Deutsch Intern
Lehrstuhl für Indologie


International Workshop "Relating Gender: The Invocation of Culture" in Delhi

Date: 3 and 4 October 2016

Gender is considered as an imperative dimension of the overarching theme of the metamorphosis of the political, which is studied and approached from a multiplicity of disciplines in module TM 5. This workshop will focus on the use of “culture” in the discourse on gender relations. A critical reflection on the emergence of different concepts of „culture“ – as ancient or originary, as associated with „backwardness“ and requiring „civilization“, as linked to memories and myths, as anchored in texts and traditions – will examine the ground on which gender relations have been debated since at least the late 18th century right up to the present. What is the resilience of the “cultural“ in societies and states which have long made the transition to democracy,  and how does “culture” become a political category when being instrumentalized to mobilize or impede political forces? How does it invariably make women, for instance, the bearers rather than the makers of meaning? How does the invocation of culture effectively efface, overshadow or minimize the relations of (economic and political) inequality in which it is embedded? And how has this invocation of culture as a “burden“ been contested, embraced, addressed, or undermined in the past two centuries?

This theme will be explored in three panels, considering the Indian as well as a broadened international context, to understand both the specificities and the commonalities of culture as a „burden”. The workshop will aim at discussing possibilities of turning culture into a resource for more democratic imaginings.

One focus will be on questions of performance traditions, involving the constant redefinition of not just sexuality and gender relations, but of the meaning of democracy, rights and a sense of history of particularly marginalized castes and ethnicities. These „traditions“, which are continually reinvented both despite and because of the intense mediatisation of the performances, whether in print, televisual mediums, or social media, reveal the extremely unstable identities of gender and caste (in the Indian setting) as they take shape within the political system of an electoral democracy. The increasing mediatisation of social life, in which „the traditional“  has been changed, transformed, rejected or renewed, has therefore to be an essential part of the discussions of performativity. As such, unveiling the operation of multiple levels of power and dominance as they shape and determine gender relations, will require more productive categories than „negotiation“ or „empowerment“ in the discourse on gender. Both these categories have lost their critical edge, through uncritical overuse in the first case and through mainstreamisation in the second, and therefore lost their explanatory or even descriptive value. The workshop tries to identify more meaningful key concepts that could extend or improve our ability to describe, understand and analyze the challenges of gender relations in the present.

Another focus will be on citizenship and democracy. As key terms and concepts they will be critically examined in this workshop. “Citizenship” and its increasingly challenged and multiplied meanings is starkly visibilised when it is interrogated, among others, by the category of gender.  The term “citizenship”, which we can neither do without, nor accept in the sense in which it was minted, has increasingly been used to refer simultaneously to a formal association with the legal authority of the state, the larger moral community of the nation, and the rights that they bestow, as it does to the more substantive local relationships that constitute the fabric of social life (usually, though not only, in cities). In the contemporary setting, it cannot be delinked from the broader economic processes that mark what has been described as the Long Twentieth Century, and indeed from the ravages of late twentieth century capitalism.