Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Veena Das -- Democracy and the Politics of Need

Friday, September 30, 2011

2 p.m. – 4 p.m.

Joukowsky Forum

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"Democracy and the Politics of Need," with Veena Das, Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University.

The abiding concerns of Veena’s research have been to understand the working of
long time cultural logics in contemporary events as well as moments of rupture
and recovery. Veena’s first book showed how one may address this through an
examination of texts produced in local communities in which myth and history
were embedded in each other. Veena has often learnt from ancient, medieval and
contemporary texts in Sanskrit, Hindi, Gujarati, Bengali and Urdu either by posing
these as interlocutors to some contemporary anthropological concerns or taking
their voices on lease in order to traverse a different genealogy of the problem. 

In recent years Veena worked intensively on questions of violence, social
suffering. and subjectivity. Her interest in these questions stems from questions
on the institutional processes through which violence and suffering are produced
as well as from questions on what it is to produce testimony to these events and
to oneself. If societies hide from themselves the pain which is inflicted upon
individuals as prices of belonging, then how do social sciences learn to receive this
knowledge? Veena has tried to see the intricate relations between biography,
autobiography and ethnography to frame many of these questions. 

Currently she is working on a project on burden of disease and health
seeking behavior among the urban poor in Delhi. This work is being done in
collaboration with colleagues from the disciplines of Economics and the Health
Sciences in addition to anthropologists and sociologists. The collaborating
institution in Delhi is the Institute of Socio-Economic Research in Development
and Democracy. Presently they are trying to create a panel data for 250
households which tracks the relation between local ecology, health and family
processes of decision making.

Location: Joukowsky Forum, Watson Institute, 111 Thayer Street.

Reception to follow.