Workshop: “The Cultural Life of Democracy” (Zurich, 3-4 Nov 2022)

Convened by Harshana Rambukwella and Benedikt Korf, Department of Geography, University of Zurich


Date: 3 & 4 November 2022
Venue: Völkerkundemuseum, Universität Zürich

Contact:
Harshana Rambukwella: h.rambukwella@gmail.com 
Benedikt Korf: benedikt.korf@geo.uzh.ch 


This workshop is a modest attempt to broaden the critical discourse on democracy by using Sri Lanka as an empirical locus, but adopting a comparative gaze beyond Sri Lanka, and to explore the possibilities of fashioning the ‘cultural life of democracy’ as a conceptual and methodological heuristic to explore democracy and democratization as an actual political practice rather than a political ideal. Politically and intellectually the project aligns with the ‘post-colonial’ spirit of exploring ‘alternative’ accounts of democracy but is also cautious of how populist-authoritarian iterations of democracy have rationalized themselves through claims to alterity. Challenging the dominance of what Chakrabarty (2000) calls ‘hyperreal Europe’ there have been attempts to understand democracy in relation to postcolonial social experience. These include, drawing on the practice of adda in Calcutta society as a form of public sphere (Chakrabarty 2000), rethinking democracy from the margins in Chile where the isolated Chachapoyas region has historically resisted integration by self-consciously constructing itself as a pre-modern and pre-political society (Nugent 2002) and examining Islamic forms of democratic participation in Arabian societies that do not follow the Turkish ‘secularist’ model (Rane 2010). Collectively, these can be understood as forms of democratic participation that do not follow a rigid definition of democratic norms. This approach to ‘provincializing’ democracy has also yielded a number of studies that attempt to map civic life in South Asian societies (Orsini 2000; Dass 2015; Scott et al. 2016). The workshop thereby aligns with the agenda of the SINERGIA project “Reversing the Gaze”, which seeks to unsettle the Eurocentrism of democratic theory.

Taking Sri Lanka’s current political crisis as well as its varied history of democracy as a case, this workshop invites critical and comparative reflection on postcolonial theories of democracy, electoral politics and political dissent beyond the Sri Lankan case. The term “cultural life” starts from the supposition that the cultural is often a site of political struggle, but also, that politics develops a cultural life of itself: in the events it celebrates, the rituals it performs, the narratives it produces and the mundane practices it follows in the everyday. Studying how exactly these different modes of political conduct are mobilized and negotiated gives us an insight into “actually existing politics” (Spencer 2007: 177). Studying actually existing politics raises normative questions: We recognize that discourses like ‘post-truth’ have led to an erosion of norms such as ‘civility’, a class-driven but vital norm theorized by scholars like Norbert Elias and Pierre Bourdieu (Thiranagama et al. 2018). Similarly, populist leaders have redefined sovereignty in self-serving ways that draw on the rhetoric of decolonization. The theoretical and political challenge, therefore is in fashioning a stance that recognizes that ‘civility’, for instance, has a loaded colonial history (Thiranagama et al. 2018: 163- 64) – but at the same time does not romanticize populism or restrict democracy to a set of culturally exclusivist markers.

Specifically, the workshop intends to explore the following interdisciplinary questions:

  1. What insights can a ‘cultural’ account of democracy offer for postcolonial societies like Sri Lanka, which ‘standard’ accounts of democracy and democratization such as the study of democratic institutions, the rule of law, etc., are unable to offer.
  2. How can we trace the ‘cultural life’ of democracy in varied forms of artistic production such as art, literature, film and theatre, but also political activism and events?
  3. What are the methodological and conceptual challenges of a project of this nature with its interdisciplinary and methodologically eclectic approach?

Call for papers/workshop: “Decoloniality and the Politics of the Urban” (hybrid, 27 Oct 2022)

The Geneva Graduate Institute, the Reversing the Gaze Project and the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH) invite you to participate in an upcoming workshop, exploring themes of decoloniality in relation to the politics of the urban.

Date: 27th October 2022
Time: 8:00 – 16:00 Geneva time/ 9:00-17:00 UK time
Format: Hybrid

What is the politics of the divide between the urban and the non-urban (semi-urban, peri-urban and the rural), in contemporary postcolonial and metropolitan contexts, as well as historical colonial contexts? The divide is fundamental to the emergence of modern states as political-economic entities – European, colonial, and developmental. It expresses a politics of concentration/scale, productivity, specialisation, and movement to be governed. Crucially, colonial histories and categories of urban and rural and their relationship to productive and unproductive labour give shape to internal hierarchies of citizenship within states. The politics of these categories manifest themselves in historic rubrics of retribalisation, and contemporary politics of internal labour migration and populist resentment. The divide is of interest as at once a material site, political framework, and historical stage for the making of colonial and postcolonial states – and potentially for the continuation of an “unfinished project of decolonisation”.

This is a unique opportunity to engage with interdisciplinary scholarship on relevant themes of decoloniality, both historical and contemporary. If you’re interested in participating in a panel, kindly submit a short abstract (no more than 200 words) to tanushree.kaushal@graduateinstitute.ch and deval.desai@ed.ac.uk with the title ‘Decoloniality Workshop Submission’ and your name and affiliation by October 3th, 2022. If you have any questions, feel free to contact Tanushree at tanushree.kaushal@graduateinstitute.ch.

Research Colloquium, Fall Semester 2022: “Concepts without borders”

In this semester, the colloquium will discuss the changes socio-scientific analytical concepts undergo to be able to render phenomena intelligible in different settings. The standard assumption according to which concepts, when properly used, are independent of context has come under massive critique, especially within the context of postcolonial and decolonial critiques. But does this mean that concepts are hopelessly tied to context and are bearers of normative assumptions? What happens with analytical concepts when they travel from one historical or regional context to another? What is gained – and what is lost? And (why) should we make concepts crossing borders at all?


program

Mon 26.09.2022, 12:30-14:00 CET
Knowledge: Values and validity
Elísio Macamo (Centre for African Studies Basel/Department of Social Sciences, University of Basel)


Mon 10.10.2022, 12:30-14:00 CET
Traveling theory: The potentials and limitations of ideas as they ‘travel’
Harshana Rambukwella (Postgraduate Institute of English, Open University of Sri Lanka)


Mon 17.10.2022, 10:15-16:00 CET
Researching the (un)familiar (workshop)


Thu 27.10.2022, 08:00-16:00 CET
Decoloniality and the Politics of the Urban (workshop)


Thu 03. & Fri 04.11.2022
The Cultural Life of Democracy (workshop)


Mon 21.11.2022, 12:30-14:00 CET
Title tba
Rose Marie Beck (Institute of African Studies, Universität Leipzig)


Mon 05.12.2022, 12:30-14:00 CET
Review session
Ralph Weber (Institute for European Global Studies, University of Basel)


The colloquium takes place online via Zoom. If you are interested in participating, please use the registration form to register for one or several sessions.


PhD candidates and advanced MA students can earn credits (1 ECTS credit points).

PhD candidates and students at the University of Basel can register for the course via MOnA (course no. 65906-01).

PhD candidates and students at other Swiss universities can register via the University of Basel Student Administration Office.

Workshop: “Researching the (un)familiar” (Basel, 17 Oct 2022)

Workshop in the framework of the sub-project When there are Strangers in Our Midst. Citizenship, Migration and Re-tribalisation in Switzerland


Time & date: Monday, 17 October 2022, 10:00-16:00 CET
Venue: Centre for African Studies Basel, Rheinsprung 21, 4051 Basel, room 00.002


This research workshop examines experiences of doing research in familiar and unfamiliar contexts. The familiar/unfamiliar are understood as fluid and mutually non-exclusive, and may refer to different aspects of the researcher’s biographical, social or intellectual relation to the specific regional and historical context she/he works on. The workshop focuses on methodological challenges and conceptual issues with a focus on doing research in Europe and in Africa. The workshop draws on research in the framework of the study “When there are Strangers in Our Midst. Citizenship, Migration and Re-tribalisation in Switzerland” (a case study of the Reversing the Gaze project).

Programme

10:15-12:00 – Session 1

  • Introduction by Elísio Macamo
  • Keynote by Peter Geschiere followed by discussion

12:00-14:00 – Lunch break

14:00-16:00 – Session 2

  • Presentation of current research by Winnie Kanyimba and Matthias Maurer
  • Final discussion

Speakers

Conveners

  • Elísio Macamo (Centre for African Studies Basel/Department of Social Sciences, University of Basel)
  • Pascal Schmid (Centre for African Studies Basel)

Registration form

“Concepts without borders”: Reversing the Gaze at the VAD Conference

Watch the roundtable and panels convened by our project members at the conference of the Association for African Studies in Germany (VAD) in Freiburg im Breisgau (7-10 June 2022).

Rose Marie Beck, Patricio Langa, Ralph Weber, Peter Ronald DeSouza and Elísio Macamo at the roundtable “Concepts Without Borders”, VAD Conference in Freiburg i.Br., 8 June 2022

Concepts without borders: Reversing the Gaze at the VAD Conference

Roundtable chaired by Elisio Macamo (University of Basel) and Ralph Weber (University of Basel)

Speakers: Patrício Langa (UWCUEM), Peter DeSouza (Retired Professor), Rose Marie Beck (University of Leipzig), Claudia Derichs (HU Berlin)


The politics and epistemic value of positionality

Panel convened by Lerato Posholi and Ralph Weber


Translating concepts from Africa to Europe

Panel convened by Winnie Kanyimba and Matthias Maurer Rueda


Workshop: “The Philosophy and Global Politics of Concept Travel”

Veli Mitova (African Centre for Epistemology and Philosophy of Science, University of Johannesburg) during her presentation titled “Wilful Ignorance and Concept Travel”.

On June 17, the workshop on “The Philosophy and Global Politics of Concept Travel” brought together philosophers and social scientists from India, South Africa and Switzerland to reflect on the link between concept travel, conceptual engineering and the politics of knowledge production. The discussions raised various issues about the dominance of Eurocentric concepts in social science; possible advantages and disadvantages of concept travel; and outlined some strategies for conceptually engineering concepts.

The workshop was part of Lerato Posholi and Ralph Weber’s work package in the “Reversing the gaze” project and was organized in collaboration with Prof. Veli Mitova from the African Centre for Epistemology and Philosophy of Science, University of Johannesburg.

Research Colloquium, Spring Semester 2022: “Working with the state”

In this semester, the colloquium will focus on the ways in which academic and non-academic interpretations of the concept of ‘the state’ vary in different contexts. Drawing from case studies of the research project “Reversing the Gaze” as well as guest talks, the sessions will shed light on research endeavors involving the travel and translation of concepts across different regions, disciplines and research foci.


program

Mon 14.03.2022, 12:30-14:00
Is the state an ideological power?
Tebuho Winnie Kanyimba & Matthias Maurer Rueda (Centre for African Studies Basel/Department of Social Sciences, University of Basel)


Mon 28.03.2022, 12:30-14:00
The Postcolonial African State in Transition
Lerato Posholi (Institute of European Global Studies, University of Basel)


Mon 11.04.2022, 12:30-14:00
Retribalization and the State in Switzerland
Tebuho Winnie Kanyimba & Matthias Maurer Rueda (Centre for African Studies Basel/Department of Social Sciences, University of Basel)


Mon 25.04.2022, 12:30-14:00
A Colonial History of Pensions: The East India Company and One Genesis for the Welfare State
Geeta Patel (Middle Eastern & South Asian Languages & Cultures/Women, Gender & Sexuality, University of Virginia)


Mon 09.05.2022, 12:30-14:00
The State, Infrastructure, and Populism
Stephan Hochleithner (Department of Geography, University of Zurich)


Mon 23.05.2022, 12:30-14:00
Review session
Stephan Hochleithner (Department of Geography, University of Zurich)


The colloquium takes place online via Zoom. If you are interested in participating, please register via email to: rtg@unibas.ch.


PhD candidates and advanced MA students can earn credits (3 ECTS credit points). In order to do so, participants should write a report on one of the sessions.

PhD candidates and students at the University of Basel can register for the course via MOnA (course no. 64025-01).

PhD candidates and students at other Swiss universities can register via the University of Basel Student Administration Office.

Call for Papers: “Post-Pandemic Mobilisation and Management of Social Welfare Funds”

Project members Sruthi Herbert and Deval Desai host a workshop on “Post-Pandemic Mobilisation and Management of Social Welfare Funds: Implications for Equity and Citizenship” at the annual conference of the Development Studies Association (6-8 July 2022). They discuss the fiscal and administrative practices that emerged in public welfare spending after the COVID-19 pandemic through the lens of equity and citizenship.

The workshop explores a matter of critical policy relevance and political importance: the fiscal and administrative practices that emerged post-pandemic to rapidly mobilise funds for the pandemic relief, and its implications for equity and citizenship. The case-study of special-purpose vehicles (SPVs) in India guides this discussion.

Sruthi Herbert and Deval Desai (Edinburgh) will be the co-convenors. They welcome abstracts for papers from scholars, writers and activists engaged in monitoring and analysing the management and use of public/earmarked funds in India or other regions of the world.

The deadline for submissions is 4 March 2022. The conference is taking place online on 6-8 July, organised and hosted by University College London.

Research Colloquium, Fall Semester 2021: “Making concepts work”

The focus of this semester is on the translation and operationalization of social scientific concepts in specific historical contexts and socio-cultural environments. The colloquium will engage with methodological and theoretical issues bearing on the translation of concepts across regions, across disciplines, and across academic and non-academic contexts.


program

Wed 29.09.2021, 12.15-14.00
Retribalization across time and space
Tebuho Winnie Kanyimba & Matthias Maurer Rueda (Centre for African Studies Basel/Department of Social Sciences, University of Basel)


Wed 13.10.2021, 12.15-14.00
Translating Black-Boxes
Elísio Macamo (Centre for African Studies Basel/Department of Social Sciences, University of Basel)


Wed 27.10.2021, 12.15-14.00
Unspent Funds: Mobilisation and Accountability Post-COVID
Sruthi Herbert (University of Edinburgh), Christine Lutringer (Graduate Institute Geneva)


Wed 10.11.2021, 12.15-14.00
Chatterjee Revisited: Contextualizing Political Societies
Stephan Hochleithner & Benedikt Korf (Department of Geography, University of Zurich)


New date: Wed 01.12.2021, 12.15-14.00
Translating Forms of Knowledge
Maria Paula Meneses (Centro de Estudos Sociais e Económicos, Universidade de Coimbra)


Wed 08.12.2021, 12.15-14.00
Review session
Ralph Weber (Institute of European Global Studies, University of Basel)


The colloquium takes place online via Zoom. If you are interested in participating, please register via email to: rtg@unibas.ch.


PhD candidates and advanced MA students can earn credits (3 ECTS credit points). In order to do so, participants should write a report on one of the sessions.

PhD candidates and students at the University of Basel can register for the course via MOnA (course no. 62347-01).

PhD candidates and students at other Swiss universities can register via the University of Basel Student Administration Office.

Workshop Report: Keywords for India, and Beyond?

In this report, Lerato Posholi (researcher in the Reversing the Gaze project) discusses the workshop ”Keywords for India, and beyond? Enriching the Global Social Science Vocabulary” with Rukmini Bhaya Nair (Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi) and Peter deSouza (Goa University). The event was organized by Ralph Weber (Principle Investigator of the project) and Lerato Posholi as an inception workshop in the framework of the Reversing the Gaze project.


Keywords for India, and Beyond? Enriching the Global Social Science Vocabulary

On the 7th of May 2021, Prof. Ralph Weber and Dr Lerato Posholi organized a workshop with Prof. Rukmini Bhaya Nair (Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi) and Prof. Peter deSouza (Goa University). The workshop used Bhaya Nair and deSouza’s book «Keywords for India: A conceptual lexicon for the 21st century» as a point of departure for reflecting on the core question of whether, and how, certain keywords for and from India (e.g. guru or nirvana or policy paralysis) can apply or be used to study contexts beyond India. The discussion covered some of the central themes of the Sinergia project «Reversing the gaze: towards post-comparative area studies» on the politics of conceptual travel, theoretical challenges to using concepts beyond their context of origin, and broader concerns around the nature of comparison.

Two broad sets of critical insights were foregrounded in the contributions and discussions between invited speakers and participants. The first set of insights raised questions regarding the notion of ‹reversing the gaze›: what does it mean? Which gaze are we reversing? Why must we ‹reverse the gaze›? How do we ‹reverse the gaze›? Prof. Bhaya Nair highlighted that the notion of ‹reversing the gaze› commonly amounts to a call to study Europe just as Europe studies the rest of the world but proposed that ‹reversing the gaze› should go beyond this to inspire ways of seeing the world anew. She remarked that in their book, the placing of ‹big academic concepts› such as democracy and subaltern next to everyday Indian keywords such as balti (Hindi/Urdu for ‹bucket›) can provide new perspectives on the world. Prof. deSouza added a critical perspective on the notion of ‹reversing the gaze› by raising the question: «who is doing the gazing?» This question is loaded with topical issues about positionality and how it affects knowledge production.

The second set of insights surrounded the topic of concept travel. On this topic, the concern was whether all concepts can travel and what the conditions of possibility for concept travel are. Two key points were raised on this issue. The one point was that concepts can be deeply embedded in certain theoretical frameworks and socio-cultural contexts, making it difficult for them to be applicable outside their contexts of origin. The speakers emphasized that some of the keywords for India may be so embedded in Indian contexts that they are not applicable elsewhere, or may first need to be made fit for travelling, as had been the case with karma. The second point raised a word of caution against taking for granted that travelling concepts retain their original meaning in different contexts. Concepts, especially social concepts, tend to expand or change meaning precisely in their travelling. For example: the concept of human rights, some may say, has expanded and evolved precisely because the original conception of human rights has been challenged in applications of the concept in many different contexts.

Overall, the fruitful discussions from the workshops raised important questions that will help us do some ground clearing in the Sinergia project. These questions and insights call for careful clarification of what is meant by ‹reversing the gaze› in the project and an illustration of how this reversal of the gaze can produce post-comparative area studies.


This report was originally written for the monthly newsletter of the Institute for European Global Studies (University of Basel):

> Newsletter: Nr. 132 Juli 2021 | Europainstitut | Institute for European Global Studies


Peter deSouza
Ralph Weber
Lerato Posholi