Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Kultur-, Sozial- und Bildungswissenschaftliche Fakultät - Institut für Asien- und Afrikawissenschaften

Call for Papers: Transformations of ‘the Political’

24 - 25th June, 2016: Young South Asia Scholars Meet (Y-SASM), CeMIS, Gottingen

Next 'Young South Asia Scholars Meet' at Institut für Asien- und Afrikawissenschaften, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, after the second one in May 2011.


Since 2010, Y-SASM has aimed to provide a platform for interdisciplinary exchange among junior scholars in the field of South Asian Studies, including PhD students, advanced MA/MPhil students, early career Post-Docs and non-tenured faculty staff. While contributions from other places are welcome the main idea is to strengthen the South Asia network within Europe (


The theme of this year’s workshop will be the ‘political’. Existing political movements, whether for or against broader issues of globalisation, capitalism, development, democracy, growth, governance, infrastructure, knowledge production, worker welfare, gender, inequality, education and caste for example, force us not only to rethink politics and political performance, but also the ‘political’ itself. How do we think of the ‘political’ after the demise of the notion of the ‘pure political’? In the 1980s scholars called for a return to politics and sought to define the ‘political’ in opposition to the ‘social’ and the ‘economic’. This understanding of the ‘pure political’ was critiqued by scholars who argued for a broadened understanding of the political in order to include claims raised by those usually seen as part of ‘non-political’ spheres. Hence questions of inclusion and exclusion, i.e. access to political power, unavoidably arise in connection to the political.


At the same time, the ‘political’ was also defined as distinct from mere ‘politics’ or ‘police’/’policy’ (state institutions and their practices). Workers’ protests, peasants  and tribal movements, Dalits’ and women’s struggles or other mass actions were seen as part of the broader domain of the political though often subtly distinguished from politics proper by being labelled as ‘pre-political’, ‘apolitical’ or ‘anti-political’, for instance. The cultural and textual turn widened our understanding of such subaltern action and speech, but at the same time the focus from the ‘political’ receded.


This workshop seeks to bring together ongoing scholarly reflections on these multiple articulations of the ‘political’, shaped intimately by ‘located histories’ but connected to broader issues of conceptual and material transformations within the rapidly  changing global environment.


Topics to be discussed include, but are not limited to:


1. State and Governance: State power has been thought of variously as the state in practice, the product of political philosophies, an ensemble of institutions and the monopoly of legitimate violence. How do people’s actions subject, transform, and define state practices and vice versa? What, in fact, is the relation between the state and power? Which concepts of ‘the state’ are helpful for us? What ethics, morals, ideologies, and practical concerns have defined the visions of the state and forms of governance in South Asia and how have they shifted over time? We invite papers that look, for instance, at the relationship between

people and state institutions, the limits of state power and the role of non-state actors, or analyse the relationship of state power with different ideologies such as welfarism, populism, liberalism, neo-liberalism and laissez-faire within the South Asian context.




  1. Politics of Knowledge Production: Knowledge production has been central to both the emergence and exercise of power and politics. The way knowledge is produced, collected, interpreted, codified, and catalogued has not only defined the fate of empires but also of the concerned people whether ruler or ruled. For example, knowledge of history not only constitutes identities (of nations, races, castes etc.), rethinking and rewriting history refashions those identities. Under this rubric, we invite researchers who explore history writing both academic and popular, textbook production, censoring of texts, etc.




  1. Political Performance: Performance is an essential part of political representation at different levels, including campaigning and movements using certain symbols and slogans. Performative art (theatre, movies, etc.), can also have political or ‘anti-political’ messages which shape public opinion. There are, moreover, less obvious spheres in which performance plays an important role. If, for instance, we understand bureaucratic procedures as ‘performance’, how does the performance of administrative officers shape how people think of ‘the state’ and relate to it? Including these and other possible arenas, the workshop will engage with questions of what our analysis of the political can gain from closer engagements with performance as a lens of examination.




  1. Development and Dissent: Development has been a key term defining both the state’s imperatives and popular expressions in post-colonial South Asia. While its form has been fought over bitterly; its presence and power in discourses concerning the production of urban infrastructure, resource extraction through Special Economic Zones, poverty alleviation programmes and new ‘welfare’ measures such as the restructuring of the public distribution system and primary education have been continuous and insistent.




  1. Labouring Lives and the Politics of Labour: Labour politics and the position of labourers has radically transformed and shifted both in South Asia and worldwide. ‘The demise of labour politics’ resonates both in workers’ actions and in academic writings. Does the decline of trade unions and in the visible presence of working class politics or the rise of precarious informal labour really mean the demise of labour as proclaimed in academic writings? Or has labour politics shifted to other arenas such as the  recent  sanitation workers strike in New Delhi? Amongst other themes, we invite papers on contemporary worker politics, the ways labouring classes make their presence visible in public, and the blurring of boundaries between home and work, as well as between worker politics and other political formations.


  1. Contested cultures: Culture is often seen as belonging to the sphere of society and as distinct from ‘the political’ and matters of the state. To rethink the relation of these spheres, the workshop offers a platform to discuss questions such as: Is culture produced by the state? Or are states, on the contrary, effects of cultural processes? Are they separate at all, and can culture be confined to the realm of society? Amongst a huge range of different concepts of culture, which help us best to analyse transformations of the political? The debate could gain from exemplary examinations of cultural patterns and processes as well as of political and institutional cultures.


Application and Contact


We ask accepted presenters to provide a written version of their paper in advance so that commentators can prepare substantial feedback and look for fruitful ways to bring insights together. Papers will be also pre-circulated among the participants to facilitate exchange during the meeting. We hope that such a podium can enrich individual studies, broaden research scope and provide participants and attendees with ideas for further scholarly projects.


Please send your application, including an abstract of 300 words together with a short CV to by 30th September, 2015. Please be aware that while we aim to secure funding, we are unable at this time to guarantee any support to participants with regard to travel and accommodation costs.