III National Symposium

The Culture of Diversity and Disciplinarity

2-4 February 2012

 The III National Symposium organized by the Centre in collaboration with the Forum on Contemporary Theory started with an inaugural session in which Dr. Arjun Appadurai, through his keynote address, defined the scope of the program. He reflected on how diversity with respect to disciplines has become a trend rather than a culture. Dr. Appadurai shared his thoughts on the pragmatics of developing a culture of diversity in the university which should  not be equated to a shallow multi-culturalism. His lecture set the tone for further deliberations.

Sitanshubhai and Appadurai

Sura P. Rath’s presentation while exploring the theme of multiculturalism in American literature, took on the vital contribution that multicultural encounter and interactions make to the preservation of the species in the social arena, analogous to the contemporary Darwinian theory of natural selection in the biological universe. His portrayal of the character of Bartleby in Hermann Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street” (1853) who stubbornly rejects his depressive monotonous routine life by leaving a Dead Letter Office job to accept  a position of a document copier in a law office in Wall Street little knowing the risk he was taking in making a transition from one “death” to another, in search of change and variety in the workplace, is read by Sura Rath as Melville’s own aesthetic trope for change and difference in the Sisyphus land that America was fast becoming in the 19th century. Bartleby’s enigmatic quest for diversity, as his paper described, parallels the “cult of multiculturalism” which involves the operation of free will in a deterministic universe, the unrestricted availability of many wills, some mutually contradictory and others potentially disruptive and even subversive.

Dr. Jain and Dr. Rath

Moving on from the world of fiction to the world of empirical facts, Jasbir Jain dealt with questions of how epistemological and pedagogical constructs work within an average Indian classroom consisting of mixed population of students with differing capacities and different backgrounds, ambitions and objectives. How is cultural  diversity handled and, is there a possibility of transforming this into a positive strength in the face of hegemonic forces of globalization and the equally intrusive ideological positions of right wing politics/ideologues, are some of the questions/issues she engages with. Pointing to the shift in the discourse of cultural diversity the paper also raised other questions related to pluralism, subjectivity, identity and their relationship with hybridity as well as ideological issues that work at several levels which could be seen through Foucauldian concepts of power and discipline.

Dr. Baral and Dr. Das

As ‘massification’ of universities continue unabated in India , they increasingly become ‘sites of indiscipline’. This theme runs through Kailash C. Baral’s presentation. His paper, particularly in the context of teaching humanities, not only described the constraints in exercising one’s judgment on how and what to teach in the context of caste, class, gender, marginality as well as empowerment demands especially in the era of increasing prioritization of  techno-scientific education, but also dealt with the question whether humanities education in an altered situation remains the same .

 By taking an interdisciplinary perspective on the medico-juridical problem of the diseased body Dilip Das explained how diversity could be thought of within the framework of disciplines. “Disciplines ‘place’ their object of study: interdisciplinarity, by displacing it into the ‘non-place’ between disciplines, is utopic practice (ou-topos, ‘not place’), and points as such to the limits of disciplinary inquiry”.

Sonali Pattnaik’s emphasis on interdisciplinary studies was through her engagement with issues raised by post-strucuralist approaches to adaptation studies which explored the uses of reading literature through cinema. Her presentation examined material, ethical and cultural implications and ‘dialogic possibilities’ of translation/transformation through Shakespeare’s Othello and its reworking into an Indian version Omkara.

A section of the audience

The afternoon presentations were based on “Diversity and Disciplinarity as Cultural artifacts” by Arjun Appadurai and the “The Menace of Consilience: Keeping the Disciplines Unreconciled” by Martin Jay, followed by Round Table Discussion.

In response to Arjun Appadurai’s article, Lajwanti Chatani’s  paper dealt with the ‘politics of diversity’ and the discipline of politics while Mandakini V Jha interrogated the “scholarly discipline” and ‘departmental disciplinarity” of sociology and also dwelled on the field of Indian sociology. While focusing on the oral narratives of the subaltern, Bini B.S. attempted to recover the truth of the subaltern consciousness in her presentation, similarly explored by Rajan Barrett in his focus on the Dalit and the discipline and Preeti Maneck focusing on Appadurai’s diversity as a particular organization of difference emphasized on who organizes the difference within the academy.

A report by Mandakini Jha, Department of Sociology, M.S. University , Baroda