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too: from ‘Deciphering Sonia’ (originally published in Governance Now) to the Maggi controversy, from previously unpublished ‘The Fate of Gandhian Scholarship’ to ‘Dara Singh: The Last Action King’.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
A Case of Indian Marvels: Dazzling Stories from the Country’s Finest Writers Edited by David Davidar Aleph, 390 pages, Rs 999 Change is the only constant, and India has always been doing so. Yet, after independence, if there was a year when the p
“My volume of business has increased ever since I registered on GeM (Government e-Marketplace) in 2017. Earlier, I could supply items only in the vicinity of my shop in Fort area and only within Mumbai. Now, I ship my products all over the country! I have tied up with India Post and three private cou
The Journey of Hindi Language Journalism in India: From Raj to Swaraj and Beyond By Mrinal Pande Orient BlackSwan, 188 pages, Rs 1,195.00 In India, the English-language media is considered the ‘national media’, while the language press
The telecom sector in the country will witness more reforms in the coming years, minister for communications, electronics & IT and railways Ashwini Vaishnaw has said. He also asserted that the industry too will have to do its bit and reciprocate by improving quality of service significantly.
Left-wing extremism is in existence right from India’s independence, but it became prominent in 1967 under the name of Naxalism. The nomenclature of this movement has changed from time to time and place to place depending upon the leadership. Before 2014 more than 15 states were facing this problem w
A series of pre-launch events and initiatives have been organised by the Department of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare on the MyGov platform in the run-up to the International Year of Millets 2023 to create awareness and a sense of participation in the country around the ancient and forgotten golden