Contested Narratives: International Workshop with PhD course

Department of Cross-Cultural & Regional Studies (ToRS) and Centre of Global South-Asian Studies, University of Copenhagen

23-24 April 2015

Convenor Dr Manpreet K Janeja, University of Copenhagen

Keynote Lectures

Professor Willem van Schendel (University of Amsterdam)
New Narratives of Bangladesh 

Dr Lotte Hoek (University of Edinburgh)
Repeat Viewing: Plagiarised Film and the Responsibilities of Creativity in South Asia 

Speakers include

Professor David Lewis (London School of Economics), Professor Thomas Blom Hansen (Stanford University), Dr Ellen Bal (Vrije University Amsterdam), Professor Katy Gardner (London School of Economics), Dr Delwar Hussain (University of Edinburgh), Dr Benjamin Zeitlyn (University of Sussex), Dr Jose Mapril (Lisbon University)

Co-funded by: The PhD School Faculty of Humanities University of Copenhagen; SASNET Lund University; Asian Dynamics Initiative University of Copenhagen; ToRS University of Copenhagen

Varying frames or forms of narratives - whether of historical trajectories of the emergence of modern nation-states and their boundaries and borderlands, configurations of memory and cultural heritage, politics of identity and not-belonging, or modes of (un-)development and migration - are not fixed, stable, and unchanging. Such narratives and frames are constantly woven, contested, ruptured, and re-imagined. For example continuing contestations, debates, and re-interpretations of Bangladesh’s Liberation War in 1971 and the International Crimes Tribunal (set up to investigate alleged War criminals) reveal the fraught histories, representations, and perceptions of Bengali and Bangladeshi nationalism and identity, generated from within Bangladesh and from Bangladeshi diaspora groups in London, Dubai or Lisbon in dialogue with various local, national, and transnational formations. Such contestations, ruptures and emergent re-workings of modes of framing bring to the fore multiple fluid networks of power, agency and inequities, and forms of state and non-state violence and conflict. Disputes, imaginings, and re-negotiations of such competing forms of narratives also illuminate the dynamics of spatial and temporal interactions and transformations, and entanglements of mobilities, immobilities, and displacements of humans, objects, ideas, images, and representations. Through the lens of ethnographic and interdisciplinary studies of contemporary Bangladesh and its variegated ‘local/global’ connections and interactions with its South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) neighbours including India and Pakistan, Bay of Bengal Initiative (BIMSTEC) neighbours such as Myanmar, and the UK, Europe and Middle East (via its diasporas), this international workshop aims to bring together research talks by senior scholars and a PhD course with presentations by postgraduate scholars that engage with theoretical and methodological approaches to forms of contested narratives and modes of framing in general. A broad engagement with the particularities of contested narratives of Bangladesh and its interactions brings to the fore a series of epistemological questions scholars of South Asia or indeed of ‘area studies’ in general need to address seriously.

The following sub-thematic strands animate (without confining) the focus on ‘Contested Narratives’ and encourage the exploration of potential questions such as:

Borders, borderlands, migrations, and diasporas

How are shifting narratives of contextual border activations, managements, closures, and re-activations, created, experienced, contested, and effectuated on a daily basis? What are the different mobilities and immobilities, connections, linkages, stoppages, and circulations that are forged, ruptured, re-formed, or negotiated?  How do competing narratives of historically and politically dynamic borders and borderlands, e.g. the borderlands of Bangladesh, India and Myanmar, emerge as strategic sites for studying issues such as the(im)mobility of goods, commodities and people, human security, ethnic conflicts, and the multiple layers of state power and sovereignty? What are the contested narratives, for instance, that frame policies that seek to regulate, manage, and control flows and patterns of ‘skilled/unskilled’, ‘legal/illegal’ migrations across borders, and perceptions of migrants as threats to national, socio-cultural, and economic security? How do trans-border migrants define ‘home’, ‘homeland’ and notions of belonging/not-belonging? What is the role of diaspora politics in such narratives and imaginings?

Development, un-development, and environmental challenges

What is the role of state and non-state actors such as development organisations, NGOs, and multi-nationals in various narratives of ‘development’ and ‘un-development’ which connect with competing ways of understanding Bangladesh for example, critiquing it, and dreaming of what it might become? How might we conceive of ‘moral economies of development’ instantiated by say corporate programmes of community engagement? What are the possible linkages between narratives of ‘sustainable development’ and ‘corporate environmental responsibility’? How do the cultural politics of global environmentalism and climate change pan out locally in say contemporary Bangladesh or South Asia? E.g. how are global narratives, concepts and regulations of environment conservation and ecological practices re-interpreted and re-configured in people’s everyday lives and value systems?

Urbanization, new urbanities and the ‘world-class’ city paradigm

What insights might be gained through the study of competing narratives of  urbanity and ‘ideas of the city’ as imagined and re-imagined by different groups such as middle-class residents, ‘urban poor’, immigrants, urban planners, politicians or MNCs? What are the forms of violence, conflict and precarity inherent in contested urban frames such as the ‘world-class’ city paradigm that bring forth spatial transformations through time in mega-cities like the South Asian cities of Dhaka, Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Karachi (among the world’s top 20 mega-cities)? What are the complex interplays between global and regional factors that come to the fore in increasingly powerful narratives of privatisation of urban planning and urban space which fuel urban beautification and cleansing drives predicated on eviction of street hawkers and clearance of ‘slums’ or ‘informal’ settlements in such cities?

Ethnic, linguistic, religious, and indigenous minorities/majorities

What are the ambivalent narratives that frame the processes of marginalisation of minorities, ethnic mobilisation and conflict? What are the connections that emerge between such narrative styles, identity, and power? What are the processes that feed into the articulation of diverse (ethno-linguistic, religious or indigenous) identities? How do ethnic minorities and indigenous groups e.g. Chakmas, Rohingyas or Garos engage with national debates about a pluralist Bangladesh and/or cultural pluralist interpretations of a Bangladeshi ‘imagined community’?

Methods of ‘Doing Ethnographic Case Studies’

How do different ethnographic research methods - visual (cinema, television, photography, art), participant observation in ‘field sites’, interviews, listening to story-telling, and archival research methods – enable the study of contested narratives of borders, migration, urbanity or development for example? What can be gained through the use of different kinds of materials e.g. interview data; historical documents; oral history and stories; audio-visual data generated through documentary films, mass media such as newspapers, television, and radio, internet websites and social media such as Facebook and Twitter; literary writings such as poems and novels?

Practical information

Venue: Room 27.0.17 (Building 27-Ground Floor-Room 17), KUA 1, Faculty of Humanities, University of Copenhagen, Njalsgade 136, Copenhagen 2300 S

PhD CourseFor postgraduate applicants only. For further details please visit the PhD course website.