Conference on Modern Matters: Negotiating the Future in Everyday Life in South Asia| 20-22 September| Lund, Sweden

SASNET organizes a conference entitled “Modern Matters: Negotiating the Future in Everyday Life in South Asia” from 20 – 22 September 2016 at Lund University. The conference will explore what it means to consider oneself modern or outside the limits of modernity, in an extremely diverse region. It will also examine how the notion of modernity is experienced, contested, and negotiated in South Asia within the broader promise and hope of the ‘Asian century’. The three keynote speakers will be Faisal Devji, University of Oxford, UK; Dipesh Chakrabarty, University of Chicago, USA; and Sumi Madhok, London School of Economics, UK. SASNET now invites papers for the eight panels being accepted, see details below. Abstracts should be between 200-300 words and include a short biography including institutional affiliation not exceeding 100 words. Paper submissions should be received no later than Saturday 30 April 2016 at conference@sasnet.lu.se. Information about limited travel grants for exceptional contributions will be announced shortly.

Aims behind the conference

South Asia has been described as in a state of flux. While it is part of the soaring ‘Asian century’ led by China and India, it remains on the periphery of its promising future. India is celebrated as an attractive investment destination for its impressive growth rate, and for moving out of what has been called the waiting room of history and into the modern era at an accelerated pace. However, large parts of South Asia, including some regions within India, are still defined by the development agendas and interventions of a previous era. The region which is home to one-fifth of the world’s population has its largest youth demography, is celebrated for its demographic dividend. But this also raises concerns about the low investment in education, job training and public health. The uplifting narratives of call centers, shopping malls, new modes of leisure, and the global lifestyles of technologically–adept consumer-citizens contrast with shortages in material goods, services, and employment opportunities.  Everyday life in South Asia is typified by these wide gaps in wealth, abundance and consumption.
This workshop will explore what it means to consider oneself modern, or outside the limits of modernity, in an extremely diverse region. How is the notion of modernity experienced, contested, and negotiated in South Asia within the broader promise and hope of the Asian century? South Asian modernity will be considered in terms of regional, national, and global societies by pursuing the following, larger questions:
1. Can we discover regional understandings of modernity in South Asia? If so, how do they differ, and what do they have in common?
2. What are the specific discourses related to global modernity in South Asian societies?
3. How are class, caste, ethnicity, religion, and gender related in contemporary South Asian societies?
4. What resistance to modernity can we find in South Asian contexts? What categories are involved, and which arguments are raised?
5. How might violence relate to South Asian modernity?

Eight panels accepted

For the SASNET 2016 conference Modern Matters: Negotiating the Future in Everyday Life in South Asia SASNET the following panels are accepted:
Panel 1. Religion and Modernity in South Asia
Chair: Clemens Cavalin, Associate Professor in Religious Studies at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden
Abstract: Few themes concern the core of modernity as religion. Traditional religiosity constituted the significant Other for those championing the emerging new era of reason, individuality and equality. In Colonial India, the negotiation between Western Enlightenment values and the beliefs and practices of Hindu and Muslim traditions was intimately connected to the formulation of Indian nationalism in the 19th century. The development of a particular form of Indian Secularism; the partition into India and Pakistan, and the present political force of Hindutva and Muslim revivalism are all vital to the future of South Asian modernity. In this panel, we would like to discuss the role of religion and modernity in South Asia, the present situation and possible futures, from the perspective of the notion of multiple modernities.
Panel 2. Mapping Subaltern Modernities in Neoliberal India 
Chairs: Alf Gunvald Nilsen & Kennth Bo Nielsen, Department of Sociology, University of Bergen, Norway
Abstract: Narenda Modi’s triumph in the general elections of 2014 seemed, to many observers, to suggest that a distinct project of modernity had come to prevail in India – one characterised by globalising economic reforms and a thinly veiled Hindu majoritarianism, or what Christophe Jaffrelot has referred to as “saffron modernity”. However, as we enter 2016, this project has witnessed a series of significant electoral setbacks – in Delhi, in Bihar, and indeed in Gujarat itself, the BJP juggernaut has ground to a halt. Significantly, in each of these cases, the setback can be traced to subaltern discontent with Modi’s “modernisation offensive”. Clearly, then, “saffron modernity” is a contested project.This scenario begs a series of important questions: How and why do dominant narratives and imaginaries of modernity fracture and crumble – and what does this tell us about the nature of hegemonic projects in contemporary India? How do subaltern groups – for example, the urban and rural poor, Dalits, Adivasis, women, and religious or sexual minorities – negotiate modernity in neoliberal India? Through what practices, meanings and categories do India’s subalterns stake a claim to a space within the modern – and how do their claims shape Indian modernity? What are the prospects of subaltern modernities – for example, contemporary Dalit visions of emancipation, rural vernacular rights-cultures, insurgent citizenship in urban peripheries, Maoist insurgency, queer pride, and new forms of feminist activism – in India today? This panel will bring together theoretically informed and empirically grounded interrogations of these questions, with a view to understanding how India’s modernity is animated and moulded through multiple, conflictual encounters between “modernisation offensives” from above and below. We particularly welcome papers from younger scholars and from researchers with recent fieldwork experience on these or related themes.
Panel 3. Beyond the Desirable: Critical Perspectives on Media-Modernity
Chairs: Britta Ohm, Institute of Social Anthropology, University of Bern, Switzerland, Per Ståhlberg, Department of Media and Communication Studies, Södertörn University, Sweden & Vibodh Parthasarathi, Centre for Culture, Media & Governance, Jamia Milia Islamia, India. 
Abstract: Ideas of contemporary modernities and projections of possible futures require a (public) circulation of symbolic forms. In this sense, media and modernity are intrinsically linked; it is not surprising that communication technologies often have a prominent part in promises and expectations of a “South Asian century”. The last few decades have also witnessed a fast growth and penetration of various media technologies, forms and genres across the subcontinent and across different sections of society, which have opened up opportunities for popular participation, for protest, and both for transnational and local networking. However, both the recent engagements concerning violence against women and the public mob lynching of suspected rapists in India, to name two of many examples, have been heavily dependent on media technologies. This indicates that unlike ‘democracy’ or ‘enlightenment’, neither ‘modernity’ nor ‘media’ are pre-defined in terms of content or form but encompass a wide and mutually enforcing array of ideologies and practices that also include organised violence, fascism, totalitarianism, censorship, surveillance etc. The increasingly obvious, and public, interpretability of ‘modernity’ notwithstanding, the positive relation between media and societal modernity, as a desirable state, has remained remarkably unquestioned. This panel seeks to set conflicting meanings of modernity in relation and perspective by understanding media as an increasingly contested resource in different South Asian countries.We thus invite contributions that explore the complex and contradictory relationship between media and modernity under diverse historical, political and legal conditions. Suggestions for topics include:
– Use of media technologies by (Identity & Non-Identity based) social and religious movements and political organisations
– Visions and construction of techno-mediated futures by government agencies though various campaigns (Smart Cities, UID, eGovernance)
– Design of media regulation by South Asian governments
– Relationship between modern media and violence across South Asia
– Relational & representational dynamics of class, caste, ethnicity, religion and gender across media (employment) in South Asia
– Location of media in the mainstream, middle-class oriented discourses on modernity
– Resistance to the modernity spawned/espoused by global media in South Asian contexts
Panel 4. Staging Marriage and Modernity among the Middle classes in South Asia
Chair: Ajay Bailey, University of Groningen, The Netherlands & Dr. Anindita Datta, Univeristy of Delhi, India
Abstract: In this panel we invite papers that seek to explore expressions of modernity through changing marriage practices among the middle class in S Asia. While modernity might involve the renegotiation of the gendered scripts within marriage, we focus here on the actual event and the ways in which this is being staged to express an aspirational modernity among the middle classes.  We argue that the boom in ICT has created new spaces of meeting and whetting potential partners and long distance relationships. Similarly the modernizing versus appropriating influences on marriage rituals and ceremonies through the hegemonising influences of media and popular culture cannot be overstated. We are interested also in the manner in which this staging of marriage as a spectacle has fueled a local political economy related to the marriage event. Within these broad themes we are interested to map the various regional or gendered marriage practices, the spaces over which marriage related modernities are enacted or contested and the meaning these hold for middleclass households and their kin networks. Finally we ask if these exaggerated and ostentatious displays of tradition could be read as hybridization of modernity and equally also as an implicit form of cultural resistance associated with the adoption of so called western lifestyles in everyday life.Sub themes thus include
(i) changing views on marriage as a life event among young people
(ii) social media and matrimonial sites as new spaces for partner selection
(iii) marriage as a spectacle, commodification of marriage rituals and emergence of designer marriages
(iv) erosion of regional practices, homogenization and bollywoodisation  of marriage ceremonies
(v) political economy of the marriage industry
(vi)gendered readings of middle class marriage ceremonies
Panel 5. The Transformation of Caste
Chairs: Winnie Bothe and Staffan Lindberg, Lund University
Abstract: In 2016 the Indian civil and political society mobilized itself around the suicide of a Dalit activist and PhD, Rohith Vemula, who in his suicide note asserted: ‘My birth is my fatal accident’. Caste is still an organizing principle of Indian society. But it is also the most contentious and contested category in Indian politics. It begs the question as to how we should understand and analyse caste in ‘modern’ times. Caste is usually viewed as a ‘traditional’ category ascribed to India’s ancient history. Tradition, however, takes on new meanings when reproduced in a ‘modern’ context. Although caste hierarchies find an amorphous legitimacy in Hinduism, these change dramatically as they melt together with ‘modern’ institutions of capitalism and democracy. These institutions have not, as predicted, eradicated caste, but their forms and expressions change. Caste, it is argued, is increasingly becoming a ‘modern’ political identity category. However, identities are not free of a material reality. The resilience of caste in contemporary India can be ascribed to struggles over the symbolic value in the social field, which provides the individuals with access to professional networks, educational opportunities and economic resources. As caste becomes part of the symbolic and material battles over identity politics, it is transformed and finds new expressions and meanings. This raises the pertinent question: Is caste, despite predictions to the opposite, consolidated as an organizing principle of social order? Presenters are expected to address one or more of these issues:
1)     How are caste identities reconfigured by ‘modern’ identity politics. Eg. political struggles over the meaning of Hinduism – such as Vemula’s suicide or the ban of Doninger’s book (attached).
2)     How is caste reproduced to fit the structures of the neo-liberal economy. Eg. how the symbolic value of the caste name is used to advance economic, social and cultural capital.
3)     How do Dalits seek to advance their symbolic value? Eg. by asserting their pride in their historical background (Ambedkar, saints, gurus and heroes) and symbolism (icons) – or by concealing their identity.
Panel 6. Youthful modernities: negotiating with the past, the present and the future
Chairs: Ravinder Kaur, Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, India, Sanolde Desai,University of Maryland, USA & Rajni Palriwala, University of Delhi, India
Abstract: India is poised to become the world’s youngest country by 2020, with an average age of 29 years.  Other countries in South Asia, too, are demographically ‘young’.  Thus, a significant proportion of the population consists of young people who are negotiating ‘traditions’ of various sorts in various domains of social life – sexuality, family, marriage, education, work, caste, religion and political beliefs and practices – on an everyday basis.  Equally, ideas around trust, faith, loyalty, duty, money and love are being questioned and reworked.  The  experience of colonialism is abstract, but not that of  identity-based and other violence.  Simultaneously, the availability of modern mediated technologies allows people greater exposure to the rest of the world, giving rise to new dreams and imaginings and yet these are often constrained by what are extant but shifting systems of caste, class, ethnicity and gender. Modernity is thus being experienced in diverse and multiple registers and fashioned through appropriation, domestication and contestation of technologies, ideas and practices. The panellists will explore how modernity is selectively understood and deployed by Indians in building their futures.
Panel 7. Women and Gender in South Asian Modernity: Vulnerabilities and Violence
Chair: Ulrika Andersson, Lund University, Nishi Mitra, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Anna Lindberg, Lund University 
Abstract: There are momentous changes in geographies ,economies ,societies , law, politics, and popular culture that define gender and its expressions in modern day South Asia . Globalisation  and resistance to these changes  are one set of factors defining the women’s movements in  the region. Others are  our persistent struggles with caste, class, religion and other traditional patriarchies that intersect with gender to define women’s  lived experiences of interlocking vulnerabilities and violence. For women and other marginalized genders   in many parts of South Asia, the experience of  modernity   even when  extraneous, colonialist ,non compatible with indigenous social structures  and culture, is  attractive .  It makes  for new possibilities  of contestations, negotiations and adaptations in re-articulating gender relations  in private and public domains. Women are breaking boundaries and enhancing their representation in all aspects of public life. Contestations are inherently violent and negotiations  imply critique, complicity and counter-violence . New adaptations make for complex interpretations of women’s agency and impotency. Fragments of  tradition and selectively appropriated elements of western modernity define the cultural landscape on which the drama of new gender relations is played out. This period on the one hand  expands the possibilities for women and other suppressed genders but simultaneously makes for new discriminations, marginalization and struggles . The varied demands made on  women from co-existing  traditions and modernity, old and new world views make for unease and tension and new forms of violence . Fragmentation of the domestic and the community,  increased commodification and objectification,  expanding markets and new forms of political governance,  all make for many changes in lifestyles and consciousness but patriarchy is resilient. Hybrid and more fluid forms of social and public reorganization  mask their conflict ridden genesis  in such aspects still highly marked by tradition as for example gender roles and gender relations in families ,children’s socialization in schools and homes, media representations ,sexual divisions of labour  and leadership in workplaces, increasing inequalities of wealth and resources  and male dominated social networks, ideologies  and politics. This panel invites papers reflecting on rapid social changes in South Asia: how these are impacting vulnerabilities of men, women and other genders and how they make for new transgressions, freedoms –-or new forms of violence .

Upcoming deadlines

  • April 30, 2016: Deadline papers (abstracts) | SASNET now invites papers for the panels listed above. Abstracts should be between 200-300 words and include a bibliography incl. institutional affiliation of max. 100 words. Paper submissions should be received no later than April 30 2016 at conference@sasnet.lu.se. Information about limited travel expenses for exceptional contributions will be announced shortly.
  • May 15, 2016: Selection of papers
  • August 30, 2016: Deadline full papers

Conference fees

The conference fee for regular participants will be 500 SEK or 55 Euro. For participants that like to attend the closing dinner on the 22nd of September the total fee will be 1000 SEK or 110 euro. More information will follow.

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