claims of a broad class of sayyid and ashrāf (elite) Muslims, engaging them in a public polemical debate that captured the imagination of the Urdu public sphere in the early decades of the twentieth century. Drawing on a rich archival repository of previously unexamined Urdu sources such as qaumī tārīkhs (community histories), local newspaper reports and polemical pamphlets, as well as on the conceptual frameworks of sociologists and anthropologists of caste and stratification among Muslims in South Asia, this presentation argues for a conception of Muslim society that is diverse, fractured and heterogenous.

The presentation will focus on the multiple strategies deployed by Muslim occupational classes who experienced social or upward mobility and in doing so, problematize the understanding of the process of ashrafisation, a phenomenon regarded as akin to the Hindu equivalent of Sanskritsation. The peshawar Muslim classes claimed Arabic descent, a Quraish lineage, the status of Shaikh Muslim, or privileged masā(equality) and peshā (occupation) over nasb (lineage) to critique and contest the stigmatisation of their communitarian identity. The research documents and develops the political histories of organizations led by social actors representing the qassābs (butchers and hide merchants) from Amroha (United Provinces), the mīrāsī(genealogists and musicians) from Sialkot (Lahore), and the julāhās (weavers) from Bihar.

Public lecture by Dr. Yannis Hadjinicolaou, Gerald D. Feldman Fellow of the Max Weber Stiftung (MWS)

We are delighted to announce that Dr. Yannis Hadjinicolaou, one of the Gerald D. Feldman Fellow of the Max Weber Stiftung (MWS) and Research Associate of Bilderfahrzeuge, will hold a lecture on 13 February 2023.

Title: Ruling through Luring: Cura Publica, Falconry and Visual Culture

Event time and venue: 4:30 – 6 pm IST in the Committee Room, SAA 2 at JNU Delhi

Retail Socialities in Modern South Asia

Date: 10-11 December 202

Convenors: Sebastian Schwecke & Samprati Pani

About the workshop:

Retail has frequently been treated as an afterthought of commerce, the last leg in a process of exchange and circulation that has already been predetermined by the long chain of stages a product has passed before it enters the final stage. Considering that retail has been one of the largest employers, especially of the urban workforce in India, the neglect of studies on the retail socialities is particularly glaring, whether it is from a perspective of work processes, capital–labour relations, development, everyday life, livelihoods or geographies.

Retail is a distinctive and significant component in the exchange process. Defined by the interface with the consumer, communication and informational flows in retail practices are particularly attuned to the emergence and production of distinct socialities. The importance of this interface rests on its functional role and shapes spatial articulations and aesthetics, operational modes, and socially embedded norms of markets. But the logic and implications of this interface extend beyond the instrumental in shaping forms of leisure, entertainment, and even vice.

The participants at this workshop will study cross-selections of commercial arenas—the mall, the bazaar, the hypermarket and the department store—to develop a broader understanding of retail socialities and the way they influence life in modern South Asia. The workshop will engage with developments across regional divides, ranging from the high colonial era to the present, and combine the study of commerce, work, communication, leisure, entertainment and urban spatialities. Reflecting on the variegated histories of retail in South Asia, the participants will engage with the commonly held binaries that dissect retail socialities—stall vs shop, bazaar vs haat vs market, ‘modern’ vs ‘traditional’ market forms, ’formality’ vs ‘informality’, haggling vs ‘fixed price’. The workshop is aimed at highlighting the extent to which such distinctions fail to establish discrete categories in meaningful ways and discussing how a focus on retail socialities can contribute to the conceptualization of South Asian markets.

Carving Fields of Knowledge: Disciplines, Institutions and Practices in Colonial and Postcolonial India

Date: 3-4 December 2022

This is a preparatory conference that aims to bring together scholars who work on the shaping of certain pedagogic fields in colonial and postcolonial India. The scholars would engage in brainstorming sessions to discuss recent trends in the histories of certain disciplines, institutions and technical and managerial skills. The overarching themes would include:

  • the nature of knowledge in the interface of colonialism and Brahminical hegemony
  • the career of disciplines like anthropology, statistics, economics and their relationship with colonial and postcolonial governmentalities
  • foundation of academic institutions and centres of learning, patronage networks and scholarships
  • the consolidation of techno-managerial disciplines in postcolonial India
  • standardisation of teaching and textbooks

Traveling Academy « De-Colonizing Knowledge – Views from India and Tunisia », New-Delhi; 21-25 November 2022

Colonial structures, institutional as well as epistemological, still persist in academies across the world. One central goal of the Merian Centres is to face up to this challenge and work towards a decolonization of academic practices, based on equality and mutual respect between partner institutions coming from diverse geopolitical contexts. The Merian Centers MECAM (Tunisia) and ICAS:MP (India), along with the Max Weber Stiftung India Branch Office, are jointly organizing a conference on “Decolonizing knowledge – Perspectives from India and Tunisia”. The two central animating questions of this conference are as follows:

  • How to understand and theorize the persistence of (neo-)colonial histories at the heart of our present?
  • How to engage the root causes of the Euro-American epistemological hegemony, in terms of existing institutional arrangements, funding structures, direction of circulation of ideas and concepts, and curricular and bibliographic inequities?

Coming from a Latin American tradition, decolonial studies have had a certain intellectual trajectory.  The question that will be discussed here relate to how other postcolonial contexts, such as of South Asia and Maghreb, relate to this form of decolonial theory and/or generate alternative forms of post/de-colonial critique, given the different histories of colonialism, British and French, settler and non-settler, in these different parts of the world. The conference will encourage an intense exchange of ideas between academics from Tunisia and India, as they reflect on their respective experiences of systems of knowledge production, evolution of university structures, debates on research methodologies etc.

The Traveling Academy’s two-day academic conference will be complemented by a social program aligned with the keynote theme, including visits, talks, excursions, and conversations between Researchers and Fellows of MWS Delhi, ICAS:MP and MECAM.

Resilient Societies-Early Career Research Symposium for the Humanities and Social Sciences 2022

Date: 6-8 September 2022

Location: Virtual Event

MWS Delhi is co-organizing this symposium together with the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), DWIH, and ICAS:MP.

About the symposium:

Resilience – a term once again highlighted in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic and current debates surrounding the impact of climate change and violent conflict – constitutes a highly ambiguous concept, one that nevertheless forms one of the most important needs for societies, impacting international conflict and cooperation, national and local politics, individual and household behavior as well as social interaction. The ambiguity of the term rests on its paradoxical qualities: It depicts robustness, stability, solidity, sustainability; at the same time, its pursuit frequently requires fluidity, flexibility, coping, adaptation, and adjustment. Its connotations with durability tend to rest on change. Similarly, its relationship with efficiency is complex. In turn, when employed at the societal level, we need to account for the demands various types of resilience place on different aspects of social organization. Improving resilience in global supply chains, for instance, may help in creating robustness in the face of economic shocks, and may even facilitate ecological sustainability. But it may come with the price of high levels of inflation – and job losses in less prosperous parts of the world – that destabilize household-level resilience, and in doing so may eventually affect global stability both in economic and in political terms which, in turn, may hamper global efforts for cooperation. Given the complexities involved, the permutations of possible effects within and across societies tend to be overwhelming. Keeping in mind the complexities and ambiguities in studying resilience, we invite paper presentations from across the humanities and social sciences as well as related disciplines, and inter-disciplinary approaches. We focus on six main areas of inquiry, though approaches that explore links to different topics are welcome: Public Health, Governance, Crisis & Conflict, Urbanity, Sustainability, and Poverty, inequality and development.

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