Re-Imagining Theory Conference in Goa

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    Gaurav G. Desai

    XVII International Conference
    (A Silver Jubilee Event of the Forum on Contemporary Theory)

    Jointly Organized by
    The Forum on Contemporary Theory, Baroda
    The International Lincoln Centre for American Studies
    Louisiana State University, Shreveport, USA

    Re-Imagining Theory:
    Towards New Horizons in the Humanities and the Social Sciences

    21-24 December 2014

    International Centre, Goa


    R. Radhakrishnan
    Chancellor’s Professor of English and Comparative Literature
    University of California at Irvine, USA

    Centre for Contemporary Theory
    C-304, Siddhi Vinayak Complex
    Behind Baroda Railway Station (Alkapuri Side)Faramji Road, Baroda – 390007
    Tel: 0265 – 2320870

    The seventeenth International Conference of the Forum on Contemporary Theory will be held in Goa from the 21st to the 24th of December 2014 at the International Centre in collaboration with the International Lincoln Centre for American Studies, Louisiana State University in Shreveport, USA. The theme of the conference is: “Re-Imagining Theory: Towards New Horizons in the Humanities and the Social Sciences.”

    Thematic Introduction
    “In theory”: a strange phrase that asserts as much as it disavows. Take for example, statements such as, “It works, in theory,” or “It should have worked, in theory,” or “We won the argument, in theory,” or “They were free, in theory.” In all of these locutions, theory is coordinated either as a space where nothing real, historical, or empirical can happen; or as a non-space where something can and does happen but in a mode that is thoroughly unverifiable, not demonstrable. Theory comes out as its own solipsistic terrain. When something has worked in theory, has it worked or not; and who was the witness? The predicament of theory here resembles the conundrum: if a tree fell in a forest and there was nobody there to hear it fall, did the tree make a noise? The temporality of theory, or to put it differently, the epistemic spatiality of theory comes across as an excrescence, a post-script, a form of redundancy, a flourish of pure gratuity. Theory seems to evade, or elide the empirical in the form of a nameless and a non-attributable asset or debit. To be situated “in theory” is not consonant with being situated “in reality,” “in experience,” or “in history.” Theory, it appears, will not consent to be in sync with practice. Is this true? Perhaps, it is not all that great or desirable to be in sync with practice. Has it not been the mandate of theory to perennially question any facile understanding of the relationship of praxis to knowledge, and in the process, initiate a second-order mode of analysis and interrogation that seeks to change the very game that is being played? Doesn’t theory also carry with it forever the scar of crisis and in the process morph into critical theory by way of suggesting that there is no sovereign separation between so-called crisis and so-called normalcy? Has it not been the role and the responsibility of theory to alienate and defamiliarize reality as status quo and initiate that other temporality to come in a spirit of critical utopianism? Hasn’t the other-wordliness of theory been both gift as well as bane? Hasn’t theory functioned as a rigorous way of saying No in thunder to any extant reality in the hope that the crescendo of nay-saying will perhaps one day turn into a joyous Aye in affirmation? Or, perhaps the real task is to keep the affirmation forever deferred, forever different.

    On the one hand, there is the expectation that theory should “let reality be” in a spirit of non-invasive non-anthropocentric eco-sensitivity; but on the other hand, there is the imperative to transform the world via theoretical knowledge in the name of the human hegemon. On the one hand, there is the requirement that theory be available as forms and practices of instrumentalization; but on the other hand, theory is called upon to function as a radical critique of instrumental reason. Depending on how one views it, theory is crippled by/ profoundly enabled by a chronic double-consciousness. The world is either too much or too little with theory with the result that in the endeavor to speak for or represent the world, theory often ends up in the nebulous zone of post-representation.

    But what exactly is theory, and what is theoretical thinking? What role does it or should it play in the Humanities and the Social Sciences? Is theory redundant? Is theory an arid meta-discourse that has nothing to say about the ebbs and flows of lived life? Many of the recent criticisms of theory have to do not so much with the agency of theory, but with the relentless professionalization of theory. Theory as expertise has become inaccessible to common and populist modes of understanding. Theory in this sense seems to have widened the gap between general forms of knowledge and specialist modes that are deeply invested in their specific methodologies and discursive jargon. In a strange irony, theory, in the very name of knowledge, seems to have initiated and perpetuated a chronic gap between “the knows” and “the know-nots.” Is theory elitist or democratic? What is its relationship to “subjugated knowledges?” Has theory been reified into monadic silos, or to avail of Edward Said’s memorable phrasing, professional “fiefdoms,” immured hermetically as “wall to wall discourse?” Said’s concern was to make theory worldly by detaching critical consciousness from the seductions of systemic thinking. His exilic-oppositional project was to relocate the protean energies and flows of critical thinking between Culture and System.

    This Call for Papers is intended very much in the Saidian spirit of opening up the Social Sciences and the Humanities to a critique that is simultaneously internal and external. What are the possibilities of realizing theory as immanent critique? What is the nature of theory’s accountability both to itself and the world that it seeks to understand and re-present? In the name of what does theory speak? How does theory have to be revitalized so that it can function as an oppositional critique informed by the imperative to “speak Truth to Power,” rather than as an indifferent self-replicating system that reiterates “business as usual?” To echo Raymond Williams, how should theory be realized both as project and as formation, i.e., as a way of thinking and doing that in being self-reflexive is always in tune with “the constitutive outside?” The Social Sciences and the Humanities have the unique obligation “to always historicize” and “to always theorize,” and in the process produce new ways of understanding how history and theory, existence and the Cogito interrupt and interrogate each other.

    Perhaps the time has come to re-theorize theory. Perhaps, new languages, or counter or anti-languages, or even forms of silence and attention need to be invented and imagined in response to a rapidly changing multi-form world. It is heartening to witness the emergence of new horizons, paradigms, and constellations. Ecocriticism, in conjunction with Animal Studies, Post-humanism, and critiques of Anthropocentrism, has gone a long way in interrogating the sovereignty of the human as hegemon. The “Oceanic turn” is reshaping the nature of place and region in the Humanities and the Social Sciences. Voices of the South have been de- and re-territorializing the scope and nature of globality and worldliness. Pre-modern and Early modern formations are presenting themselves the pre-existing and precedent forms of a belated and anachronistic postmodernism. Worldviews of Faith and Reason are seeking common ground hoping in the process to go beyond the poverty of “minimal rationality.” Trenchant studies of precarity and vulnerability in the context of worldwide immiseration by neoliberalism have demonstrated the “cruelty of optimism.” The populist energies of Occupy Movements all over the world have been “preferring not to,” and saying No in thunder to the depredations of finance capitalism. Gay and lesbian movements and queer phenomenologies have disavowed the very notion of “the future” in a gesture of radical secession from a nation-centric heteronormativity. Discourses of Afro-pessimism have been theorizing the discontinuity as well as the unspeakability of the black body within Eurocentric thought and opening up a different “ontological reach” on an-other register. Palestinian scholars, writers, and activists have been engaging in a complex contrapuntal dialog with Zionism, seeking the integrity of reciprocal recognition. Dalit movements in India have revolutionized cosmopolitanism and the nature of Home and World in new languages and accents. The polemically fraught conversations between secularism and post-secularism have opened up a tenuous epistemic space of belonging and non-belonging, of filiation and affiliation, of solidarity and critique. The nation state and its sovereignty remain strong politically even as their epistemological claims have long since been deconstructed. Trans-national feminisms are re-constellating “the politics of intersectionality” in critical response to a world that is structured in dominance, not uniformly but differentially in a variety of contradictory and over-determined sites. These are but a few instances of the ongoing dialectical exchanges between “the world as theory” and “theory as world.”

    The papers presented at this conference, we hope, will examine the ways in which “theory” might be made to work in the Social Sciences and the Humanities to imagine new registers of meaning between the academy and the world, between theory and its object, between theory and its subject.

    Special Session
    A plenary session of the conference will be devoted to a close reading of B. R. Ambedkar’s 1936 text Annihilation of Caste. However, this close reading is expected to take into account the immediate political and social context in which it was written and circulated, and our own context now when the question of caste has reinvigorated our political discourse. By re-issuing the text recently with a long introduction by Arundhati Roy, Navayana Publishers have brought to our attention that Hinduism with its entrenched caste system still continues to be the Achilles heel in the charged debates about our identity as a nation. Gandhi’s reaction after reading the text that “no Hindu who prizes his faith above life itself can afford to underrate the importance of this indictment” is an invitation to engage with it with an open mind so that Ambedkar’s views on caste as an ubiquitous “monster” may be analyzed more thoroughly through rhetorical readings of the shastras and the Vedas which Ambedkar holds responsible for polluting the Indian mind. Ambedkar, though severely critical of Gandhi’s notion of freedom, inadvertently or otherwise, returns, almost in a Freudian mode of “transference” to Gandhi’s trope of “swaraj” at the end of his own essay, which is reminiscent of Hind Swaraj. One should therefore read Annihilation of Caste as a complement to Hind Swaraj in addressing the issue of what a new and free India should look like. Ambedkar’s central thesis is that by achieving only political and economic independence India will not be a free nation. Unless and until the caste system is abolished by means of a social revolution India will continue to live in internal subjugation. “In the fight for swaraj, you fight with the whole nation on your side” sounds quintessentially Gandhian, even as it complicates and problematizes Gandhian assumptions of the undivided plenitude of India as a nation. A conjunctural reading of Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste and Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj, two paradigmatic texts, both timely and timeless in their vision, has much to contribute to our understanding of contemporary India, its hopes as well as anxieties.

    Submission Deadline
    500-word abstract or proposal is due by August 31, 2014. The abstract should have a title for the presentation along with the name and institutional affiliation of the presenter and should be mailed as an email attachment to R. Radhakrishnan, the Convener of the Conference (, with a copy marked to Prafulla Kar ( Complete papers should be limited to 12 pages (approximately 20 minutes of reading time). A longer version may be submitted for possible publication in the Journal of Contemporary Thought or in the conference volume brought out by the Forum. The completed paper should reach the Convener of the Conference by November 15, 2014.

    Conference Volume
    Select papers from the conference and from those submitted in response to the “Call for Papers” will be included in the conference volume. Completed papers for the conference volume should reach the Conference Convener as email attachments by April 10, 2015.
    Registration Deadline
    The last date for receiving the registration fee is September 20, 2014. The fee may be paid through a bank draft drawn in favor of Forum on Contemporary Theory payable in Baroda. Overseas participants may pay through checks drawn in favor of Forum on Contemporary Theory. The amount should be sent to the Forum’s address mentioned on this leaflet. We encourage the participants to register early so that their accommodation is secured at the International Centre, Goa where the conference would be held. Those who pay late will be accommodated in other hotels or in the University Guesthouse. All participants need to be pre-registered. The registration fee is non-refundable. Each participant will share the room with another participant. The following are the details of the registration fee:

    1. Participant from India (life member of the Forum) Rs. 6000/
    2. Participant from India (non-member) Rs. 8000/
    3. Overseas Participant (non-SAARC country) US $500/
    4. Overseas Participant (SAARC country) US $250/
    5. Local Participant (non-member) Rs.4000/
    6. Local Participant (life member of the Forum) Rs.2500/

    The registration fee from the outstation participant will take care of board and lodging from the afternoon of the 21st to lunch time on the 24th December 2014. The checking out time is: 12 noon. The participants should arrive in the afternoon on the 21st and stay on until the end of the conference on the 24th. The conference will begin at about 9 am on the 22nd December and end with lunch on the 24th. The 21st afternoon could be utilized for local sightseeing.

    Convener of the Conference
    R. Radhakrishnan, Chancellor’s Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Irvine, is a globally prominent postcolonial theorist and cultural critic. His works include Diasporic Mediations: Between Home and Location (University of Minnesota Press, 1996), Theory in an Uneven World (Blackwell, 2003), Between Identity and Location: The Cultural Politics of Theory (Orient Longman, India, 2007), History, the Human, and the World Between (Duke University Press, 2008), and Edward Said: A Dictionary (Wiley/Blackwell, 2012). He is also the editor/coeditor of Theory as Variation (Pencraft International, 2007), Transnational South Asians: The Making of a Neo Diaspora (with Susan Koshy, Oxford University Press, 2008), Theory After Derrida (with Kailash Baral, Routledge 2009), and guest editor of a recent special issue of Modern Fiction Studies: “Modernism and Politics.” Author of a volume of poems in Tamizh, Negizschhi Oru Nigazcchi Alla, he is also the translator of contemporary Tamizh fiction into English. Winner of a number of fellowships including the Fulbright, he has published extensively in academic journals and collections of essays. His next forthcoming volume is a collection of essays, When is the Political? He is currently editing a special issue of The Journal of Contemporary Thought, “Speaking Truth to Power.”

    Keynote Speakers
    Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak is University Professor, Columbia University, New York City. She translated Jacques Derrida’s De la grammatologie in 1976. She has translated fiction and 18th century poetry from Bengali. She has been training teachers for primary education in western West Bengal since 1986. She received the Kyoto Prize in Arts and Philosophy in the field of Thought and Ethics in 2012. She received the Padma Bhushan, a civilian honor awarded by the President of the Republic of India, in 2013. Her works include In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics (1987), Outside in the Teaching Machine (1993), A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Towards a History of the Vanishing Present (1999), Death of a Discipline (2003), Other Asias (2005) and An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization (2012). Readings is in press with Seagull. Du Bois at Large will be published by Harvard next year.
    The title of her keynote address is: “Theory as Practice.”

    Arjun Appadurai is the Goddard Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University. He is a prominent contemporary social-cultural anthropologist, having formerly served as Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs at The New School in NYC. He has held various professorial chairs and visiting appointments at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Chicago, Yale University, and The New School University. In addition, he is a founding editor of Public Culture, one of the most influential cross-disciplinary journals, and has served on several scholarly and advisory bodies in the United States, Latin America, Europe and India. His books include Fear of Small Numbers (Duke UP, 2006), Globalization (Duke UP, 2001), Modernity at Large (U. Minnesota, 1996), The Social Life of Things (Cambridge UP, 1986), Worship and Conflict Under Colonial Rule: A South Indian Case (Cambridge UP, 1981), and The Future as Cultural Fact: Essays on the Global Condition (Cambridge University Press, 2014). The nature and significance of his contributions throughout his academic career have earned him the reputation as a leading figure in his fields. He is a Senior Advisor to the Forum on Contemporary Theory. The title of his keynote address is: “The Failure of Theory and a Theory of Failure.”

    Conference Location
    Goa is an important state in India of historical, religious, and educational significance. It is famous for its old churches, temples, beautiful beaches and pleasant climate.

    For further information any of the following may be contacted:
    Prafulla C. Kar
    Convener, Forum on Contemporary Theory, Baroda
    Tel: 0265-2338067 (R) (0265) 2320870 (O)

    R. Radhakrishnan
    Convener of the Conference
    Chancellor’s Professor of English and Comparative Literature
    The University of California, Irvine

    William D. Pederson
    Conference Coordinator
    Professor of Political Science, the American Studies Endowed Chair, and the Director of the International Lincoln Center at Louisiana State University, Shreveport, USA

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