Merian – Tagore International Centre of Advanced Studies (ICAS-MP)
Metamorphoses of the Political: Comparative Perspectives on the Long Twentieth Century
“Metamorphoses of the Political: Comparative Perspectives on the Long Twentieth Century” is the first M.S. Merian International Centre for Advanced Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences (ICAS-MP) abroad that is financed by the German Ministry of Education and Research. ICAS:MP will have its main location in New Delhi and is organised collectively by an Indo-German consortium consisting of the Centre for Modern India, University of Würzburg, the Centre for Modern Indian Studies (CeMIS), University of Göttingen, the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), New Delhi, the Centre for the Study of Social Sciences Calcutta (CSSSC), Kolkata, the Institute of Economic Growth (IEG), New Delhi, the Max Weber Center for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies, University of Erfurt and the Max Weber Foundation, Bonn, with its German Historical Institute London (GHIL).
ICAS:MP combines the benefits of an open, interdisciplinary forum for intellectual exchange with the advantages of a cutting-edge research centre. The centre will focus on key political processes that have emerged in parallel in many parts of the world during the twentieth century through to the present day. A core objective of ICAS:MP consists in connecting scholars whose regional specialization usually tends to keep them apart. Scholarly exchange and joint exploration within ICAS-MP will be defined by a shared interest in examining the shifting boundaries, historically contingent contents, and intellectual lineages of the twentieth-century ‘political’ and by working comparatively, the Centre will highlight the overlapping yet distinctive trajectories of political processes that have unfolded over the globe.
The distinction between ‘politics’ and ‘the political’ has become a key precept of modern social science, philosophy, and cultural history. The awareness of the demise of the sovereign nation-state as prime actor and object of political science gave rise to an intensive and interdisciplinary debate on the ‘Metamorphoses of the Political’. Today, ‘the political’ changes its ‘aggregate state’ continually, encompassing new fields of social practice as it withdraws from others, frequently appearing as ‘antipolitics’. In the long 20th century, the Indian subcontinent has been one of the most vigorous sources of distinctive conceptualizations and practices of ‘the political’ beyond the North Atlantic region.
The M.S Merian International Centre of Advanced Studies ‘Metamorphoses of the Political’ (ICAS:MP) combines the benefits of an open, interdisciplinary forum for intellectual exchange with the advantages of a cutting-edge research centre. The centre will focus on key political processes that have emerged in parallel in many parts of the world during the twentieth century through to the present day, processes that are entangled yet heterogeneous. Located in the global South where ‘most of the world’ resides, ICAS:MP critically intervenes in debates in the social sciences which, despite relying almost entirely on evidence from North-Atlantic rim societies, claim universal applicability. ICAS:MP is thus not just another initiative to strengthen ‘Area Studies’ nor a base for narrowly bilateral Indo- German comparison. Rather, it will serve as a centre of advanced international research located in India in order to consciously unsettle the methodological nationalism and Eurocentrism that continue to frame research in the humanities and social sciences.
Through its innovative modular and network structure, ICAS:MP will generate sustainable research cooperation among leading humanities and social science scholars from Germany, India and other countries who investigate similar research problems rather than necessarily the same region. Indeed, a core objective of ICAS:MP consists in connecting scholars whose regional specialization usually tends to keep them apart. Scholarly exchange and joint exploration within ICAS:MP will be defined by a shared interest in examining the shifting boundaries, historically contingent contents, and intellectual lineages of the twentieth-century ‘political’ and by working comparatively, ICAS:MP will highlight the overlapping yet distinctive trajectories of political processes that have unfolded over the globe.
Deeply contradictory and conflicting tendencies have shaped ‘the political’ over much of the twentieth century. In its early decades, unprecedented levels of political participation, the politicization of ‘social questions’ and a new abundance of social movements were countered by apprehensions over the ‘dangerous’ effects of mass political agency. While colonialism and empire seemed untenable by the second half of the century and ideals of democracy came to enjoy virtually unchallenged legitimacy, fierce contestations over the substance of democratic politics reflected and fuelled a protracted cold war, and the exercise of political violence by both state and non-state actors. In academic scholarship these conflicts generated an intensive and interdisciplinary debate on the con- tours and content of ‘the political’. By century’s end the distinction between ‘politics,’ i.e. formal political institutions and their practices, and ‘the political’ as the realm of conflicting views and controversial negotiations about the shaping of modern society, became a key precept of modern political and social science, theory, philosophy, and cultural history. Referencing discussions from earlier decades of global tumult, some scholars from both left and right argued that ‘the political’ has all but exhausted itself in a ‘neoliberal’ technocratic present.
It is evident, however, that ‘the political’ has not simply receded. Rather, it is in a state of perpetual metamorphosis, encompassing new fields of social practice as it withdraws from others, occasionally challenging the stability of entrenched political systems (as in the ‘Arab spring’) and frequently appearing as ‘antipolitics’. Scholars associated with ICAS:MP will have the opportunity to examine and compare, from a wide array of disciplinary and methodological approaches, how ‘the political’ has been conceptualized, articulated and performed in specific arenas of contestation during what we call the ‘long twentieth century.’ This temporal demarcation is a heuristic that allows us to take into account longer historical trajectories, ranging from ‘age of empire’ to the transformative phase following the end of the cold war in which ‘the political’ emerged as a realm transcending the boundaries of institutional politics. ICAS:MP researchers will ask: What comes to count as the political in distinct locales? What are the historical dynamics of depoliticization and repoliticization: how has the boundary between the political and the non-political (whether prepolitical, apolitical, or antipolitical) shifted over time? What are the material and normative stakes of claiming, redefining or rejecting, the political? How do these dynamics unfold beyond, and unsettle, the West/non-West divide? These questions about the shifting nature of the political will be addressed through sustained empirical focus on six paradigmatic arenas in which contestation over delimiting the political has been particularly intense: Critiques of Democracy, the Politics of Labour, Conflicts over Norms, the Performance of Gender, Education and Inequality, and the Politics of History. ICAS-MP modules will, in turn, intensively engage one another’s research in a collaborative project of unsettling conventional theorizations, chronologies and intellectual geographies.