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Workshop on Culture, Technology and Development (2014)

An Interdisciplinary Research Workshop on South Asia was being organised in Falsterbo 13–15 June 2014 by SASNET in collaboration with the Nordic Centre in India (NCI) university consortium and the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies (NIAS) at Copenhagen University. The workshop focused on three thematic areas: Culture, Technology, and Development. It took place at the Falsterbo Conference Resort in Höllviken.

The main objective of the workshop was to bridge the gap between Nordic researchers in various disciplines working on South Asia. Interdisciplinary research in terms of theoretical and methodological approaches, assumptions, ethical considerations, and practices, should be discussed. The workshop considered interdisciplinary research that is already being done in the field of South Asian studies, and gave participants an opportunity to explore promising new areas for future research projects and publications. Talks by three prominent researchers were featured. 

Professor Kirin Narayan received her Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1987 and was professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison from 1989 onward, joining the the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra in 2013. Narayan has done extensive fieldwork in South Asia focusing on oral traditions. She has published numerous books and articles on aspects of narrative, oral history and ethnography.  

Dr Assa Doron received his Ph.D. in Anthropology and Sociology from La Trobe University, Melbourne, in 2005. Since 2007 he has been a researcher at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra. His work concentrates on development studies, health practitioners, religion, tourism, and urbanisation. He is currently involved in examining how mobile telecommunications are bringing about changes in politics, culture, and everyday life in India.

Prof. Ursula Rao is Director of the Institute of Anthropology at University of Leipzig, Germany. She is an urban anthropologist doing research on India. The central focus of her work is changing power relations in rapidly globalising cities, with regards to three  different topics: (1) the interaction between urban poor and state agencies in a landscape of  shifting ideologies of urbanity and social security; (2) the changing role of news media for shaping urban  politics; (3) The role of religious institutions and ritual performances for  renegotiating social relations. Her current work focusses on e-goverance and biometric technology.
Prof. Rao lectured on Experimentality Recofigured? Or new Approaches in Development”.

Workshop Structure 

The workshop was divided into three main themetic sessions:

Session A: Methods, Fieldwork and Ethics in the South Asian context
Chairpersons: Dr. Anna Lindberg, SASNET/Lund University, and Dr. Sirpa Tenhunen, NCI/University of Helsinki
This multidisciplinary workshop seeks to advance the understanding of ethics involved in research on South Asia. We invite scholars representing different disciplines to discuss ethical issues they have faced as researchers in South Asia. Participants will explore how mutually beneficial relationships can be established in a sensitive and respectful manner while doing fieldwork.
Does research in South Asia typically involve certain ethical issues? Can case studies help expand research ethics beyond the common positivistic and activistic approaches? What kind of ethical challenges do the structures of inequality and the social hierarchies in South Asia present to the researcher? How can one manage local expectations and deal with conflicts of interests in an ethical manner?The workshop intends to produce an edited volume on research ethics that can be used for teaching how to do fieldwork in South Asia. 

Session B: Culture, Religion, and Technology in South Asia
 Dr. Kristina Myrvold, Linnaeus University, and Prof. Knut A. Jacobsen, University of Bergen
Technological developments in the twentieth century have resulted in new religious practices including live prayers, services, and sermons on radio and television, cassette recordings, video tapes, CDs, and digital videos. In addition, there are social and interactive spiritual places on the Internet, mobile phones, and other devices. Religion has become an increasingly technological phenomenon, negotiating identities, authorities, interpretations, ritual practices, resistance, etc. Scholars working on various aspects of religion and technology in South Asia are welcome to submit papers on these topics to be considered for publication. 

Session C: Theory , Practice, and Development in South Asia
Chairpersons: Dr. Stig Toft Madsen NIAS/University of Copenhagen, and Dr. Olle Frödin, SASNET/Lund University
This group looked at development theory and practice in relation to South Asia. Thousands of development projects have been undertaken in South Asia in recent times, so that a large part of what the state does when it rules is engaging in development. The countries of South Asia seem developmentalist when they do not appear as security states , failed states, or Asian “Tiger” states. Similarly, much of what people do as concerned citizens is development work. 
Theories and presuppositions that such development work has generated within academia will be explored, with emphasis on what development has meant to individual academic disciplines and to cross-disciplinary collaboration.
How has interdisciplinary research arisen? Has it been successful in theory and practice in different fields? Has its promise of giving a fuller, broader, and truer picture been born out in practice? If so, how and where? What are the advantages and disadvantages of working in interdisciplinary teams? How are disagreements settled in such groups? To what extent have development studies become a discipline in its own right, fostering its own theories and practices? Do development studies lend themselves to interdisciplinary approaches? What feedback loops exist between development work in the field versus academic work? How do academic theories make their way down to development agencies? Under what circumstances may disciplinary work reassert itself in the field of development studies, and why?