Dan is Chair of the India Dialogue at the University of East Anglia. He is also Assistant Professor in the Department of Art History and World Art Studies (School of Art, Media and American Studies).
Dan very kindly found time in his diary to talk to us about his new book: The Humanities in India as Pluralist Pedagogy. This will be published by Orient Blackswan (Hyderabad, India) later in 2023.
Q Dan, many congratulations indeed on the publication of your new book, and thanks for agreeing to speak to us! Could you begin by introducing our readers to the idea of this book?
Thanks so much for this opportunity! The book’s premise is that academics who work either in or with the Humanities in India have something to contribute to an evolving dialogue on social and educational transformation. The book therefore sets out some possibilities for this dialogue, including the ‘decolonisation’ of the Humanities. Given the need for some kind of road-map that pertains to the complexity and diversity of issues linked to decolonisation in India and elsewhere, I focus on the potential role that ‘pluralist’ pedagogy might play.
I contend that cultural pluralism, value pluralism and methodological pluralism stand out as being resonant and workable, especially in contexts of academic and pedagogic collaboration. As and when academics embrace collaboration as one of the principles of knowledge-creation, the process of rethinking and repositioning key ideas is enabled. Since 2016, UEA’s Humanities in India partnerships programme has for me become a major reference-point for this re-evaluation. This is because members of this programme are committed to generating long-term mutual support for different kinds of ‘decolonial’ and ‘social justice’ initiatives.
Q That’s really helpful – thank you! What convinced you that now was the right time for this book on pluralism?
I was invited to write this book by colleagues at Jadavpur University in southern Kolkata (eastern India). When I was a visiting teaching fellow there in early 2020, I gave a public talk on ‘provocative’ pedagogy and the significance of this idea to exponents of cultural and literary translation. There was a sense, given that this talk and the fellowship were recent iterations of the Jadavpur-UEA linkage, that a special effort should be made to explore the issues in the form of a short monograph. The book explores an emergent rubric for academic collaboration and decolonisation, namely Academic Social Responsibility (ASR). Since 2016, which marked our first phase of joint work on curriculum development, the rubric of ASR has come to achieve real currency for the Humanities in India programme.
Q Your book encourages us to think more carefully about ASR. Why is this important? And why hadn’t it been done before?
Well, part of the point is that it has been done before, and that in responding to its earlier iterations one can make better sense of the temporal as well as socio-political, philosophical, and cultural coordinates of responsibility. But these earlier iterations may not necessarily have presented their own response in these precise terms. In situations where ‘post’ colonial oppression continues, for example in terms of linguistic colonisation, cultural chauvinism, human rights abuses, and embedded inequality, the question of what gets iterated, taught, translated, etc. – and how, where, and by whom, etc. - is a matter of academic as well as social responsibility.
One of the ideas presented in the book is that provocation and pluralism are well-suited not only to each other, but also to future Humanities subject-areas, such as decolonial humanism and indigenous rights education. This is where my experience as a historian of ‘Indian’ anthropology pertains to the book, especially to the idea of methodological pluralism. I employ this as the search for - and critical combination of - diverse knowledges, perspectives, experiences, and aspirations.
Provocations can be discerned, and produced or reproduced, in many different places and spaces. For me, it is the cultural, political, artistic, ideational and educational textures of provocation that are of interest. Why are some sections of India’s society inscribed as ‘backward’ in the Constitution? This is a basic provocation, but one that has currency for people involved in legal and socio-political struggles, and in their interpretation. Similarly, why do some minority languages in India receive Constitutional protection, whilst others do not? The provocations are numerous and wide-ranging. The point is to find ways to teach, learn, and communicate in ways that can make them significant across social, cultural, and temporal borders.
Q Thank you! This is all sounds fantastically interesting, and clearly at the cutting edge of internationalist Humanities education. Could you tell us a little about how you became interested in this area in the first place?
In 2014, after I had completed some projects focusing on the complex question of indigeneity in India, I was encouraged by one of my senior departmental colleagues to find ways to link the insights generated from this work more broadly to the Humanities. After I founded UEA’s India Dialogue in 2015, I co-founded the Humanities in India partnerships programme. This involves a good number of different universities and subject areas, and it is the only facet of UEA’s own internationalisation work that involves ‘international’, rather than UEA-based colleagues, in its steering committee. Since 2016, we gradually started to consider how and why certain global concepts (such as responsibility), global challenges (such as global justice), and global governance systems (such as UNESCO and the UN) impact not only on our disciplines and existing research, but also on the future of university-level cooperation.
There is a drive towards University Social Responsibility as well as ASR, and our India Dialogue leads on this agenda too. It features less in the book that we are talking about today, but in 2020 we produced a guidebook entitled University Social Responsibility: From Dialogue to Implementation, commissioned by UEA’s International Executive. This goes into detail on how and why USR agendas and processes align to the UN’s 2030 Agenda for the Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. It is possible also to engage issues of indigeneity and social justice via the 2030 Agenda, although – of course – this Agenda has its own agenda, so to speak!
Q Presumably your thinking evolved as you were working on the book: did any of your findings surprise you?
Yes, my biggest and best surprise was that I found ways of making collaborative work ‘speak’, as a single author. I had hitherto been a little shy of attempting this, but as I wrote the piece in 2022 I focused on multiple forms and areas of ‘voice’ as a way of articulating diverse experiences of (as priorities in) rights-based education. There is an element of self-reflection involved in understanding how one’s capacity to listen, as well as to speak, can inform and enhance the processes of education, communication, and translation.
Q That’s very interesting – thank you! Looking to the future, then, what is the next project on your research agenda? Will you be building on this work going forward?
Yes, I am hoping to continue my work in this domain for the foreseeable future. Our India Dialogue activity persists, and so we are constantly committed to creating good opportunities for people and institutions to connect on these important topics. I am currently involved in a new collaborative project that focuses on philosophies of social responsibility.
Q One final question, if we might? Now that The Humanities in India as Pluralist Pedagogy is being published, what are your hopes for the book? What would you like readers to take away from it, and what impact would you like it to have on the world?
I would like it to become a reference point for future collaborative and international work involving Humanities and Social Science educators and students. I would also like it to be brought into both undergraduate and postgraduate courses on modern India, decolonisation, postcolonial philosophy, global citizenship education, and internationalism. I gave podcast on similar topics for acaudio.com, so I would like to share the link https://acaudio.com/publication/3436. In sum, I would encourage readers to reflect on the challenges involved in institutional and social change, and then generate their own pro-people and ‘transversal’ solutions.
Dan, thank you very much indeed for your time. We will share the book’s hyperlink when this becomes available from Orient Blackswan (Hyderabad).