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M.S Merian International Centre of Advanced Studies ‘Metamorphoses of the Political (ICAS:MP)

The M.S Merian International Centre of Advanced Studies ‘Metamorphoses of the Political’ (ICAS:MP) combines the benefits of an open, interdisciplinary forum for intellectual exchange with the advantages of a cutting-edge research centre. The centre will focus on key political processes that have emerged in parallel in many parts of the world during the twentieth century through to the present day, processes that are entangled yet heterogeneous. Located in the global South where ‘most of the world’ resides, ICAS:MP critically intervenes in debates in the social sciences which, despite relying almost entirely on evidence from North-Atlantic rim societies, claim universal applicability. ICAS:MP is thus not just another initiative to strengthen ‘Area Studies’ nor a base for narrowly bilateral Indo- German comparison. Rather, it will serve as a centre of advanced international research located in India in order to consciously unsettle the methodological nationalism and Eurocentrism that continue to frame research in the humanities and social sciences.

More information on ICAS: MP is available here

Thematic Module 1: History as a Political Category

Mission and Research

Over the ‘long twentieth century’ issues of politics and power have inevitably mediated history writing, and the politics of interpretations has been entangled in larger political conflicts. If history helps constitute identities (of nations, races etc.), rethinking and rewriting histories refashions those identities. Analysing how the rethinking of history reconstitutes the political will offer several productive and novel perspectives on the constitution and discursive power of the political.

Such processes can be studied at four levels: First, at the level at which history is linked to the politics of spatialization and re-territorialization. While the making of nation-states has required the subordination of regional voices, the political assertion of the regions has often entailed an attack on nationalist master narratives by means of alternative ‘indigenous’ historiographies. Second, in relation to race and ethnic communities. The constitution of race relations through the writing of race into history, the ways race is represented, naturalized and made normative, and the way the anti-racist struggle has been ex- pressed in the attempt to de-racialize history are issues which open up many comparative perspectives on the relationship between historiography and the political. Third, in relation to the political assertion and demands for recognition of oppressed castes and ethnic and religious minorities. Their attempts to be included in the nation often lead to the rewriting of existing dominant narratives, thereby connecting political struggles with histories of representation. Finally, the close relationship between the histories and politics of ‘aboriginals’ (e.g. in Australia/ New Zealand/US) or Adivasis (India) provides a similarly promising area to study the mutual constitution of history and the political: the assertion of their rights and their entry into the political sphere has invariably involved battles over their respective histories.

The module will concentrate primarily on three areas of inquiry: (a) controversial representations of history in textbooks; (b) the use of specific historical master narratives in films (historical documentaries etc.) and public debates on historical films; (c) heritage politics in the context of colonial rule and postcolonial nation-building. In all these three areas India has been at the centre of recent international debate on ‘history as a political category’. Locating this module in India, therefore, connects it not only to an extremely lively research environment, but also to exciting ongoing public debates on ‘the public life of history’.