ADI Academic Profiles - Ravinder Kaur

By Kasper Ørntoft Thor

ADI Academic Profiles series puts spotlight on individual researchers working on Asia related issues in the social sciences and humanities, and promotes remarkable publications and innovative research projects.

Ravinder Kaur

In the 5th interview in the series of ADI Academic Profiles, Associate Professor  Ravinder Kaur of the Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies presents her most recent work as well as a new research project focusing on the impact of increasing collaboration and cooperation between Asia and Africa on the contemporary world order.

The Danish Council for Independent Research | Social Sciences (FSE):
‘Nation in Motion, Globalization, Governance and Development in New India’ (2010-2015)

“I have been working on a collective project with a group of researchers financed by DFF (Det Frie Forskningsråd, edit.) called Nation in Motion, Globalization, Governance and Development in New India’. The theme we worked on concerns the ways in which India has transformed from a postcolonial nation into an emerging market. We have primarily been looking at how the social, political, and cultural fields have been transforming concurrently with the changes in the economic transformations.”

“About three decades ago, India undertook a number of economic reforms. This lead to India moving away from the erstwhile closed economy into an economy open to foreign capital, and to a wide range of neoliberal reforms, such as decentralization and disinvestment of the public sector. This also led to a widespread feeling of being in ‘new times’ that separated us from the colonial past, the feeling of having crossed the threshold into modernity. What lies at the center of this study, then, is the old question of novelty, or how newness is manufactured and experienced in a society undergoing fundamental cultural-political shifts in the times of capitalist reforms.”

The notion of changes and transformations present in the project ‘Nation in Motion, Globalization, Governance and Development in New India’ is also at the center of a recently published co-edited issue of the journal Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power by Ravinder Kaur and Thomas Blom Hansen, Professor of Anthropology at Stanford University.

Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power
‘Aesthetics of arrival: spectacle, capital, novelty in post-reform India’
Co-edited with Thomas Blom Hansen

 “In collaboration with Thomas Blom Hansen, Professor at Stanford University, I have co-edited a special issue of the journal 'Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power'. The issue is entitled ‘Aesthetics of arrival: spectacle, capital, novelty in post-reform India’. In this issue, we are looking at the different ways in which the idea that something new has happened in India is being experienced, and the ways it is being represented.”

According to Ravinder Kaur, looking at the middle-class citizens of the big cities of India, you quickly realize that something new is indeed present. Shopping malls are appearing in more and more places, people travel more, and are educated differently. In short, the entire lifestyle of middle-class people living in the big cities has changed. Trying to better understand the prospects of these changes for the people of India also lies at the center of the soon to be published issue. The editors make use of the concept of aesthetics as the foundation for their investigation into these changes.  

“By aesthetics, we do not simply refer to beauty. Aesthetics also means experience; how do you experience newness? How does the Indian middle-class experience the widely felt sentiment that ‘we have arrived on the global stage’? We are looking at this phenomenon in two different ways. First, the way in which the outside world looks upon India. And second, within India, how do you look upon yourself? In this regard, it seems like the old sentiment of always falling short of expectations is fading away. Of course, this is predominantly a middle-class phenomenon. But the middle-class in India is expanding, and so we are talking about a huge part of the population.”

The idea of change and having arrived on the global stage is not confined to India alone. In fact many regions of the South, such as the rest of the BRICS countries, all seem to be well on their way, giving rise to the notion of an emerging South. This, Ravinder Kaur mentions, entails further questions to be investigated. If these regions are indeed emerging, then in what ways is it reshaping the world as we know it? This question is the foundation for a new project titled ‘Emerging worlds: Ethnographic Explorations in New South-South Connections’.

The Danish Council for Independent Research | Humanities (FKK):
‘Emerging worlds: Explorations in New South-South Connections’ (2014-2018)

 “The project itself is called ‘Emerging worlds: Explorations in New South-South Connections’. It is a collaborative project with two PhD students and a large network of international scholars. The purpose of the project is to investigate the ways in which the increasing collaboration, cooperation and movement between the Southern countries, that is, countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, is unsettling the old North-South relations. Traditionally, South has stood for poverty, deprivation, chaos, and destabilizing forces, and has been the place where development aid has been poured into. The North, on the other hand, has been seen as the rich, powerful, resourceful, and technologically advanced. But with the recent discourse on ‘rise’, the old notion of North and South is shifting. South is increasingly being looked upon as a place where there is hope. And not just hope for the South itself, but for the whole world. For instance, while the economic growth of Europe and America is trailing off, the growth of the Southern countries is still developing rapidly. 

So in this project, we want to look at the ways in which the South is looked upon in a hopeful way, focusing particularly on how new connections are taking place between Southern nations. One example of this is the connections being established between Asia and Africa. These connections are historical, and they were shaped during colonial times. But what we are seeing now is a new fresh movement, which is not necessarily being mediated by nation states. For example, what has been widely studied so far is how Chinese or Indians are entering Africa. But the reverse is also taking place as many migrant workers from African nations now move to India or China. In the past, the story used to be that all migrants wanted to move to Europe. But what we are seeing now, with the emerging South, is that the South is suddenly seen as a place of hope and opportunities. That is one phenomenon that we will be uncovering in this project.”

ADI would like to thank Ravinder Kaur for featuring in this interview.
June 2015

Read more about Ravinder Kaur's research and publications here.