Notes of a social science nomad
Ashish Mehta | August 16, 2016
Shiv Visvanathan rightly prefers to be introduced as a social science nomad. He is an itinerant thinker, wandering across boundaries of academic disciplines and professions. An anthology of his writings naturally displays that eclecticism. There are blogs, columns, essays and position papers; published in top newspapers and small journals. The same holds for his choice of subjects too: from ‘Deciphering Sonia’ (originally published in Governance Now) to the Maggi controversy, from previously unpublished ‘The Fate of Gandhian Scholarship’ to ‘Dara Singh: The Last Action King’. The diverse fare here is a rich treat.
Visvanathan’s nomadic traits also make him a sort of go-to expert for journalists. More than a decade ago, when he was not so prolific in writing columns for newspapers and magazines, he was the one a reporter would call up for an expert quote when the subject of the news story won’t fit any discipline. As he started devoting more time to column writing, he turned out to be the man an editor would turn to when an unbiased, fresh opinion was needed on a topic done to death. When we at Governance Now thought of including an essay on Arundhati Roy, who else could have we turned to for a novel take beyond the predictable ones?
In other words, Visvanathan has a way of avoiding prefab, clichéd positions of the left/right, liberal/conservative camps. That is why his writings leave you with something to think about.
If he were part of any of the tents in the commentariat, the first word of this volume’s title would have been different. ‘Theatre’ connotes play, playfulness, performance, show, drama, theatricality, make-believe recreation cut off from the real life. It implies looking at democracy with an attitude that would be termed postmodern in his academic world and sceptical in his column-writing avatar. This attitude means little faith in the emancipatory capacity of any ideology, any politics. Simply put, the columnist will unpack the conundrum called Rahul Gandhi in the same way he will deconstruct Narendra Modi, considering their ideological stances as just another marketing gimmick.
Looking at the last couple of years, we probably need a strong dose of that cynicism. But that does not mean democracy is merely a carnival for him. Superficially, here is an academic with an unusual flair for writing, gleefully bringing his high theory to bear on ‘Ambassador versus Maruti’ or ‘football vs cricket’, giving us an Indian edition of Umberto Eco. Deep down, he is a scholar with commitment and responsibility. Blame it on his subjects, then, for turning democracy into a theatre. For proof, read his essays on Gandhi.
Theatres of Democracy: Between the epic and the everyday
By Shiv Visvanathan, Edited by Chandan Gowda
430 pages, Rs 699
The book review appears in the August 1-15, 2016 issue
While India’s Covid-19 recovery rate has improved to 63.02%, there are 19 states that are doing better than that. They are led by the national capital, Delhi. Here is a list of these states, as on Monday evening: Ladakh (UT) 85.45% Delhi
Though India remains the third-most affected country in terms of Covid-19 infections, the situation seems to be improving as the number of people who have recovered from infection has rose to 5,34,620, with a recovery rate of 62.93 percent. “Focussed and coordinated steps taken in tand
Vice president M Venkaiah Naidu has urged the people to introspect on the life during the last few months under coronavirus induced confinement and assess if they have learned the right lessons and equipped themselves to deal with such uncertainties. Seeking to engage with people on the cau
The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted economies and healthcare systems across the world. Even in the countries, like the US, that have the highest spend on healthcare and public health emergency preparedness, the impact of coronavirus pandemic on health and livelihoods of people has been tremendous. There ar
India would play a leading role in the global revival, prime minister Narendra Modi said on Thursday, as he addressed the inaugural session of India Global week via video-conference. He said that this is closely linked with two factors. “First is - Indian talent and second is India`s
The BrihanMumbai municipal corporation (BMC) has countered Maharashtra leader of opposition Devendra Fadanvis’s suspicions of fewer Covid-19 tests, as it outlined various measures it has adopted since the first test conducted on February 3, and how it has gradually brought down the number of cases in