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SASNET Conference on Modernity in South Asia successfully completed

Anna oxh Nishi
Anna Lindberg and Nishi Mitra vom Berg, Photo: Lars Eklund
On 20-22 September 2016, the Swedish South Asian Studies Network (SASNET) successfully organized a conference entitled ”Modern Matters: Negotiating the Future of Everyday Life in South Asia” at Lund University.

Keynote
Keynote session Photo: J.R. Jishnu

The conference attracted more than 60 researchers, Swedish and European, but a large number of them also came from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. PDF iconconference_programme.pdf (as a pdf-file)

Background to the conference

South Asia has been described as in a state of flux. While it is part of the soaring ‘Asian century’ led by China and India, it remains on the periphery of its promising future. India is celebrated as an attractive investment destination for its impressive growth rate, and for moving out of what has been called the waiting room of history and into the modern era at an accelerated pace.
However, large parts of South Asia, including some regions within India, are still defined by the development agendas and interventions of a previous era. The region which is home to one-fifth of the world’s population has its largest youth demography, is celebrated for its demographic dividend. But this also raises concerns about the low investment in education, job training and public health. The uplifting narratives of call centers, shopping malls, new modes of leisure, and the global lifestyles of technologically–adept consumer-citizens contrast with shortages in material goods, services, and employment opportunities.  Everyday life in South Asia is typified by these wide gaps in wealth, abundance and consumption.

How is notion of modernity experienced

The conference aimed at exploring what it means to consider oneself modern, or outside the limits of modernity, in an extremely diverse region. How is the notion of modernity experienced, contested, and negotiated in South Asia within the broader promise and hope of the Asian century? South Asian modernity will be considered in terms of regional, national, and global societies by pursuing the following, larger questions:

 1. Can we discover regional understandings of modernity in South Asia? If so, how do they differ, and what do they have in common?

 2. What are the specific discourses related to global modernity in South Asian societies?

 3. How are class, caste, ethnicity, religion, and gender related in contemporary South Asian societies?

 4. What resistance to modernity can we find in South Asian contexts? What categories are involved, and which arguments are raised?

 5. How might violence relate to South Asian modernity?

Eight Panels 

        Full information about the panels

– Panel 1. Religion and Modernity in South Asia
  Chaired by Dr. Clemens Cavallin, Religious Studies, University of Gothenburg, Sweden

– Panel 2. Mapping Subaltern Modernities in Neoliberal India 
  Chaired by Dr. Kenneth Bo Nielsen, Department of Sociology, University of Bergen, Norway

– Panel 3. Beyond the Desirable: Critical Perspectives on Media-Modernity
  Chaired by Dr. Britta Ohm, Institute of Social Anthropology, University of Bern, Switzerland; Dr. Per Ståhlberg, Department of Media and Communication Studies, Södertörn University, Sweden; and Dr. Vibodh Parthasarathi, Centre for Culture, Media & Governance, Jamia Milia Islamia University, India.

– Panel 4. Staging Marriage and Modernity among the Middle Classes in South Asia
  Chaired by Dr. Anindita Datta, University of Delhi, India 

Staffan Lindberg
Staffan Lindberg with panel 5 Photo: Lars Eklund

– Panel 5. The Transformation of Caste
  Chaired by Prof. Staffan Lindberg, Lund University & Dr. Neil Webster, DIIS, Copenhagen, Denmark

- Panel 6. Youthful Modernities: Negotiating the Past, Present and the Future
  Chaired by Prof. Ravinder Kaur, Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, India; and Prof. Rajni Palriwala, University of Delhi, India.

Rajni och Ravinder
Rajni Palriwala and Ravinder Kaur with panel 6 Photo: Lars Eklund

– Panel 7. Women and Gender in South Asian Modernity: Vulnerabilities and Violence
  Chaired by Dr. Ulrika Andersson, Lund University; Dr. Anna Lindberg, Lund University & Dr. Nishi Mitra, TISS, India

– Panel 8. Open panel
 SASNET organized an open panel for papers that did not fit any of the other panels but still made orginal contributions to understanding of modernity in South Asia.
 Chaired by Dr. Henrik Chetan Aspengren, Linnaeus University, Sweden

Keynote speakers

The three keynote speakers were Prof. Dipesh Chakrabarty from the Dept. of History at University of Chicago, USA; Associate Professor Sumi Madhok from the Gender Institute at London School of Economics (LSE), UK; and Prof. Sasanka Perera, Dept of Sociology at South Asian University (SAU), Delhi, India.

First out, on the initial day of the conference was Dipesh Chakrabarty who held a much appreciated speech on “Modernity and the Nonhuman in South Asia”. The seminar was open to the public and many interested people gathered to listen to Chakrabarti’s engaging presentation. Venue: Nya Festsalen at AF. More information about his lecture.
See a video from the keynote speech.

Also the two plenary session seminars by Sumi Madhok and Sasanka Perera were open to the public. On Wednesday 21 September, 14.00-15.00, Madhok held a powerful and highly appreciated lecture entitled “Is a Non-Hegemonic Human Rights Talk Possible?” (more information); and on the final day of the conference, on Thursday 22 September, 11:30 - 12:30, Professor Perera who is Vice President for the South Asian University (SAU) in New Delhi, India, held an inspiring lecture entitled “South Asia as an Idea and a Problem of Modernity” (more information). These lectures were also held in Nya Festsalen at AF Borgen, Sandgatan 2, Lund.

See a video from the Sumi Madhok’s speech.
See a video from the Sasanka Perera’s speech.

Lund Sightseeing

Sightseeing
Lund Sightseeing Photo: Lars Eklund

SASNET organised a guided city tour on the first night. The master guide Lars Lundberg gave the participants a good overview of central Lund including stories about the 1 000 year old Lund Cathedral. 
Another repeat was the conference dinner at Restaurant Tegners on second night.

Thanks to retiring SASNET staff

Avtackning
Andreas Johansson, Anna Lindberg, Staffan Lindberg, Lars Eklund, Neil Webster and Ravinder Kaur

On the final day, at the vote of thanks, unexpected news for most of the participants were given. Prof. Ravinder Kaur from IIT Delhi and Dr. Neil Webster from DIIS in Copenhagen broke the news that both Anna Lindberg and Lars Eklund, SASNET director and deputy director respectively, will retire by the end of 2016. They showered praise over the work being done ver the years by Anna and Lars, and also by Prof. Staffan Lindberg, the first director of SASNET, who was present on stage, as well as the rest of the current SASNET staff consisting of Dr. Andreas Johansson - who most probably will become the new director; Elina Vidarsson; and Andreas Mattsson. Staffan also held a lengthy speech on the history of SASNET from its inception in January 2001 till now.
See a video from the closing session.