Saturday, October 26, 2013

Indian Feudalisms in Radical Knowledge Networks

The phone rings: "Professor Dutta, you are Bengali, so did you grow up in Bengal?"

I am told by my secretary it is Prof. De on the other end of the line, an Indian academic who wants a job in my Center here in Singapore.

He assumes a sense of familiarity with me.

A point of connection that he presumes is shared in our Bengali roots, given away by my last name.

He asks me if I am familiar with such and such name, and the other name (Chatterjee, Mukherjee, Sen, Basu, Dutta).

I learn about his networks of Bengali intellectuals in Delhi and Kolkata that he is connected with.

In his assumed sense of connection with me, there is an implicit sense of solidarity and a presumed desirability of networking me in with other Bengali intellectuals. (Note the assumption that I am an "intellectual," let alone the assumption that I belong to the highly elite breed of "Bengali intellectuals")

He tells me that he is part of the "Center for Critical Development Studies" (name changed) and regales me about all the important work being done at the Center, in the network of Bengali intellectuals.

Prof. De is a key gatekeeper to this Center and he thinks that it is important for me to connect my work with these intellectuals in conversation.

Prof. De's offer to "network me in" reminds me of the networks of feudalism in the intellectual circuits of Bengal and India.

You have to know this and that scholar, be accepted by a Brahminical/Upper Caste clique of academics operating on the principles of feudal association.

Prof. De reminds me of the struggles I had as a graduate student attempting to have these similar conversations with some of the names within the same network.

I grew up in a moffusil town, was not educated at a University (Presidency or Jadavpur or JNU or some other name-University or Think Tank) at one of the Cosmopolitan Centers (Kolkata or Delhi) and did not have sponsors to introduce me to the network.

Having been educated at an an Indian Institute of Technology (sites of elite networks of free market policy makers),  my privileges networked me in to the elite networks of Investment Bankers, CEOs, Policy Makers, entrepreneurs, engineers, and I witnessed the workings of these networks in IIT meets, alumni networking events etc.

These networks however did not have anything to do with the elite networks of a Jadavpur, a Presidency, or a JNU. The two networks operated in parallel and in often alternative worlds. In fact, the radical claims of the Jadavpur, Presidency, JNU networks are constituted in their very location in these "other" spaces.

The Presidency, Jadavpur, JNU networks are positioned as the networks of radical politics that exist in opposition to the IIT-IIM networks.

However, in their workings, both of these networks are similar, in the sense that they operate on principles of exclusion. The Jadavpur-JNU-Presidency networks are ensconced in the very same logics of power politics that form the basis of the IIT networks. Even more so, the Jadavpur-JNU-Presidency networks operate by co-opting the radical space. They become the voice of radical politics, the voice of the social science and humanities.

The processes through which such networks of South Asian scholarship studying radical politics are constituted are paradoxically embedded in their cliquisms and in the structures of elitism at the cosmopolitan centers that reiterate the feudal logics that they seek to write about.

I am also struck by the hierarchy of these academic networks of South Asian scholars that become entry points to claims of mediocrity, where the value of arguments is tied to the opportunism inbuilt into these networks.

My struggles early in my academic work taught me to reject these networks and to reject these strategies of networking. And I continue to reject them.

So Prof. De, it turns me off when you claim that you are a Bengali "like me."

Please don't assume that your Bengali identity or your tales of conversations with a Spivak or a Guha will impress me.

Because they don't.

Instead, please send in your application to the email address advertised on our website. Please send in your CV, sample research articles, a research statement that outlines your arguments, and a list of three referees. 

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