Conference 2007

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The Contentious Question of Culture(s) in Contemporary Societies

Culture emerged as a keyword at the turn of the eighteenth to the nineteenth centuries, as a term imbued with changing meanings and questions in reaction to the experience of modernization. Its inflationary use in more recent times draws attention to the experience of more recent changes, from decolonisation to the contemporary process of globalisation and the increasing migration of people both within and across national borders. International migrants according to estimates today account for the world’s fifth most populous “country”. Dramatic changes in demographic composition are being further fuelled by ongoing forms of political integration such as the process of Europeanisation. In this context, the multiple meanings invested in the word culture are markers of real, often violent contemporary conflicts as well as of their frequent mythification. From multiculturalism to wars in the name of culture, from disputes on history to debates on state policy, the question of culture(s) has evidently become a central concern in responses to the nature of contemporary society and its future, even as it stands in apparent contradiction to the decidedly economic forces driving the processes of change.

Not surprisingly, the use of the word culture, and its often-unstated assumptions, has given rise to considerable theoretical controversy. What exactly do we mean when we talk of culture? Is it associated with language, ethnicity, religion, nationality, a civilization, a way of life or everyday social practices? Is it conceived as relatively unchanging, as something that is threatened by the impact with other ‘cultures’ or as a set of ideas and practices that is subject to historical and social change? How are these notions of culture affected by the changing forms of political, economic and military domination and the vicissitudes of the postcolonial world? Questions of representation and interpretation of cultures have greatly impacted on these theoretical debates, both in the field of the social sciences and in the study of literature, film and the arts. Curiously, the debates have even entered the field of the natural sciences as seen in the coining of the word ‘meme’ as a unit of cultural information in analogy to the word gene.

The seminar will bring together scholars from different disciplines to address these questions. It will explore the various notions of culture underlying contemporary debates, the artistic forms with which writers and other artists have reflected on these notions and their social and political implications.


Thursday, 1 March 2007, Room 22, Arts Faculty

9.45 am Opening Remarks Shaswati Mazumdar, Sharmistha Lahiri
10.00 am Kusum Aggarwal Understanding Culture, between Republic and Colony: Readings into a Franco-African Perspective
10.45 am Ashwani K. Peetush Culture, Liberalism, and Non-European Communities
11.45 am Asha Sarangi Culture(s) as Language(s): Nationalist Discourse and the State Formation of Modern India
12.30 am Gustavo Cardoso Cultures in a Networked Communication Society: Speaking our Own Language in Many Other Languages
    Chair: Sharmistha Lahiri
1.15 pm   LUNCH BREAK
2.15 pm Elizabeth Carnegie Where the rivers converge: Religion and cultural identity in the museum
3.00 pm Kumkum Sangari Reading religion as culture: some contemporary implications
4.00 pm Jürgen Wertheimer Dialogue of Cultures as Culture of Dialogue
4.45 pm Marcel Stoetzler For a dialectical concept of culture
    Chair: Anil Bhatti

Friday, 2 March 2007, Room 22, Arts Faculty, University of Delhi

10.00 am J. Edgar Bauer Magnus Hirschfeld in India: Sexual Ethnology, Cultural Critique, and the Encounter of Civilizations
10.45 am Margit Köves Tracings on the Map: Essay and Culture
11.45 am Laila Wadia Migrant Literature in Italy – an Overview
12.30 am Michel Naumann Culture, Hybridity and Beyond
    Chair: Vibha Maurya
1.15 pm   LUNCH BREAK
2.15 pm Debashree Dattaray Re-locating ‘culture’: An analysis of indigenous society in Lee Maracle’s I Am Woman
3.00 pm Jyoti Sabharwal Other Ways of Seeing: Cultural Transfer in the Texts of Emine Sevgi Özdamar and Yoko Tawada
4.00 pm Ute Pinkert The contemporary discourse of “cultural education” in Germany– a critical inventory against the background of social changes
4.45 pm Devesh Vijay Culture, Migration and Plurality: Reflections from a Delhi Slum
    Chair: Haideh Moghissi

Saturday, 3 March 2007, Room 22, Arts Faculty, University of Delhi

10.00 am Ena Panda The Politics of Culture: A Survey of Dalit Literature
10.45 am Sathyaraj Venkatesan Culture, Identity and African Americans
11.45 am Olivia Balanescu Under the Pressure of Monoculture.  Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss
12.30 am Gunter Gebauer Interaction of cultures and the problem of power
    Chair: Vibha Maurya
1.15 pm   LUNCH BREAK
2.15 pm Rosy Singh The Paradox of Multiculturalism in the UK: Semiotics of 'Past Modern' Paintings by the Singh Twins
3.00 pm Adriana Raducanu Television – Postmodernist Shrine under the Sign of the Archetypes
4.00 pm Dirk Wiemann Bollywood Makes You Happy: Speculations on the German Appetite for Masala Movies
    Chair: Abhai Maurya 

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