The recording is now available for the public conversation between Prof. Hamid Dabashi and Prof. Ashis Nandy.
The two eminent scholars raised crucial questions revolving around the theme of “state, culture, and human imagination.” Professor Dabashi and Professor Nandy brought to this discussion their respective conceptions of these central ideas. Of particular interest was the nature of the modern state and its viability within the context of changing epistemological, discursive, and temporal spaces. Professor Nandy suggests that the advent of the modern state has wreaked devastation upon societies by imposing the necessity of a cultural homogenization project. Building upon this idea, Professor Dabashi questions the viability of the modern state, in the Weberian sense, suggesting that the amorphous state has a greater tolerance for critical thinking than a totalitarian nation-state. The public conversation between Professor Dabashi and Professor Nandy is crucial to Baraza’s own work, which seeks to imagine – and create – a space that not only facilitates engagement within the geographic and disciplinary boundaries of Area Studies. It also encourages the production of new discursive modes around which these engagements can be centered.
Much like the porosity of geopolitical borders, as pointed out by Professor Nandy, transference of knowledge between disciplines presents new possibilities for critical thinking. Professor Dabashi’s outstanding text, Post-Orientalism: Knowledge and Power in Time of Terror, presents a genealogy of Area Studies from Orientalism to today and posits the future of Area Studies as a new episteme that employs new vocabularies. One of the current problems contributing to stasis within Area Studies, he suggests in the text as well as in his Five Questions segment for Baraza, is a reliance on and reinforcement of the theoretical and intellectual status quo around which critiques are based. Dismantling this status quo goes beyond an understanding of postcolonial thought by the likes of Edward Said, Gayatri Spviak, or Ranajit Guha and requires a complete decentering of “the West” as the primary interlocutor. Like Professor Dabashi and Professor Nandy, the young scholars at Baraza recognize this critical intellectual impasse and seek to change the face of Area Studies – particularly for the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa – to reflect innovative, progressive, and challenging thought.
Marianna Reis is an MA student at Columbia University. Her research interests include Palestinian identity, diaspora, and cinema. She is currently conducting research on representations of identity in political cartoons featured in Palestinian newspapers during the First and Second Intifadas.