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Imperialisms: 2019 CSA Graduate Workshop


April 19, 2019, Stanford Humanities Center (424 Santa Teresa Street)

Organizers: Anubha Anushree (Ph.D. Candidate in History) and Mejgan Massoumi (Ph.D. Candidate in History) 

How can we think of empires as relevant political category in contemporary South Asia? Are empires just a chronological phenomenon belonging to the alterity of past? Or, are empires defined by their territorial conquest — geographically identifiable entities distinct and distant from their metropolitan centres? Further, if empires are both, what distinguishes them from contemporary South Asian political forms that have historically depended on being distinct and even antithetical to imperialism? The 2019 CSA Graduate Workshop is animated by these broad questions.

The demise of the Soviet Union in 1989 and the beginning of economic liberalization in India (1991) — many believed —signalled the emergence of a political order that was no more conditioned by its colonial ancestry. Economic liberalization was seen as the magical pill that would cure South Asia of many sociological, political, and moral asymmetries. Yet, the rise of nationalism in Nepal and India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Maldives has skewed many such sanguine narratives. The emergence of nationalist and religious fundamentalism disturbs the neat binaries of colonial and postcolonial world. Such changes raise questions about the endurance of both nationalism and imperialism. In what ways does nationalism and imperialism collide and converge? What analytical methods help us identify and distinguish the specific political forms and cultural logic that are a legacy of empires and imperialism?

Much of nineteenth- and twentieth-century philosophy and history has focused on the decline and fall of empires and civilizations. Faced with the resurgence of imperial politics, a question for the twenty-first century is rather about the endurance of empire both in theory and practice. From Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's conception of empire as multitude via Pierre Manent's work on the metamorphoses of Western political organization to ideas of liberal empire in International Relations (John Ikenberry or Michael Ignatieff), the attempt to renew this theme requires critical engagement. 

The workshop will explore the endurance of empire, its nature and meaning. Among others, the questions that will be debated include the following: Are we witnessing the resurgence of old empires or the formation of new ones? Are empires based on economic power and military might, or on ideology and cultural appeal? Winston Churchill remarked that the empires of the future would be "empires of the mind." Can power be contained or is it inherently imperial?  Presentations will focus on but are not limited to the following themes: 

  • The meaning of empire and imperial power
  • Historical and cultural responses to the British Empire in South Asia
  • How is anticolonial/anti-imperial related with nationalism?
  • The legacy of the British Empire
  • South Asia and the rise of national states and transnational markets?
  • Forms of control and hegemony in the British Empire in South Asia
  • Are liberalism and empire contradictory or compatible?
  • Nationalism, imperialism, and capitalism
  • Contemporary conceptions of empire in philosophy, politics, and international relations