Room 203, Luce Hall
This conference explores the theory and practice of political representation in South Asia. What are the most prominent, effective forms of political representation? When representation is effective, who or what is being represented (identity, interests, ideology)? Where, how, and by whom does representation occur (parties, legislatures, courts, media, voting, protest/activism)? Who remains excluded? What would their inclusion entail, and what would be the consequences thereof?
Independence came with the adoption of universal suffrage and parliamentary representation. Since then, institutional representation has proliferated across sites that vary in scale (from the national, state, district, and village level governance), in form (election – direct and indirect, patronage, promotion, delegation), and function (administration, adjudication, governance). This variation invites inquiry into important historical and theoretical questions about the nature of the transition from imperial to postcolonial forms of consultation, competition, and representation. It also raises questions about connections and comparisons with the most recent colonial past as well as the persistence of legacies and prefigurations – both actual and imagined – from South Asia’s pre-colonial political traditions.
Beyond questions of institutional inheritance, we also want to track with more focus and precision how historical changes in the meaning of representation relate to transformations in political practices. We seek to explore the vital mediating institutions that perform/enable representation in different moments of political mobilization, from leadership styles and structure, party formation and de-formation, forms of protest and resistance, to the role of mass political media (newspapers, film/television, to the internet).
In essaying the variety of contemporary practice we are especially keen to critically explore both formal and informal channels of politics. Formally, voting has come be a central fulcrum of India politics, while legislatures have ceded space and status as the sites of law-making and rule. There is little confidence or consensus about how voting or elections perform or fulfil the function of representation. Widening the paradigms of theories of ethnic politics or clientelism necessitates engagement with the role of political actors in constructing, reproducing, and redefining identities, interests, or ideologies. We seek to ask how formal and semi-formal institutions like parties shape and connect the nodes of political life – from the formation of legislation, to public opinion, and local/regional power structures.
Finally, we hope to relate South Asia with the abstract horizons of democratic theory: does claim-making, virtual, gyroscopic, delegated, etc. representation approximate either current practice or normative aspirations? To what extent is populism a useful theoretical framework for understanding the symbolic forms and structures of democratic aggregation? Is majoritarianism a necessary and permanent feature of politics in South Asia and what are possible counter-majoritarian or minoritarian institutions and strategies?