Sundarbans, Climate, Tigers, Law.

Liquidity of the Sundarbans:

If the Tigers and Cyclones Don’t Get You, the Law Will

This forms the first part of a new research concentration for me, and owes much to colleagues at Jadavpur Uni now battling the BJP monstrosity. This sort of work relies upon the University remaining an open, critical, creative and thinking place. And such works as discussed here – more than three, a whole series of works are considered, reaching back to when I first met the history and philosophy folks at Jadavpur – are indicative of what remains that is good in the university, despite all that is happening.

50 e-prints for those quick off the mark, here:


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Fred Moten and Stefano Harney, saying…

From The Undercommens: Fugitive Planning and Black Study:

Harney and Moten 2013-30Harney and Moten 2013-29


So, as a youngster heading out to do what damage I could to the world, I inadvertently joined, as if by accident and certainly by bluff, a research project in which, in the end, it turned out that the leader, when report time came around, decided that the report back to the funding council should say that I had been incapable of doing the research required. This  because I was too cautious in not wanting to orientalise the other,. Damning indictment. I saw the thing rather differently – having joined the project to maim it, there was nothing cautious in a critique of lame versions of identity, hybridity, and oooh, culture. The critique of ethnomusicology logically followed, for form’s sake, and of exoticism, of egoistic cult scholarship and professor-ism, of the inheritance of baubles and trinkets of election to a clergy that no-one believed, not even themselves. There wasn’t even any need to condemn them as they condemned themselves, and the riposte ‘I thought you were dead’ still brings laughter and joy. In amongst the ashes and horrors, and rent-a-kill terrors. They do have the resources that still make some things possible, get in an grab some, since soon it will be gone. And all the while give some back, not just lip – I have lent out more books than I own, and I own a lot of the bloody things. leaving them lying around (though particular about not leaving them spine open, or on a wet bench. Yes, bloody things they are – written in letters of blood and fire, shares of a capital produced through pain and struggle just to escape beyond the enthusiasm-sucking routine of having to pay the rent and feed the kids while syphoning a substantial packet off into projects, and more books, because, yes, the research councils were a bit wary after that. Oh, and then apparently named the enemy of anthropology from within. I’ll take that too. With chips. More soon.

International Conference on Innovations in the Social Sciences and Humanities at Ton Duc Thang University October 4-5, 2019

International Conference at Ton Duc Thang University October 4-5, 2019

Innovations in the Social Sciences and Humanities

Innovations are the key. In method and analysis, in the ways in which scholarship engages with society and organisations today, there can be no doubting the relevance of the social science and humanities to all our pressing questions. The Innovations to be discussed at the conference challenge our thinking. The topics are wide-ranging and varied, the approaches distinctly alive; some of the papers demonstrate a vivid combination of theoretical and  practical research, some are insistently in a humanities’-oriented style, others more forthright and strictly social science, and still others experiment with the form and tone of the social sciences. Perhaps bringing new methods to Vietnam, the creativity of the social sciences and relevance of the humanities for contemporary understanding is brought out by the diversity of themes and perspectives. Of course the traditional scholarship of the social sciences is represented, but in writing that has an urgency and verve that will excite discussion.

The features include a keynote lecture by Professor Stephen Muecke, a hugely important voice in cultural studies and theorist of notions of cultural landscape and ways of reading cultural relations between settler and Aboriginal Australia. His walking method will inspire reflection.

A keynote lecture by Professor Joyce Liu on new methods of inter-Asian joint and multi-site research inaugurates a perspective on cultural research that promises new opportunities for collaboration and debate across borders, and with an engagement that should never be sacrificed in the social science and humanities. There are many urgent and relevant issues upon which scholars must comment as the leading presenters of, explorers of, and advocates for ideas

The conference as a whole addresses debates about why innovation and new methods in the social sciences and humanities in Vietnam are needed. This is to respond to clear demands within Vietnam for such methods and enthusiasms (perspectives of a number of Government and non-Government agencies have supported this with relevant statements, such as the government Global Challenges position papers in 2018, and the work of independent research units like Social Life).

Professor Ursula Rao will explore new thinking on the challenges of development in anthropology. Professor Elaine Carey on women and research, in the archive, on drugs. There are no short cuts and no easy solutions – we are challenged to think hard with the leading international scholars of our times.

The conference brings articles/panels on 43 topics by cutting edge thinkers and on themes that are urgent and pressing – for example, there is a session on the new area of sociobiology by Jon Solomon and Samiksha Bahn, or there is the panel on education provision and socialization with discussion of Vietnam and Australia on higher education successes and problems. There is an engaging panel on participatory methods as a research tool eminently suited for new ways of doing research in the social sciences and humanities. Experts and serious scholars are involved in every panel of the conference, though the discussions will spill out into conversations and publications that will continue to have an impact on scholarship in Vietnam and the region. The effect of the conference is to make TDTU one of the hubs in Vietnam for discussion of new research in these areas.

The conference is open-ended and will continue long afterwards, with consequences that will shape ongoing research. As such, the papers presented are not only about new results, so much about new ways of going about getting those results and discussing those results – fostering a culture of research in the Universities that are open to the experience of social change, the challenges of the times and globally, shifting the locus of advanced research towards the region again, so that perhaps we will begin to arrest the so-called brain-drain where so much budding talent leaves the country for several, sometimes many, years . The conference will be part of a much-needed boost to refresh the social sciences and humanities.

The key point to make is: that with a number of regional delegates – India, Indonesia, Taiwan, the Philippines – and a number of wider international guests – from the USA, Europe and Australia – this conference can be a crucial establishing part of the project of making Vietnam, and TDTU, a key hub in the region for discussions about innovative research in the social sciences and humanities – highly appropriate then that this conference will be held at TDTU – a young university, able to do things in a creative and exciting new way.

More soon…


Jadavpur University and the pecuniary investment jealousy rag (need some infrastructure surely).

I don’t have cause to say so often enough, but I consider Jadavpur a second alma mater for me (just as second breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so is what I have learned at Jadavpur over 30 years sustaining). There is a long background behind this below, but those with the ability to read between the lines can make the necessary analytic dot joinings…

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In a widely shared post on FB Somak Mukherjee writes passionately about what is being done to Jadavpur:

Friends and colleagues there [at JU]; I applaud your sense of integrity and courage. Stay safe. The machinery of politics is not merely random and arbitrary, but peculiarly random in its vengeful rhetoric.

Absolutely wonderful to see a large turnout yesterday for the protest procession. Current or former students, kudos to you.

A humble request in anticipation of a rising narrative, maliciously aimed at the students community of the university: that Jadavpur’s “aimless and disorganized environment/ politics” is the result of a decline in academic standard”. This rhetoric will find a large following/support in a rising section of Bengali bourgeoisie welcoming unprecedented cultural regression in our city/state. Political IT cells will ensure this narrative finds wide currency in tv shouting matches/whatsapp forwards/facebook communities.

Nothing is further from the truth. Students/teachers/scholars there already know this. But please combat this narrative with consistency and conviction.

Jadavpur University is still among the top five public universities in the naton: an astonishing feat considering the comparative but consistent against state public universities in India in the last several decades. When looking at rankings, please consider the fact that IITs lack the diversity of disciplines taught here. There are Depts+schools+centers= almost 60 academic units alone in this university, outnumbering JNU. This university always punched above its weight in the national arena with a self assured recognition of being an underdog. It champions underdogs going beyond the tired binary of success/failure in meritocracy.

I had to do a little bit of research for an article about the recent academic progress of JU. Some facts:

a) Under a specific scheme of RUSA ( Rashtriya Ucchatar Shiksha Abhiyaan) aimed at 10 state public universities, JU has been a rare exception in timely utilization of the funds disbursed in the last 4 years.

b) There are only two state public universities getting the coveted Institution of Eminence (IOE) tag: Jadavpur and Anna. If the 1000 Crores indeed get disbursed over the next five years, it can potentially double the university budget ( Proviso: this fund, apparently, cannot be allotted for additional posts: a MHRD criteria. Bizarre.) for research and overall infrastructure. Again, JU qualified despite the odds, countering indifferent and arrogant educational bureaucracy at the center. At least three major newspapers in only the last weeks have published confused and misleading news reports about 1. Amount of funding requested and, this is more crucial, 2. the proviso of state government providing the supplementary funds, attaching negative comments from state government officials. Again, apparently there is no proviso that the full funding is tied to supplementary funding from “bankrupt” state govern An independent verification and clarification of this might be useful.

3. 2018 FET placements have been astonishingly good.

Story 3 was tucked away in the corner of page 8 of a Bengali daily recently. Story 1 was hardly reported. Story 2, as I mentioned, has been reported in a confusing and self contradictory manner. My larger points: this fits a narrative of intention of the mainstream India ( English or vernacular) about which specific optics about the university should be fed to public discourse. The spectacle of passionate protest, while incredibly effective, can also take time in realizing the double edged sword of the media rhetoric. This is why the awareness of the institutional progress can be quite useful.

This university was once “unfashionably” nationalistic in pre-independence time. It did not care when critics railed against the university enrolling revolutionaries as mature students. This university employed one of the greatest 20th century Bengali poets despite his lack of formal ‘qualifications’. This university made a 25 year old founding HOD of its economics department. Then, it was made fun of for its suburban obscurity. Yet it thrived: because of its gloriously scattered intellectual currents relished the accusation of suburban subversions with delightful irony. Times changed: hell, KP took over jurisdiction. But JU remained sufficiently downmarket for the elite of the ‘proper south’ and yet marvelously dreamy for suburbia kids like myself.

I know these are deeply cynical times, but I will stick my neck out and say: best days for Jadavpur are yet to come. If you agree then good: strength of optimism can be quite revolutionary itself. If you disagree, then disregard this rant as an inevitable outcome of suburban longings. Jadavpur was never Calcutta’s university. It was/and still is, a gateway university.