The Politics of Poverty and the Politics of the Poor in Modern South Asia

Call for Papers for a Workshop, CeMIS, Goettingen, Germany, 6-8 July 2011

This is to announce the CeMIS History Research Group's second international workshop "The politics of poverty and the politics of the poor in modern South Asia", which will be held in Goettingen from 6 to 8 July 2011. We would be grateful if you forwarded it to colleagues who work on related issues. We hope for a good mix of experienced and younger researchers (including advanced PhD students) and encourage applications from across the social sciences.

Call for Papers: International Workshop, Centre for Modern Indian Studies (CeMIS), University of Goettingen, Germany, 6-8 July, 2011

The Politics of Poverty and the Politics of the Poor in Modern South Asia

This workshop, organised by the History Research Group of the Centre for Modern Indian Studies in Goettingen, proposes an exploration of two closely interlaced dimensions of colonial and post-colonial South Asian history: the 'politics of poverty' and 'the politics of the poor'. We conceptualise 'the politics of poverty' as a rubric that encompasses the diverse ways in which questions of social deprivation have historically become part of the political calculus of state and dominant social forces - the ways, in other words, 'the poor' have, through shifting social identifications and policies, become central to projects of social control. 'The politics of the poor', on the other hand, suggests forms of political action and self-organization that have emerged from within the spaces and life-worlds of the disempowered and the exploited. The first rubric invites accounts of regulation, the second invites accounts of self-assertion: the first, so to speak, is top-down, whereas t!
he latter surveys the relationships between different social blocs, dominant and subordinate, 'from below'. To consider the worlds of social policy and the self-assertions of the poor as part of a common domain alerts us to the fact that structures of social domination have been subject to radical historical change as they have confronted questions of poverty, and that the 'politics of the poor', equally, have not been free of complex entanglements with supervening regimes of socio-political power.

Our workshop invites papers that consider the interlacing of these dimensions in specific historical and contemporary contexts. As entry points for a new debate on the politics of poverty and the politics of the poor we suggest the following themes:

- Social Policy and 'Improvement'. What are the modes by which schemes and strategies flowing from the centres of political authority have been, and continue to be, rendered into apparently neutral 'policy frameworks'? What are the questions that can be raised once we consider social policy not as a neutral set of 'solutions' to discrete and transparent 'problems', but rather as a perpetually shifting, changing set of power relations and strategies that bred opposition and contestation? Questions of famine regulation, housing policy, government-sponsored social segregation, and the history of policing are questions that spring to mind. Further, how have 'independent' efforts at social amelioration, ranging from nineteenth-century philanthropic organizations to contemporary NGOs, played out within the political fields-of-force at different points in South Asian history?

- Law. Closely associated but not fully coextensive with policy, the explicit texts of law - whether in the form of statutes (criminal, property and labour legislation, the Forest Acts, contract law) or specific case histories that can be tracked through court proceedings - clarify as well as mystify intricate social relationships and tensions. Each step in the making, promulgation, execution and repealing of such laws reveals chains of ideology, political strategy, and social conflict that can be explored through detailed case studies. Participants are invited to consider the role of legal frameworks and enactments both as a structure of social control, as well as a generator of new terrains upon which divergent social actors and blocs have encountered, clashed, and negotiated settlements with one another.

- Categories. At what points have 'poverty', 'the poor', and a whole array of related terms -'slums', 'vote-banks', 'the people', 'populism', 'labour', 'working class', the 'labouring poor', etc., come to acquire both more or less precise material shapes as well as categorial consistency and what implications has this had for both movements of self-assertion and regimes of power? What are the forces that have driven the elevation or marginalization of these categories within frameworks of policy-making and dominant discourses?

- Labour. What do the changing patterns of both regulatory frameworks and organized movements tell us of the role that workers and employers have played in the public life of the subcontinent? What experiences have structured as well as flowed from practices of labour recruitment for factories, mines, plantations, railways, small-scale workshops, shipping routes? How have codes of labour discipline been conceived, realized, subverted and contested over the years? How have movements claiming - with varying degrees of legitimacy - the mantle of 'the working class' mobilized, channelled or diverted the political energies that have emerged within workers' neighbourhoods, along the axes of rural-urban labour migration, and at the workplace itself? Conversely, how have the forms of politics that have emerged in the neighbourhood or the workplace harnessed or adapted themselves to the limits of what has been seen to be achievable, politically, at any given time? How have family for!
ms, gender as well as generational relations structured the politics of the poor, and how have they been reconfigured or reinforced at the point of specific class struggles?

- Land is perhaps the most intensely contested resource in contemporary South Asia - as conflicts ranging from West Bengal's villages to Orissa's hills to Delhi's slums to Chhattisgarh's forests reveal as much as the legal challenges being thrown to the continued privatisation of railway lands in Pakistan. How have historical processes that have established diverse kinds of property rights in land, and also triggered waves of 'accumulation by dispossession' been experienced, negotiated and confronted by the rural, tribal and urban poor? How, on the other hand, have attempts to claim land by the poor been generative of or harnessed by concrete political projects and mass movements? How have differentiated forms of access to land connected with caste divisions, family structures and gender relations in different parts of the subcontinent?

- Social space. Contested entitlements to social space are among the most powerful catalysts of political tensions. Considerations of this can engross the periodic transformations of city streets by huge public festivals and processions, riots, and strikes, as well as more everyday negotiations of contending claims to shelter, water, electricity, and trade. Close examinations of these and related issues can reveal, at a micro-cosmic level, the everyday entanglements of state, capital, political calculation, and the social forms inhabited and created by the poor, ranging from community-based neighbourhoods and streets to insecure slums to sprawling shanty towns.

- Movements. How have organized movements, ranging across and often beyond the spectrum of formal South Asian politics, sought to mobilize the poor? How have the practices of political parties, uprisings and civil unrest, single-issue campaigns, and violent and non-violent mass mobilizations regulated and been transformed by the involvement of sections of both the rural and urban poor?

Proposals for papers (including an abstract of maximum 1,000 words) should be emailed to by 7 January 2011. The selection will be concluded by 14 January. The papers should be submitted electronically by 15 May 2010. A limited number of travel bursaries is available for participants based in South Asia and for research students based in Europe.

Dr. Ravi Ahuja
Professor of Modern Indian History
Centre for Modern Indian Studies | University of Göttingen Waldweg 26 | 37073 Göttingen | Germany
Phone: +49 551 3910720
Fax: +49 551 3914215
Email: [mailto][/mailto]