Why culture matters: rethinking the language of feminist politics

Tejaswini NIRANJANA The Inter-Asia Project, not least as it is exemplified in the IACS Journal, has enabled a variety of stimulating conversations across Asia. One such productive site of engagement with ‘Asian’ questions has been feminism. Although there are strong women’s movements in many countries in the region, they often deal by necess ity with local issues (unless there are cross-border aspects involved, as in the case of sex-trafficking or migrants), and it is not always easy to find a point of access for understanding how different feminisms may speak to one another. I suggest that it may be necessary to go beyond looking at the real-time questions of feminist politics, and instead examine more closely the locations from where the questions originate. Such an examination, I propose, will have to focus on why culture matters to feminism. Having taken this detour, my essay will come back to the present to reflect on a new development in Indian feminism. As I show in my recent article, “Feminism and Cultural Studies in Asia”, instead of feminism being an interruption of already established ways of studying culture critically (as in 1970s England for example), it is foundational to the emergence of the new area of cultural studies (Niranjana 2007). It is foundational because of the way in which feminists have taken on – have had to take on - the culture question in non-western societies. A standard criticism of feminism across Asia derives from a charge that it is disconnected or alienated from ‘our culture’. This is a charge that is seldom made against any of our other political framewor ks which are far from having a clearly identifiable ‘indigenous’ source. Elsewhere, I have explained at some length why the question of culture - especially in formerly colonial contexts - cannot be separated from the question of how women come to be defined. In the course of this essay, I will elaborate on this issue with reference to India. But first, a referencing of the inter-Asia context. Starting in 2000, I had the opportunity to be part of a series of feminist discussions in different Asian locations through the Inter-Asia Cultural Studies conferences. The first feminist panel discussion at Fukuoka in December 2000 tabled as a central question the often contentious relationship of women with the state, and many of the speakers talked about the difficulty of theorizing the question of women and that of gender through already settled vocabularies like that of class. In Bangalore in October 2001, my institution, CSCS, hosted the Feminisms in Asia conference, which brought together Asian women who discussed women and the state (in Iran and Singapore), women’s engagement with civil war (in Sri Lanka), feminism and religious identities (India, Malaysia), cultural minorities (India), queer citizenship (in Taiwan and China), women and the law (Bangladesh, India). An important concluding panel explored the critical vocabularies formulated by feminisms in Asia, and the tensions of translation from Western contexts. In many ways, the culture question was central to the different strands of this event. Shortly afterwards, in December 2001, the IACS Alternatives Workshop in Bangalore provided another forum for discussion of feminist questions. Coming in the wake of the Feminisms in Asia conference, and focusing on accommodating those who could not make it to the conference because of travel advisories after the 9/11 events, this workshop aimed at an assessment of the political-theoretical ground on which we stand. In a key panel, we explored the current dilemmas of feminists regarding contemporary political initiatives, and investigated issues of cultural practice and feminist analysis. In later meetings (Seoul 2005, Shanghai 2007), inter-Asian feminists have theorized popular culture, Islamization and its consequences for women, the sex-workers’ movement and its production of new subjectivities. Again as I’ve said in the article I referred to above, bringing feminist issues into an Inter-Asia cultural studies frame has foregrounded the culture question and the specific negotiations all women in Asia and feminists in particular undertake; opened up the question of how to think about Asian modernities; prompted an investigation into the problems of translation in relation to the formation of the vocabularies of social criticism; urged us to re-think the political (what are the changing vocabularies of the political; is the political recognizable in the ways that it used to be?). Feminism appears to be one of the most volatile domains in Asia where the rethinking is taking place. The culture question’s importance for feminism in Asia might be illustrated by the following contrast. Feminist scholars in the West have suggested that nature and culture formed a binary. “[In western feminist history] the most common pair of terms to be evoked and fought over are nature and c ulture” (John 1998: 203). By analyzing the nature-culture binary, western feminists produced important critiques of organization of knowledge as well as institutions like family. Sherry Ortner, in her essay “Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture?” argues that

may give us some indication as to why women occupy such a central place in discussions about culture in the non-West. is actually a translation of the English word “culture”. Although nationalist movements fighting against the colonizer enable women’s political participation. Emergence of the culture question How are ‘we’ different from ‘them’? This question is posed in the third world or more broadly non-Western societies as part of a colonial contestation. Marxism.and post-Independence phases. film studies. Thus culture (i. This imagination of India gave rise to a range of representations within various fields. (Ortner 1974: 72-73) According to her. It becomes the location of everything that is uniquely ours. they also create for them a position in national symbolism that is remarkably static. If we look at how the term for “culture” emerged in modern Indian languages. as an independent nation that was no longer subject to British rule. 1 The discussions about culture in gender theory in India are based on critiques of the nationalist project in both pre. every culture) at some level of awareness asserts itself to be not only distinct from but superior to nature. Why then does feminism come under fire for being alien? Feminist demands are allegedly demands arising from ‘modernization’. has been able to show that the formulation of notions of culture in India is crucially related to women in a variety of ways. this is not a charge levelled against any of our other political frameworks (eg. a relationship that has its roots in the colonial context. we hold on to the idea of “our culture” as setting us apart from others. for example. but that after the 19th century we invest different meanings in culture. culture provides the contrast case of that which is not-modern. women were historically seen as part of Culture. The point being made here is not that there was no concept of culture before the English introduced it. However.e. There are many similarities between the Indian context and other societies across Asia. Interestingly.every culture implicitly recognizes and asserts a distinction between the operation of nature and the operation of culture (human consciousness and its products). This relationship between culture and modernity. By this we mean a contest between colonizer and colonized on the relative merits of their cultures. Feminist scholarship in India. and therefore different from anything that can be found in the world of the colonizer. and further. As we become modern Indians. that feminism comes from the West and therefore represents an alien set of ideas. in non-Western societies. Parallelly. They have also gone on to theorise the post-Independence period. and that sense of distinctiveness and superiority rests precisely on the ability to transform – to “socialize” and “culturalize” nature. With the onslaught of the colonizing West in India in the late 18th to early 19th century. art history. we notice that the most commonly used term. when efforts were underway to imagine India anew. that which is traditional and is outside the processes of westernisation that then come to stand in for modernity. A criticism routinely faced by feminists across Asia is that they are deracinated or alienated from ‘our culture’. This draws our attention to the significance of the culture question under colonial rule. culture in modernity is seen as something that remains the other of that which is modern. Kumari Jayawardena’s classic work Feminism and Nationalism in the Third World (1986) had argued that in the non-West these two movements – movement for women’s rights and the movement for national liberation – share a close relationship. Women come to be increasingly seen as the repositories of ‘tradition’ and ‘culture’. sanskriti. Feminists have looked at the time of the anti-colonial struggles and how a self-constructed Indian identity was born in opposition to the view the colonisers had of the natives. In an astonishingly diverse set of writings spanning a range of disciplinary locations (history. With culture understood here as a mark of difference as well as superiority in relation to the colonizing West. and hence subordinate to culture. which is seen to erase ‘our’ culture and replace it . colonized Indians responded by asserting the superiority of their own culture. we can gain insights into how a historically specific way of thinking about Indian women came to be naturalised or rendered obvious. liberalism) which may also be far from having any obvious indigenous source. sociology. literary studies. with significant implications for women. it is the ‘the body and the natural procreative functions specific to women’ which have brought about this convention of regarding women as closer to nature. political science) feminist scholars have analysed the formation of normative femininity as it takes shape in the context of discussions about Indianness and Indian culture. that the distinctiveness of culture rests precisely on the fact that it can under most circumstances transcend natural conditions and turn them to its purposes. the ‘culture question’ also becomes a ‘national culture question’. Although the culture question is an intimate part of the formation of our modern identity. This means that in discussions on/descriptions of what is ‘modern’. and then go on to become citizens of an independent nation.

2 The women-and-culture pair thus forms part of a sedimented commonsense in India. the Consortium of Pub-going. Culture. what is being implied is that women are part of that which is cultural and therefore authentic. Christians and Muslims. from Chennai to Ahmedabad. middle-aged housewives. The idiom of this protest was unprecedented in the history of Indian feminist politics. Collection centres sprang up across India. or. as we have seen. can only have a highly mediated relationship to modernity. They cannot therefore be part of the modern. all of whom for decades have shared cultural and political space in the region.5 A few days after the Mangalore pub attack. as is more common. Loose and Forward Women was formed on the social networking site Facebook. Nisha Susan recounts the growth of the campaign: “Within a day of starting the campaign we had 500 odd members. . we will take them to the nearest temple and conduct their marriage” ( The Hindu 2009). From Puerto Rico to Singapore. the protesters numbered far fewer than those who usually showed up for rights-violation agitations. So when women behave in ways associated with modernity (read assertive. Muthalik’s men attacked a pub in Mangalore and beat up and drove out the women they found there. their bodies and lives. While there were offline aspects to this protest. how do I send my chaddis? But by then the campaign had gone offline. ambitious…) they are seen as challenging their place in Indian culture and therefore undermining that culture itself. The chaddiwala referred to is a man who wears the long khaki shorts (chaddi in several Indian languages) which are part of the uniform of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteers’ Organisation). from Guwahati to Amritsar. Even the March 8th International Women’s Day rally held in Bangalore had only about 300 people. In a context of rapid and far-reaching social changes caused by urbanization and migration in the 19th century. schoolchildren.4 This event featured prominently in the electronic and print media across the entire country. the Pink Chaddi Campaign (PCC) as it came to be known was perhaps the first internet campaign of the women’s movement in India. This consortium launched a campaign to send pink panties to the Sri Ram Sene on Valentine’s Day that year. The entire coastal area of Karnataka and Mangalore in particular had already for some years become the site for new tensions between Hindus. Elderly men and women. When nationalists in the non-Western world signal a relationship of conflict between modernity and culture. flashpoints remind us of this unresolved problem: one such incident occurred in early 2009. It has also consequently attracted attacks from right-wing political parties who have condemned it as a manifestation of the depravity of Western culture. that this difference is displayed). One of our starting points would be to understand (a) how the creation of the national essence was based on the assertion of cultural difference from the West (how ‘we’ are different from ‘them’).000. individualistic. said: "Our activists will go around with a priest. and has always been an unresolved issue even in the women’s movement. In the state of Karnataka. they had to be gendered female and male respectively. and (b) how women were frequently represented as the embodiment of that difference (that it is in women. Pramod Muthalik. As one of the key organizers of the campaign wrote: “[W]e were only thinking of a way to render absurd the ever-bigger chaddiwala” (Susan 2009). The Pink Chaddi Campaign In late January 2009 a newly-formed right-wing Hindu group called the Sri Ram Sene (army of the god Rama) in the coastal town of Mangalore in Karnataka announced that its members would target young couples found together on Valentine’s Day. but it does not take into account how the notion of culture itself has been put together in our context. Following this announcement. This criticism is easily and frequently made. over the last several years it hasattracted widespread attention even in non-metropolitan areas and amongst those who don’t speak English. In a week we hit 40. gravelly-voiced big men from Bihar who did not quite want to say the word chaddi aloud called us” (Susan 2009). people were encouraged to drop off panties at these points to be couriered to the Sri Ram Sene headquarters in Mangalore. the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is in power and human rights groups claimed that the party was tacitly condoning the actions of the Sri Ram Sene. If we come across couples being together in public and expressing their love. the parent organization of the group of right -wing parties collectively known as the Sangh Parivar or family of organisations. women became the repositories of all that was seen as part of custom and tradition even as men went to work in colonial society and imitated the dress and manners of the English. people wrote to us.with western values and ways of life. a turmeric stub and a mangalsutra on February 14. From time to time. The Ram Sene’s leader.3 Although Valentine’s Day in India is largely a celebration generated by greeting-card companies. So much so that when a series of street processions and demonstrations were organized in a few cities. came to be opposed to ‘modernity’ – if both had to co-exist in colonial India.

it did so not by criticizing and therefore drawing attention to that sub-text but by embedding it in the symbolism of the campaign. perhaps since sexuality has for some time now been a limit case for feminism – the most ambiguous area of conceptual and political engagement. If feminists don’t recognize the unprecedented nature of the PCC. disrespectful of Hindu symbolism. people who had never recognized or celebrated Valentine’s Day were seen wearing pink on February 14. The PCC took on board the sexual sub-text of the Hindutva pub attack and of the masculinist rhetoric of its perpetrators. they will not be able to see how it is crucially situated at the intersection of questions of sexuality and female desire with the worlds of contemporary politics in India. In fact. and other displays of public hostility towards women in India. a range of varied interests converging on one image? The vulgarity of popular culture harnessed to the sophistication of Web 2. Mainstream media representations of the protests and counter-protests suggested a class polarization over the issue. and harder when it is seen as relating more explicitly to sexuality. You sent chaddis. 2009.a new term in the youth lexicon). The abusive responses to the protesters also came not just from lower middle class ‘fundamentalists’ but from internet-savvy conservatives attacking ‘secular’ ‘progressives’ and from male university students. Similarly. as in Valentine’s Day or lovers in parks engaging in PDA (public display of affection . western. and ‘outed’ it through a public display. showing up in advertisements and general journalistic articles alike. but was not particularly interested in women’s rights as articulated by feminists. of modernity.Criticisms of the PCC were many: they came from peer groups who would otherwise have shared in the progressive politics of feminists who called the PCC elitist and frivolous (surely there were far more serious issues to be dealt with in relation to women). Some have read the pub attack as an anti-globalization gesture. not many have spoken openly about the PCC. The local groups seemed to support heterosexual lovers’ right to freedom of expression (to the extent of sending out patrolling Love Chariots on Valentine’s Day to protect lovers against the threatened attacks of the Ram Sene). and a ‘secular’ political party led by a former underworld figure). where the comfort of ‘speaking for’ underprivileged women that the movement has always had is being challenged. In more ways than one. The discussions threw up a chain of related concepts: secular. or in relation to the striving for coherent gendered behaviour even in alternatively sexual relationships. Most feminist groups have supported the PCC and Valentine’s Day rallies. What has been achieved? They ask. but the same groups did not show up on March 8th to celebrate Women’s Day. of culture and of . and from Hindutva groups who claimed the PCC was against Hindu culture. While there was a certain cohesiveness to the ‘victim group’ in this instance of the pub attacks (the women being mostly young. modern (and therefore against ‘our culture’) – this chain of association was mobilized with ease against women who find the Ram Sene’s assertions problematic. Perhaps there is a discomfort with the idiom of the campaign. Why is the Pink Chaddi a powerful condensation. the PCC may well mark a shift in the language of feminist politics in India. they sent pink saris. just as it is central to thinking about questions relating to modernity. sexuality is a key area for the playing out of arguments over cultural difference. which is both sexually coy and aggressive at the same time. and the question of representation itself is being interrogated. The Valentine’s Day support campaign drew on the participation of local groups (including Kannada linguistic nationalists. both online and offline protests indicate that an astonishingly diverse set of people were involved.0 is one of the means by which this condensation seems to work. Some feminists bloggers have felt that the PCC protest has not been productive. For the translation/vocabulary question. The interest in theorizing sexuality has cut across different regions in the non-western world. just as earlier campaigns of the women’s movement cannot simply be dismissed as ‘Western’ inspired. Another interesting divide seems to exist between the groups of those protesting against the Sri Ram Sene’s attacks. It has been relatively simpler for feminists to criticize ‘moral policing’ when it is associated with inter-caste and interreligion marriage or relationships. This comment does not seem to take into account the fact that the PCC has now entered the popular vocabulary. even those who agitated against the Miss World beauty contest in Bangalore in 1994 or maintained a studied silence on the Fire controversy involving Deepa Mehta’s film (these two representing other recent conjunctures of gender-culture-globalization) (Niranjana and John 1999). but this reading does not account for the long history of domestic violence. the PCC which brought together in one arresting and sexualized image the issues of translation. it would not be correct to see the PCC as an assertion of proglobalization forces. In actuality. and so on. custodial violence (by the army and the police). a farmers’ movement. While feminist groups in India have criticized the violence against women evident in the pub attack and in the individual attacks that followed. whether it is in relation to how power gets distributed in heterosexual relationships. urban and middle class) which may allow some to dismiss the protest as elitist.

Mary E. Her most recent book is Mobilizing India: Women. Rosaldo and L. Lamphere ( eds) Woman.youtube. London: Zed Books Ltd. Sumi (2009) ‘Understanding and responding to the Mangalore assaults’. Sudesh (eds) (1989) Recasting Women: Essays in Colonial History. Music and Migration between India and Trinidad (Duke UP. Tejaswini (2007) ‘Feminism and cultural studies in Asia’. Kumari (1986) Feminism and Nationalism in the Third World. Nisha (2009) ‘Valentine’s warriors: the Pink Chaddi Campaign: why it began and how’.com/watch?v=lEbD2aXsXU (pub attack).asp. http://www.youtube. . Tehelka 6(8). Tejaswini and John.com/story_main41. Author’s biography Tejaswini Niranjana is Senior Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Culture and Society. see Partha Chatterjee. India. accessed 28 December 2009. Sangari. Contact address: Centre for the Study of Culture and Society. Jayawardena. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Culture and Society. Notes 1 The landmark anthology Recasting Women (Sangari and Vaid 1989) has several incisive articles elaborating this history. New Delhi: Kali for Women. Susan. http://www.the political is a challenge to those of us interested in reshaping both the language of feminism as well its objectives and strategies. Mary E. http://www. unpublished piece. http://www. (1999) ‘Mirror politics: Fire.youtube. Bangalore.com/2009/02/06/stories/2009020657590100. 2006). July: 197-210. 28 February. accessed 28 December 2009. Z.youtube.com/watch?v=THITp1E_onU&feature=related (pile of pink chaddis). Economic and Political Weekly XXXIV.youtube.htm. India.hindu.com/watch?v=tnbYYwOvAFo&feature=related (campaign steps). Poornaprajna Layout. Sherry (1974) ‘Is female to male as nature is to culture?’ In M. Krishna. Hindutva and Indian culture’. Ortner. Niranjana. 29th Main. http://www. March 6-13: 581-84.com/watch?v=Pgrk9YG6Nq0&feature=related (debate on NDTV). 6 February. Bangalore 560011. (1998) ‘Feminism in India and the West: recasting a relationship’. 5 For a succint introduction to the complex politics of the region. 2 For an influential account of this shift and of the emergence of a new sense of public and private spheres. 3 The mangalsutra is a Hindu symbol of marriage worn around the neck by a wife. the turmeric stub is used to make auspicious marks.com/watch?v=5EQ7NS6jelU&feature=related (latest weapon in culture clashes). Stanford: Stanford University Press. http://www. 827. 11 February. Bangalore.tehelka. The Nation and its Fragments (1993). see the unpublished piece by Sumi Krishna (2009). 4 Here is a short list of URLs which offer some visual references: http://www. The Hindu (2009) ‘We’ll not spare dating couples on Valentine’s Day: Muthalik’. References Chatterjee. Interventions 9(2): 209-218. Kumkum and Vaid. Niranjana. Uttarahalli. She is also executive editor of the Inter-Asia Cultural Studies journal. John. Cultural Dynamics 10(2). Partha (1993) The Nation and its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories.asp?filename=Op280209valentine_warrior.

1 and that the history of the emergence of Cultural Studies is tied to a crisis in nationalist discourse as well as to a disciplinary and institutional crisis. being the target of much hostility and suspicion — whether it was to do with the incursion of what was named as the political into disciplinary spaces or to do with the destabilization of disciplinary canons. The common sense of Cultural Studies textbook writers is that it embodies “resistance” and marginality. the answer would most certainly have to be that it is central to what used to be called “third world” nationalism (although comparisons with Taiwan or South Korea. Perhaps this feeling comes from the idea that criticality — seen as central to Cultural Studies — resides outside the institution (or.The Desire for Cultural Studies Tejaswini NIRANJANA My chapter focuses on the new institutional spaces in which the culture question is gaining prominence in the Indian higher education scenario. solace and shield from the depredations of the kind of social change colonialism was bringing about. to use the old left word. However. research centers. Even as Cultural Studies curricula take shape in a variety of undergraduate and postgraduate locations. In India. Tracing the Genealogy of Cultural Studies in India If we were to ask where the thinking about culture is located. What are the factors enabling this change in the Indian higher education scenario? How do we explain what I want to name as the widespread new desire for Cultural Studies? Is there an internal churning within some disciplines that are beginning to perceive ‘culture’ as their blind spot? Are there new pressures on educational institutions to transform themselves? Would an account of these pressures have to deal with the social and political crises that are compelling us to go beyond conventional formulations of culture? What is the relationship between the changes sweeping across the higher education spectrum and the new interest in cultural questions? How do we address these questions in designing new curricula? Before I offer some speculations on these issues. and underwrote the institution-building eff orts in higher education — the setting up of universities. My argument proceeds from two interrelated assumptions about Cultural Studies in India. I argue that in certain kinds of post-colonial situations. where nationalism seems problematic in a very different way. my practice as a cultural theorist was marginal to it. for example. Ten to twelve years ago. professors who have themselves not obtained degrees in Cultural Studies but teach students who are certainly going to be doing that proclaim that curricularization will be the death of the originary impulses of Cultural Studies. A major preoccupation of nationalist institutions was the theorizing of culture and the eff ort to assemble ‘national’ cultural traditions. I begin by providing a sketch of the emergence of Cultural Studies in the Indian context against the backdrop of the crisis in higher education. or in broader spheres like those of democratic political participation. The intervention is taking place not only in traditional institutions like the universities and affiliated or autonomous colleges. the establishment). thinking about culture has been central to the entire process of institutionalization and the creation of new/modern institutions — whether it is strictly in the educational sphere in relation to the formation of the disciplines or setting the objectives of pedagogy. the United Kingdom and the United States. Today I fi nd myself outside the traditional academy. I will draw on my own institutional trajectory. The thinking about culture that emerges from colonialism has as its most significant concern the description and ‘fixing’ of Indianness. For the sake of convenience. I would like to suggest that the relationship between Cultural Studies and institutions is perhaps different in a foundational way in India and other parts of the non-Western world compared with. I was inside the academy. The point I am making here is that there was a critical edge to thinking in that way. management schools. in the mid-1990s. located in a privately funded research institution. but also in the basic science institutions.2 By nationalism. and in articulating the culture question in the nationalist framework — although there may have been problems with essentializing culture and with the borrowing of Orientalist frames of analysis. culture came to be seen as the antithesis of modernity3 — as that which was both refuge and weapon. specialized science and technology institutes. which are probably generalizable to other non-Western contexts: that Cultural Studies is a new name for curricular initiatives drawing on much older critical engagements with the culture question (which means that contemporary Cultural Studies in India is compelled to take into account these earlier engagements). This nineteenth-century . might yield a slightly different perspective). I mean anti-colonial nationalism of the sort that acquired hegemony in India in the twentieth century. the management schools. and the design schools. and in this description culture had to be seen in many ways as the ‘other’ of modernity. and regulatory and funding bodies for the disciplines. but invited to intervene centrally in curricular issues across the humanities and social sciences. teaching in a mainstream English department of a major Indian university.

or the adoption of analytical methods by which culture can be explained away or de-emphasized. and performing arts took up regulatory functions that continued the work of canonization along similar lines. The crisis of the disciplines (such as Economics. and religious beliefs). our culture — as opposed to Western modernity — had to be seen as old. and the Caribbean in the work. and Sociology) — also becoming visible in the 1990s — is related to both the larger political crisis and how they were formulating their research problems and their pedagogical practices. there has been a certain ambiguity endemic to the culture claim in India. where raising the question of culture acquired its own significance and momentum. but the perspective and objectives were different. feminist scholarship. The problem faced in different ways by the disciplines was the elimination of culture from their various frameworks. The first kind of culture found acceptance as national heritage. What nationalism had to do. whereas Kurien argues that Economics is about social relationships. we do see a break with that history by the 1970s and 1980s. fi ne arts. the claim to the distinctiveness and continuity of something that came to be called ‘Indian culture’. History. Seeing the disciplines in historical perspective might give us a better picture of their inherited burdens. and with the choicemaking individual. the present was depraved. religious texts. Indians also drew on the work of earlier British Orientalists to define what was truly Indian. The Culture Question Let me reiterate that in the third world context. Most economists would like to see their discipline as dealing with goods and services. the key social science disciplines promoted by the nation-state were economics and sociology. requiring Western intervention to restore it to its former splendor. Both were seen as providing the information and the strategy inputs for the developmental agendas of the nation. History. with the emergence of a critique of nationalism. I refer to music. and the introduction of notation systems. sculpture) from contemporary problems caused by Indians’ sluggishness in becoming modern (allegedly due to superstition. the link between economic theories and economic problems is not always a strong one. As sociologist Satish Deshpande points out. For Indian nationalism. of C. Economics focused on theory-building and modeling — the data were presented in terms of numbers. the standardization and cleaning up of supposedly vulgar lyrics. Th e immediate history of Cultural Studies is to be derived from this broad critique. diverse kinds of anti-colonialists in the nineteenth century reached a consensus on the culture claim — that is. Indians oft en drew uncritically on a common nineteenth-century colonial argument that although the past of India was glorious. the women’s movement. Cultural Studies as/in the Critical Break While there is in India at least a century-old history of engaging with the culture question. The “data” of both were Indian. South Asia. In societies like India. that which could be named as “our culture” occupied a crucial position. We see this in contexts as different as Africa. was to separate out “ancient culture” (monuments. T. After Independence. then. Let me give examples from four key disciplines: Economics. Aft er Independence. caste. English literary studies. L. artistic achievements.8 He feels that in claiming . Euro-American) modernity. new institutions such as the national and state-level academies or literature. In asserting this specificity. after all.” but also — in nationalist narratives — as what keeps us backward and under-developed. while the second was described as something that had to be overcome. and literary studies.4 In the formation of the national-modern. for example. James.6 To provide just one example of how nationalists went about defining Indian tradition. I refer here to the lack of fi t between what they had to account for and the inherited conceptual frameworks of the disciplines. Jawaharlal Nehru. with the claim to antiquity underwriting the coherence of contemporary identities. Dalit critiques). As economist C. Political Science.5 Culture has been seen as what makes us unique and therefore “special. the slightly later Dalit movement)7 and in the intellectual initiatives inspired by those movements (Subaltern Studies. Aime Cesaire. Modernity.separation of culture from modernity was to become a key problem for Cultural Studies in India when it emerged as a “field” (and with that name) in the 1990s. Sociology. This critique is articulated most powerfully in the social movements of the period (peasant and tribal movements. But nationalist self-esteem dictated that “our modernity” include elements of our specific cultural identity. and Jomo Kenyatta. R. This involved the assigning of pre-colonial textual sources (preferably from the Sanskrit) to contemporary musical practice. had to do with transcending “primordial” marks of identity — especially of caste and community. Kurien says. as was their approach to the question of culture. The task in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was to create classical traditions that matched up to Western canons. questions of culture were discussed as part of the anti-colonial struggle. and where it became important to make cultural claims elaborating the specific connections between culture (seen as that which was our very own) and (Western.

an autonomous body to control higher education.’ a separation that was already evident in the medical.9 Analyses framed by this perspective saw modernization as the erasure or giving up of Indian culture and the adoption of Western values and ways of life. In the form of its Indian avatar. Shortly thereafter. Here I adopt Kurien’s larger perspective to suggest that a Western-derived Economics in India found itself unable and unwilling to look at cultural issues that clearly were central to understanding how economies function. had their own investments in “culture” — it was always the additional feature that provided relaxation. By the standards of the culture propagated by English literary studies. under the Department of Science and Technology.analytical rigour. economists actually empty out the substance of Economics itself (that is. renamed in 1974 as the Film and Television Institute of India and overseen by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. a situation critiqued in the 1980s by the Subaltern Studies research collective (whose member Gyanendra Pandey made the statement about biography). B. History functioned almost like a biography of the Indian nation-state. Th is diverse set of institutions covered the field of “culture” for the post-colonial state. architecture. Sangeet Natak Akademi (1953). and the Lalit Kala Akademi (1954) — were also set up during this period. but the use of it as a last-resort explanation. This approach to Indian society created a distance between culture and modernity. the management and technology institutes. as well as the basic science centers. entertainment. which began to grow in numbers following Independence. and practice. Th e setting up of these specialized institutions further reinforced the separation of skill based learning from ‘general education. was strongly empirical. Th e fi rst management institutions or business schools were set up in Ahmedabad and Calcutta in 1961. The Institutions During the 1950s and early 1960s in India. and the eff ort to account for the specifi city of Indians. most of the key educational institutions and statutory bodies for regulating higher education were set up. Here we have not the avoidance of the culture question. the United States and West Germany helped set up the first Indian Institutes of Technology. discipline. was formed through an Act of Parliament in 1956. Even with general education. which were granted recognition as “institutions of national importance” through the Indian Institutes of Technology Act 1961. Th e University Grants Commission. and engineering colleges from colonial times. which as a discipline in India has early beginnings in the attempt of the late nineteenth century anti-colonial movements to contest British versions of Indian political and military history. which studied non-Western peoples — hence the continuation with Orientalist frameworks. and spiritual succour. Th e work of Cultural Studies in the Indian academy is something that renders critical (to borrow the analogy from physics) setting. on the other hand. The main institutions dealing with the arts — Sahitya Akademi (1954). Th e critical perspectives of the 1990s represented multiple challenges to literary studies — so much so that the discipline was compelled to undergo transformation. Th e focus on culture as distinctive to a population was part of the self-identity of Sociology. Interestingly. which from the time of T. leading to the rounded personality of the Nehruvian technocrat. or against the weaker sections of the colonial society. allowing for new formulations about culture that have a greater purchase on contemporary crises. and the National Institute of Design (1961). other cultures came to occupy marginal positions. Macaulay’s proposal to introduce English education into India has been prominent as a discipline at all levels of education. the problems of the discipline may lie in its distinctly presentist attitude: the historian was a modernist.10 Th e emergence of Cultural Studies has oft en been seen as one kind of resolution to the problems faced by literary studies a decade ago. later on. Subaltern Studies pointed out the continuities between colonialist and nationalist history-writing in terms of how they perceived non-elite populations. Here again. Sociology oft en functioned more like social anthropology. It was only in the late 1980s and early 1990s that the colonial origins of the discipline and its ideal of a universal culture (propagated among others by the nineteenth century critic Matthew Arnold) were brought into question. a separation between the disciplines was perpetuated. unable in the last analysis to account for phenomena like “communalism” except in culturalist terms. the cultural assumptions of English literature were not seen as antithetical by those who fought for Independence from colonial rule. especially those who were nonmodern. institutions for training in specific areas were established: the National School of Drama (1959) under the Sangeet Natak Akademi. as well as institutions meant for the identification and recognition of artistic practice. Sociology. the Film Institute of India (1960). and favored qualitative analysis. The separation was endorsed by the . so that culture lay in the past and modernity was simply the time-space within which the leaving behind of culture was manifested. in the twentieth century. More about this later. We have a different equation with the culture question in History. Culture has featured in a very different way in English literary studies. Th e argument was that the formation of this universal culture was made possible by various kinds of epistemic violence against the colonized. Developmental aid from the Soviet Union. they may only look at ‘exchange’ of goods and not at property relations). Curiously.

18 per cent in commerce and management. or the distinctions between professional and non-professional education. for example. and humanities respectively). and values — or nature. Roughly two-thirds are enrolled in arts and science programs (45 per cent in arts. and values. One-tenth of the students in higher education are doing postgraduate work. the Asian average is 11 per cent. An important fact is that 80. Each university has about fifty affiliated colleges.report of the University Commission (1948). the model of disciplinary compartmentalization still exists more than sixty years after Independence.Anthropology) in which culture was embedded. in the National Policy on Education (1986). with most private-sector investment in education being in professional education. Another fact that could be important for Cultural Studies is that in the Institutes of Technology and the law schools.) Women represent 40 per cent of all students. and the Foreign Universities Bill waiting to be cleared by Parliament at the time of writing in December 2009. The focus has been on issues and problems rather than on specific kinds of objects of inquiry. Knowledge Interventions: The Domain of Cultural Studies and Cultural Studies Initiatives I will now move to a brief discussion about the institutionalization work of the Centre for the Study of Culture and Society (CSCS) in Bangalore that I helped to establish.” whereas Cultural Studies today is not only critiquing both the description and the endorsement. especially through the inclusion of “science and technology” or “area (regional) studies. but one that was born out of a diagnosis of the crisis in Indian higher education.5 per cent of higher education is still subsidized by the government. It is itself a higher education institution. or even between market-oriented disciplines and the others — Cultural Studies has made significant curricular innovations. The goal of education was training for citizenship. and questioned the absence of the cultural in disciplines such as Economics or Political Science. for example. Cultural Studies has evolved within the context of the Indian education system as an interdisciplinary field that has engaged critically with (a) older formulations about the place of culture and (b) specific disciplinary histories. and practical activity. and spirit to the humanities. (To provide a contrast. With the Private Universities Bill an impending reality.12 . providing a definition of ‘general education’ that was supposed to include theoretical contemplation. 15 per cent of the coursework is supposed to be devoted to the social sciences/humanities. As explained above. Indian Education System What is the historical legacy of the institutions. in some instances this number can go up to 300. Some 50 per cent of the postgraduate students are also in colleges (rather than on university campuses). Cultural Studies By raising questions about the objects of study conventionally associated with specific disciplines — as. including the educational ones? To gauge the possible institutional impact of Cultural Studies interventions. according to the report. and 88 per cent are undergraduates in colleges. 7. Radhakrishnan’s emphasis on “general education” was soon replaced by an emphasis on education for the “development” of the nation. social sciences.’11 Th is includes over 300 universities including deemed-to-be universities. The disciplines fell into place along this tripartite division. Cultural Studies has also interrogated the disciplinary frameworks (English literary studies. society to the social sciences. thus it has continued to reflect on the implications of the crisis and the possible role of institutions like itself at such a moment. events. History. Radhakrishnan who later became India’s president. but also challenging the separation between culture and modernity. However. this tripartite division of disciplines based on facts. in the immediate future this entire system will have to prepare to face the consequences of globalization. The center is an independent academic research organization launched in 1998 as an experiment in institutionalized research excellence in inter-disciplinary humanities and social sciences.” which in turn would inform state policy. Some statistics may not be out of place here. and 3. 20 per cent in science). headed by the philosopher S. events. Sociology. society. aesthetic enjoyment. Even when there were revisions in education policies — as. and spirit (which would be the subject matter of the sciences. we should take a look at the structure of the Indian education system — which is a massive one.25 per cent each in law and medicine. About 8–9 per cent of the relevant age group of the population has access to higher education. ‘recognised as the second largest system in the world.5 per cent in engineering and technology. in the Radhakrishnan report’s tripartite division allotting nature to science. The rate of growth of higher education has been about 13–14 per cent every year since the 1960s. Cultural studies’ interest in disciplinary legacies needs to take on board not just the colonial formation of the disciplines but also their trajectories in the post-colonial state. did not change substantially. the earlier formulations centered around culture’s endorsement of the nationalist project in terms drawing from Orientalist descriptions of Indian “difference. Th e report proposed a distinction between facts.

Instead. early eff orts by political practitioners of various leanings to develop theoretical models. three years after its inception. since no single institution could conceivably possess all the resource materials that potentially would be of interest. it must be added that Cultural Studies also includes substantial resources of previously invisible writing and cultural production — such as autobiographies. literary and fi lm studies. and such implementation would by definition include the need to document both the data and the process by which syllabi are assembled. but that is still yet to enter most arts-related classrooms. there were neither some trademark Cultural Studies objects and questions. asking instead how these might relate to each other. Relevant to these phenomena were larger issues such as growing religious intolerance. In this latter instance. to definitions of politics. development institutions. and in numerous Asian countries.” but which are now becoming an increasingly crucial resource for cultural theory. market research. and the rise of new social-political movements. and Media. any domain — be it the political. Second. psychological or cognitive — had to be seen as either directly “cultural” or relevant to the understanding of culture. the interrelationship between caste and democracy constituted for us a possible research area where the discipline of Sociology or social anthropology would itself form part of the investigation. legal documentation.In March 2001. Communications. Sociology. and to issues of human rights. fields ranging from Anthropology. These crises were reflected in the difficulties of bringing into teaching practice the kinds of cultural phenomena that were becoming increasingly relevant. Europe. Cultural Studies emerged in the 1980s in Britain. the cinema. coupled with locally produced books and essays from anthropology. it is in our more unconventional . Both these programs are unique in the field of humanities/social sciences teaching at these levels in India. conferences. since the CSCS core faculty is a small one. human rights documentation. produced as much in India as elsewhere. This program included work across a number of disciplines. It also launched its own online Master’s program. and Literature to Political Science. or wishing to work in. and what we would see as its key texts. ethical. oral testimonies. or architecture. political science. and the United States. this material clearly has by now established a respectable body of local literature that would need to be taught alongside Western “classics” in the field. the emergence of new modes of communication. something of a pioneering experiment in higher education in the social sciences. the CSCS launched a PhD program in interdisciplinary Cultural Studies. while our center is impacting the mainstream university and college systems through the online MA in Cultural Studies or through our undergraduate diploma in Cultural Studies. for example. and urban studies. its landmarks. the focus was on the institutions and practices of our modernity. and included investigations into the discourse of gender employed by. the first and only one of its kind in the country at the time. psychology. and is dependent on our seeking out and securing the participation of visiting faculty in the areas shaped by student demand. Such a curriculum is defined in its implementation. It is therefore important to see Cultural Studies on at least two levels. As is well known by now. In this wider sense. and therefore the support of many institutions. to people’s everyday experience. history. Such a field has come to be recognized today by the distinctive manner in which it selects the objects it analyzes and by the methods it employs. as well as individual courses. as something of a response to crises in the humanities and social sciences. cinema. Most leading academic publishers in India (such as Oxford University Press and Sage) have used Cultural Studies as a library classification category for some years. and previously unexplored traditions of performance or visual expression — that would earlier have been either unteachable or seen as irrelevant to the concept of “teaching culture. religious studies. To take a few examples of such fields. extending its appeal to students trained in. While there are a number of key texts — international as well as Indian — that would be seen as seminal to the discipline as we would define it (these texts are taught at our PhD and diploma levels as part of mandatory courses). CSCS also organizes workshops. the popular press. and consultations that supplement the regular courses. Some issues followed from the latter contention. Th e general curriculum. nor “master texts” to be “explained” and assimilated. Likewise. and researched so that the process can be replicated elsewhere. except in sporadic form — mainly through the initiative of individual teachers. However. The student body today includes people with backgrounds in medicine. Issues of gender and modernity also formed another key area of concentration. say. or (to shift to the epistemic side) scientific. Such syllabi need a diversity of resource materials. visuality (or the ways in which visual forms inhabit our lives) would become an object of inquiry that both included and went beyond specific forms like painting. is devised according to the specific interests of students. History (including and especially art history). the more difficult contemporary process into which the CSCS ventured — that of thematizing culture as a possible field of inquiry — was reflected as much in innovative ways of institutionalizing the program as it was in course content. architecture. taught. The fi rst constitutes the recognition and teaching of the fi eld and its achievements.

Design and Technology — a long-time CSCS partner — and a handful of undergraduate colleges. as well as larger issues of popular justice. The seminar paved the way for subsequent teaching courses at the PhD and other levels. first. an activity with students and faculty of the institution (such as an installation/performance). and students across disciplinary boundaries. and questions of human rights and public-interest litigation. Teaching Interventions CSCS has made progress in actively involving itself with a range of core and peripheral educational initiatives in the area. or a research project. Th course is cross-listed as an optional seminar course for the fi nal-year students of the NLSIU. a different understanding of “arts practice. questions raised by the Uniform Civil Code. We expect the artist–student interaction to take place under these conditions of critique. Rights and Culture” has been off ered every year to the PhD students of CSCS since August 2004. The interaction could be in the form of a course. college science teachers. and Culture The Law and Culture program at CSCS was introduced with the aim of developing new and critical interdisciplinary research on some of the crucial socialpolitical issues of our time. The course is offered at the postgraduate level. the course was picked up by seven students in 2004 and thirteen students in 2005 from NLSIU. (2) an interrogation of institutional priorities. and indigenous and colonial histories of the law. Society.13 Below is a quick overview of some of our key curricular interventions in partnership with other institutions: Law. alternative dispute resolution. Cultural Studies has questioned the distinction between “fi ne arts” and the popular forms of arts by asking questions about representation. a course titled “Law and Culture” was developed for the MA online degree program in the 2004–05 academic year (for the curriculum. and (3) the reconceptualization of the disciplines themselves. the dialogue — which extended to a year-long seminar — has addressed intellectual property rights. and by studying the role of the “symbolic” in popular art practices and representations. Bangalore.org). The work coming out of this space.” has been offered twice in the last few years. A fi ft y-hour optional course on media law was also taught as part of the CSCS undergraduate Diploma in Cultural Studies at Christ College. titled “Natural and Human Sciences: Arguing about the Two Cultures. and analysis — that can be approached from natural and social science perspectives. and to use the intellectual resources available at the center. interpretation. Cultural Studies Today What our different interventions in diverse institutional locations have shown us is that Cultural Studies is poised to emerge as the critical space in the interstices of the humanities and the social sciences. and helped conceptualize a broad-based program on law and culture.” Although it is to be housed at CSCS. It is expected that eventually all these teaching interventions will be institutionalized as a PhD program in “Law and Culture. Bangalore. see www. by speaking about conditions of production of art objects and art practices. it eventually could become a prototype for such courses in law schools. Besides the CSCS PhD and diploma students. The Higher Education Cell at CSCS is currently incubating fi ve research programs at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research at Pune. CSCS has been working with the Indian Institute of Science. Design and UG: The Artists’ Program This project is designed to create a context that introduces the student to.” was taught at the PhD level at CSCS in 2009. It covers a range of issues — including those of representation. a new set of questions about culture. and is open to students from all the science institutions in Bangalore. one of the oldest science research centers in the country. Science Institutions: Integrated Science Education Since 2006. titled “Production of Knowledge in the Natural and Social Sciences. and practices. Most importantly. The original conceptualization of the program emerged through a long history of interaction with faculty and alumni from the National Law School of India University (NLSIU). some of whom are currently members of the Alternative Law Forum.cscsarchive.” and second. A related course. which eventually will result in taught courses that integrate the human and natural sciences at the undergraduate level. to offer a sixteen-week course premised on the need for the integration of knowledge. The course. a course titled “Law.interventions that the challenge for the future seems to lie. forms. At the postgraduate level. Interaction will be with undergraduate students from collaborating institutions. is likely to lead to (1) the raising of new questions that address culture. The institutional collaborations will be with Srishti School for Art. teachers. Bangalore. My argument is that Cultural Studies can help revitalize the social sciences and humanities so that they can not only attract more engaged students but also create better opportunities for the students who end up there by default . Among other issues. The plan is to conceptualize a specific set of activities around which a new kind of interaction between the student community and the arts practitioner becomes possible. and CSCS PhD students. The artist will be encouraged to familiarize herself/himself with the courses taught by CSCS. through enabling interactions between researchers.

it is also challenging the separation between culture and modernity. subjectivity. for instance. and to craft innovative forms of collaboration between older and newer institutions. and funding agencies that have a stake in policy and implementation. . is working with science institutes like the Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISERs) to produce new fields that can be researched and taught in natural science and social science institutes — areas like “cognition” or “bio-diversity. and eventually at the research institute level as well. through partnerships and fundraising projects that converge with the intellectual goals and objectives of the program. and culture. The Integrated Science Education Initiative of the Higher Education Cell. thinking about law not in isolation. Cultural Studies — in experiments carried out by CSCS. as we identify it. including the entry of foreign universities. What is at stake is nothing less than envisaging afresh what higher education in the non-Western world might mean. society. We intend to undertake this through our research programs. and pursues its implementation. for example — has moved from being the extra-curricular course to become the for-credit course. and in turn to have the products of colleges — with a far richer general education than the older system could provide — become stronger participants in the emerging knowledge economy at all levels. society and culture.because they lack the academic credentials to get into professional courses. our partnerships with other institutions. These programs have emerged organically over the previous years out of our interdisciplinary reflection (for instance. whether it is in journalism and the media. this might reverse the trickle-down eff ect oft en advocated by educationists. will no doubt contribute to creating a context for higher education where the old models of pedagogy and research — already in crisis for some decades — will need to be seriously re-thought. higher education. With the new move towards autonomy (from the traditional affiliating university). cultural diversity and cultural policy in Asia. For us. and come up with their own methods of evaluation. other educational institutions (national and international).” which would figure in both the law school and the arts and humanities college/university. NGOs. in civil society groups and in NGOs. teaching. Exploiting the interest in certain kinds of colleges to “add value” to their courses. where the university is seen as the standard-setting and syllabus-devising authority. is to explore the interface between research. crucially the preparation for this has to be at the level of the research institutes–and maybe even the universities. Ironically. Th e implications of the General Agreement on Trades and Services (GATS).” whereas Cultural Studies today is not only critiquing both the description and the endorsement. as in the CSCS example. As explained above. Th e indirect impact of changes in the college’s pedagogic and evaluative structures will be felt at the university level. Each program thus has its own partnering institutions — which may be civil society organizations. Each of these initiatives applies and takes forward the agenda of Cultural Studies as imagined in the first decade of the existence of CSCS. Cultural Studies has evolved within the context of the Indian education system as an interdisciplinary fi eld that has engaged critically with both older formulations about the place of culture and specific disciplinary histories. the market. would produce areas of inquiry like “legal history. Each research program evolves its own framework of research and pedagogy. Th e idea is to have significant interdisciplinary research in different social science and humanities disciplines energize the re-visioning of undergraduate curricula. The CSCS vision for the next decade. The view is to deepen the capacity of Cultural Studies as an interdisciplinary field of research and pedagogy by creating an interface with the market. undergraduate colleges have been a significant location for the testing out of new curricular ideas. likewise. The understanding of interdisciplinarity with which CSCS works with and that it envisions is a more foundational weaving together of disciplines to produce new fields of investigation and inquiry.” The Law. Th e larger challenge for the set of interventions Cultural Studies can initiate would be to transform the disciplines as well as the institutions. and social policy. Cultural studies initiatives in India have helped imagine new models of institutions of higher education. which currently include interests in law. and public policy. and psyche. Society and Culture program. but in relation to society and culture) and our commitment to building an integrated institutional structure — for example. While the immediate field of intervention might be the undergraduate college. the earlier formulations centered around culture’s endorsement of the nationalist project in terms drawing from Orientalist descriptions of Indian “difference. colleges will be allowed to determine their own courses and syllabi. through applied research. or in more specialized research locations. pedagogy in a larger sense.

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