Lecturing in India

I just returned from a trip to India that was mostly a “working vacation” (I gave a conference paper, delivered several lectures, and did some preliminary fieldwork) but was still fun.

This Chronicle essay aptly captures some of my dilemmas as a scholar interested in India. The author notes: “As a member of the post-Orientalism-smackdown generation, I spent much of my time in India acutely self-conscious of the ways in which I, an enthusiastic academic wielding grand theories, might unwittingly perpetuate the abridgments, abstractions, and ‘positional superiority’ that so frustrated Said.”

Scholarly discourses have the potential to be colonizing, even when well-intended. I found this out when I presented my lecture introducing the digital humanities, and a member of the audience asked whether the “DH” might not more aptly stand for De Humanizing scholarship. He argued that Western technologies take on a colonizing function when used to study non-Western cultures… which I agree with, somewhat. But what to do? I noted that many of the DH tech and tools are available for free online, so all you really need is an internet connection to join the dialogue. Yet some of the universities I visited still lack a wired infrastructure. Electricity goes out during class, disrupting powerpoint presentations. One campus was usually left without electricity after dusk, making it impossible to work unless you had gas lamps and a fully charged laptop. What could I really say that would address the power inequalities and access disparities at work here?

We had a fruitful discussion after my DH presentation, and I’m confident that I at least gave local scholars something to think about. But they also gave me something to think about – which I think is the most important part of scholarly dialogue. It was an exchange, not a monologue. I offered more questions than answers, and they responded in kind. It’s a start, at least.

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  1. Katya Faris’s avatar

    Thanks for your perspective, Jeana, this is very enlightening. I have noticed in the past five years a full shift from students handwriting their notes in class to only using their laptops to type them. I have even made this shift, and my eyes have suffered for it. It would be interesting to look at the health of the Indian students to see what kinds of study related problems they have. I have also noticed a tendency of Western scholars to put on extra weight from sitting at their computers too long. Would be an interesting medical anthropology study ­čÖé

  2. jeana’s avatar

    Hm, that’s an interesting question! I think a lot of scholars tend to be sedentary because there are so many demands on our time, many of which are “sitting tasks” (reading, writing, grading, and so on). I’d also be curious whether scholarly health issues vary by discipline – obviously people in performing arts will be more fit than the rest, but what about sciences vs. humanities and stuff like that?

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