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Counter-mapping the self: agency and history in South Asia

Date: 14 March 2008 Time: 9.30am-6.00pm

Fourth symposium of the South Asian Studies in the North Network (SASIN)

14 March 2008

Lecture Theatre 9 and B108, Management School , Lancaster University

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A one-day symposium which considers anthropological, religious and political approaches to history, agency and selfhood in South Asia.

A limited number of bursaries are available to postgraduate students. Support for (cheap) travel and accommodation will be given on a first-come, first-served basis. Interested postgraduates should apply to Nayanika Mookherjee (

Counter-mapping the Self: Agency and History in South Asia seeks to decentre prevalent understanding of 'South Asian' personhood by exploring how the idea of the self straddles the individual and the collective. Predominantly, South Asian personhood is comprehended only through various collective categories like gender, kinship, religion, caste, community. The idea of the self on the other hand, is perceived to be a product of an individualised western, rational modernity creating a bounded, unique and integrated person. Recently various scholars have tried a forge an alternative model of selfhood while others have argued that individuals in South Asia have 'lost' 'recovered' or 'partitioned' their self under the impact of colonialism and a Western-oriented modernity. Though located primarily in the zones of psychoanalysis and psychology, studies of perception and cognition, ideas of the self can reveal the unconscious structures of collective registers which are interwoven with it. The idea of the self becomes particularly pertinent in the context of the shifting socio-political and economic terrains of contemporary South Asia. As a result,

Are South Asian people distinctive individuals, with particular personalities? Or are they more representatives of their culture?

Are South Asians dividual, comprised of multiple selves?

Which notions of selfhood are privileged over another, when and by whom?

What is the relationship between self and performance?

Or is there a 'true' self behind the performance?

Is the self all about representation?

What is the politics of representing the self?

These questions relate to concerns which have vexed social sciences and humanities for decades: what should be the relationship between the 'self' and the 'other'? How would the self be understood when it is negatively validated, i.e. if it is understood from the point of view of the 'other'? These interrogative counter-mappings elucidate the limits of Europe's appropriation of the universal and allow the possibilities of various genres of post-colonialisms which have to do with the agencies and histories of the post-imperial world. In this conference the idea of the self, as the imaginary register which consist of identifications, narratives, formulations and images that serve the notion of the individual, is explored through various ethnographical, philosophical, historical, political, legal and religio-ethical texts, instances and pronouncements as well as through life histories, novels, films, theatre and performance. Exploring and counter-mapping the selves of contemporary South Asian subjectivities and their changing social organisations becomes significant within the shifting contexts of economic liberalization, migration, violent conflicts, consumerism, new media and the role of transnationally affiliated groups in challenging/reifying static and essentialising definitions of the self.


9.15 - 9.45 tea and coffee (served in B108)

9.45 - 11.45 Chair: David Smith (Religious Studies)

Prof. Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad, Religious Studies, Lancaster University. 'Are South Asians individuals? Reconsidering the theorisation of the self'.

Dr Shruti Kapila, Department of History, Cambridge University. 'Governments of the Mind: The Politics of Loss and Selfhood in Colonial India'.

Prof. Majid Siddiqi, Nehru Memorial Library, New Delhi. 'Universal selves in the culture of imperial and colonial India'.

11.45 - 12.00 tea and coffee (served in B108)

12.00 - 1.15 Chair: Nayanika Mookherjee (Sociology)

Prof. Nivedita Menon, Department of Political Science, Delhi University. 'Travelling Feminisms'.

Prof. Pnina Werbner, Social Anthropology, School of Social Relations, Keele University. 'Beyond Division: Women, Pilgrimage and Nation Building in Pakistani Sufism'.

1.15 - 2.15 lunch (served in B108)

2.15 - 3.30 Chair: Graham Chapman (Geography)

Dr Sumon Ghosh, Department of Humanities, University of Central Lancashire. 'Apu and the 'independence' of the Self'

Prof. Ralph Yarrow, Department of Literature and Creative Writing, University of East Anglia. 'Multiple Transformational Acting: theatre and the re-performance of self in India'.

3.30 - 4.00 - tea and coffee (served in B108)

4.00 - 6.00 Chair: Amalendu Misra (Politics)

Dr Alex Padamsee, Department of English, University of Kent. 'The Rhetoric of Loss in Ahmed Ali's Twilight in Delhi'.

Dr Tahmima Anam, Anthropologist and novelist (A Golden Age, 2007). 'History's Fictions: Writing the National in Post-Independence Bangladesh'.

Prof. Jonathan Spencer, Department of Anthropology, University of Edinburgh. 'A certain gesture: Further reflections on the murder of Sivaram'.

The symposium is being supported by theBritish Academy, the Friends Programme and the Departments of Sociology, History and Theatre Studies at Lancaster University.

For further details, please contact Deborah Sutton, Department of History, or Nayanika Mookherjee, Department of Sociology.

To register your intention to attend email Ruth Love:

For details of how to reach Lancaster University and the Management School see:

We have prepared a list of some of the accommodation available in Lancaster.


Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad, Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Lancaster University, works on Indian and comparative epistemology, metaphysics and philosophy of religion; religion and politics, especially foreign policy; South Asian religious identities in contemporary Britain; the conceptual sources of modern Hindu life and beliefs. His books include Knowledge and Liberation in Classical Indian Thought, Advaita Epistemology and Metaphysics: An Outline of Indian Non-Realism, Eastern Philosophy, India: Life, Myth and Art and Indian Philosophy and the Consequences of Knowledge: Themes in metaphysics, ethics and soteriology.

Professor Majid Siddiqi is a Research Fellow at the Nehru Memorial Library, and, until 2006, was a Professor of Modern Indian History at the Centre for Historical Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University. His book, Agrarian Unrest in North India: The United Provinces, 1918-22, was a landmark text in the study of peasant resistance in South Asia and is shortly to be republished by Social Science Press in October this year. He currently works on petitions and petition writing in colonial South Asia.

Dr. Shruti Kapila is University Lecturer in History and fellow of Corpus Christi College Cambridge. Primarily working on modern intellectual and cultural history in its global imperial contexts and especially political thought, anti-imperialism, science, race and psychoanalysis, and Foucault's effects on the writing of colonial history. She has published in edited collections, peer reviewed journals like Past and Present, Modern Asian Studies, edited a Special Issue on 'An Intellectual History for India' in Modern Intellectual History and her forthcoming book is titled Governments of the Mind: The Self and its Sciences in Modern India.

Professor Nivedita Menon is a political theorist, based at the University of Delhi, whose work on contemporary politics in India has focused mainly on feminist politics. She has also written on secularism in India. Her publications include the edited volumes, Gender and Politics in India and Sexualities and Recovering Subversion: Feminist Politics Beyond the Law and Power and Contestation: India Since 1989.

Professor Pnina Werbner is a social anthropologist who has studied South Asian Muslims in Britain and in Pakistan. Her fields of interest include urbansim, ritual and religion, cultural politics and nationalism and racism. Her publications include: 'The Manchester Migration Trilogy' [The Migration Process: Capital, Gifts and Offerings among British Pakistanis (1990, 2002), Imagined Diasporas among Manchester Muslims (2002) and Pilgrims of Love: the Anthropology of a Global Sufi Cult (2003)]. Edited collections include Debating Cultural Hybridity and The Politics of Multiculturalism in the New Europe (1997), Embodying Charisma: Modernity, Locality and the Performance of Emotion in Sufi Cults (1998), Women, Citizenship and Difference, (1999).

Dr Sumon Ghosh is lecturer in Culture, Communication and Media at the University of Central Lancashire. He has worked and written extensively on the films of Satyajit Ray.

Ralph Yarrow, Professor of Drama and Comparative Literature at the University of East Anglia, has worked extensively on, and in, Indian theatre. He has written and acted on theatre in English, French and German. His research has included work on fantasy theory, reception theory, performance theory, improvisation, Modernism and Postmodernism. His books include Indian Theatre: theatre of origin, theatre of freedom.

Dr Alex Padamsee is a lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Kent. His main areas of interest have included South Asian literature in English and in translation (and the relations between them), colonial discourse analysis as an interdisciplinary field, psychoanalytic theory on the formation and maintenance of social ideologies, the writings of British men and women in India in the nineteenth century, Partition texts, and the literature and historiography of the 1857 'Mutiny'.

Tahmima Anam's debut novel, A Golden Age (2007 John Murray), on the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971, was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award and Guardian First Book Prize (for reviews please see Her writing has appeared in The New Statesman, Granta Magazine, the New York Times, and the Guardian. She attended Harvard University and in 2005 earned a PhD in Social Anthropology on Habitations of Memory in Post-Independence Bangladesh.

Jonathan Spencer is Professor of the Anthropology of South Asia at the University of Edinburgh. He currently writes on ethnic conflict, political violence and political non-violence. He has just completed a book on the anthropology of 'the political' in South Asia (Anthropology, Politics and the State: Democracy and Violence in South Asia, 2007) and is writing up research on the production and reproduction of British anthropologists.

For further details of previous SASIN events see:

SASIN is an academic network formed in 2005 to encourage collaboration and contact between colleagues working on South Asia from institutions in the north of England. Participating institutions so far include the universities of Lancaster, Leeds, Keele, Manchester, Central Lancashire, Durham and Sheffield. Conferences are hosted every six months by participating institutions and are organized around distinct themes, nominated by the host institution, to which both internal and external participants speak.


Who can attend: Anyone


Further information

Organising departments and research centres: History, Sociology


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