24 November

Annual Lecture: Gyanendra Pandey (Emory University, Atlanta, US)

The politics of difference: Reflections on the Dalit and African American struggles

6 for 6.30 PM
Room 411, UTS Building 2, Level 4
Free Lecture

The notion of difference suggests variety, indeterminacy, play. In public life, however, the concept has for long been appropriated to notions of cultural minority, following from cultural deviance, in the context of claims to national homogeneity. I want in this lecture to examine the complicated history of this discourse, its deployment and its effects; the multiplicity and ever-changing nature of what are described as minorities and minority positions; and the numerous grids along which these classifications operate. I shall argue that in re-thinking the diverse locations and uses of the proclamation of difference, the example of the classically subaltern communities – dalits, blacks, conquered indigenous populations, women – has something unusual to tell us, given their uncertain and changing status as ‘minorities’, as insiders/outsiders who are essential to the continuance of a given social and economic order, and yet have to be confined to a subordinate or marginalized place within it precisely for the maintenance of established structures and relations of power.

The examples I take up are the Dalit and African American struggles in India and the USA.  What happens to the idea of ‘difference’ – or ‘minority’, to which it is commonly reduced – when it is not already visible as a historically or biologically (or ideologically) established truth, but has instead to be constituted as a political category by the marginalized and the disenfranchised (in the broadest sense of those terms)? What, in a word, are the politics of difference?

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