Monday, 22 July 2013

'Deviant Heroes': A talk by Dr Brian Wolf

A talk by Prof. Brian Wolf

In everyday understanding, human beings associate deviance with something that is not the usual form of functioning or act of behavior. Thus anything that goes against this usual way is considered to be bad or detrimental to the society. In various contexts, rules and instruments of social control can represent an unjust and oppressive social force. 
On Wednesday, July 17 2013,we welcomed Prof. Brian Wolf, from the University of Idaho, Moscow, who helped us to understand this from a different perspective through his article on “Deviant Heroes” as agents of justice and social change. In his article he holds that deviant heroes are those who violate the existing unjust rules and norms and face the repercussions of social control, even as they simultaneously effect positive change. They bring about such changes in their own way. 
This session has been very interactive. It began with the definition of what deviance and its ways are. Students participated by stating their own views, and Prof Wolf elaborated further. There were also examples given with comparisons on how deviance and its understanding differ depending upon one’s culture. There are, for example, differences in the Indian and USA ways of considering an act to be deviant. He also laid emphasis upon the classical ways of understanding deviance by Emile Durkheim, Karl Marx, and Socrates.
There were instances of real life deviant heroes who fought and struggled against the firm norms and rules which were harmful or were considered unjust. In India, Phoolan Devi, the Bandit queen fought against the existing system and could be considered to be a deviant hero too. There are religious leaders as well who showed great example of heroism. There was the instance of a woman given wherein she climbed and stayed on a tree for two years just to stop the cutting of trees. She remained there until the people concerned undertook not to cut them down. Deviance may be regarded as a crack in the society. Social control is one of the measures that could be used to keep a check.
Finally at the end of the session there was discussion with regard to the various perspectives of how and what students felt about deviance being a part of life and to share instances of heroic deviance. Heroic deviance can be practiced to some degree by anybody. Yet if more people were to embrace the principles of such heroism it could help alter the environment. Conformity in contrast to deviance would mean accepting the hurtful situations which is not right. Therefore deviance becomes important in order to have conformity of some kind or the other. The session thus ended with active participation and exchange among everyone present. We would like to thank Prof Brian Wolf for such an interesting and active session.
Anusuya Borkotoky

Saturday, 20 July 2013

'Scientifying the Orient: Race, Gender and Sex in the Colonial Tropics'

The National Institute for Advanced Studies (NIAS), had organized a talk on “Scientifying the Orient: Race, Gender and Sex in the Colonial Tropics” by Samiparna Samanta. She’s an eminent historian who is an Assistant Professor of History at Georgia College and State University, Milledgeville, Georgia, USA. The talk was scheduled in NIAS on July 19, 2013. Students and other professionals from different colleges and universities were invited. The postgraduate students of the Department of Sociology of Christ University attended the talk along with some of their faculty member.
The talk was based on the “Oriental” East. The focus was on constructivism as a historical approach. The other main arguments of the lecture were the Colonial Construction of race, sex and gender with respect to India, Africa and West Indies. The abstract for the talk is given below:
Abstract: Over the past decade or so, a growing number of scholars have argued that science is a social construct much like art or music. In light of this new development, concepts of race, gender, sexuality, and identity formation have undergone massive transformations as historical categories. Using this larger historiographical framework, my paper demonstrates how an ‘Orient’ came to be perceived and pictured in European imagination in the nineteenth century through the lens of ‘science.’ By drawing examples from Asia, Africa and Latin America, I show the varied ways in which the West often employed the legitimizing power of ‘science’ to romanticize, eroticize and at times demonize colonial cultures. But more importantly, I examine how nineteenth century colonial constructions of ‘race’ and ‘sexuality’ were used to project the relative backwardness of non-European cultures and societies and thus activate the tension between the “modern” and the “archaic.” The paper thus attempts to problematize the construction of colonial knowledge around ‘thuggee,’ ‘criminal communities,’ ‘prostitute,’ Hottentot Venus, among others to show the power of nineteenth century race science. An exploration of the multiple portrayals of ‘Orient’ also manifests within itself a larger, crucial theme ---- the power of representations, and the way that can form a dominant trope for subjugation of a colonized people. In the course of this meandering trajectory however, I conclude that the colonized were not passive recipients of Western cultural intrusion. Rather, my own research on nineteenth and twentieth century dietary discourses in Bengal demonstrates how the colonized populations (for instance, twentieth century Bengali literati) in their understanding of diet, disease and germs, at times translated Western notions of science, sanitation, and medicine and imagined it in their own cultural contexts.
A key argument was on the social construction of science and its basis as being affected by culture and the social context of a society. It’s not a value-free knowledge.
The talk was interesting as it was based on fundamental ideas of how the Westerners have constantly ignored the East. As a result the non-westerners do not have an identity, a history and an existence of their own. Nineteen Century “Imperialism” was discussed in details and also the universalization of Europe. The essence of the paper lies in the statement by Karl Marx, “Asia fell asleep in history.”
The lecture covered important ideas of science as a dominant paradigm, imperialism, the Westerners as dictators, notions of race, gender and sex. A couple of questions and arguments followed the talk. Ideas were exchanged between the speaker and other students and scholar who raised important issues related to the topic.
On behalf of the students of Christ University I would like to convey my thanks to the Department of Sociology for giving us the opportunity for being a part of such an intellectual event.

Chandni Sarda

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Cross Cultural Dialogues

Date: 29th June, 2013, Wednesday
John F. Kennedy  rightly said, “If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.
The session on CROSS CULTURAL EXPOSURE AND INTERACTION”, by II PSEco, which involved international classmates sharing stories from their native lands,  validated this statement.  
Having the privilege of interacting with classmates from Nepal, Korea, Nigeria and Congo the session not only acquainted them with the differences, but also similarities between these cultures. The students spoke about the history of their country and the current socio-political scenario. Nepal, for instance was ruled by Narang before it became a democracy. All these places are inhabited by people from various ethnic groups, in Nigeria for example, where regions are divided based on the language they speak. Food, exhibited the taste, sweet or spicy, of the different regions, in great variety.
Each speech left with food for thought. The students from Nepal stressed on the importance of culture for them in spite of the western influence, those from Korea and Nigeria emphasised on the growth of their country attributed to education. “We take our culture very seriously and are extremely proud of it” added Cristelle from Congo. The hour ended with a brief question answer session between the speakers and the students on the literature, art and customs of these myriad cultures. This activity hour left the students, as students of sociology, under the esteemed supervision of Dr. Sheila Mathew, with an enriching experience.
                                                                                                            Aishwarya Menon

                                                                                                            Somya Bajaj