Project

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Language and “Knowledge Society” in the Age of Globalization: English in Independent India

Applicant Fischer-Tiné Harald
Number 144481
Funding scheme Project funding
Research institution Professur für Technikgeschichte D-GESS ETH Zürich
Institution of higher education ETH Zurich - ETHZ
Main discipline General history (without pre-and early history)
Start/End 01.01.2013 - 30.04.2016
Approved amount 353'284.00
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Keywords (8)

Knowledge society; Educational policy; English in India; Hierarchies of knowledge; Epistemological diversity; Anglobalization; Monoculturalism; Multiculturalism

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Lay summary

The main objective of this project is to examine what a society considers “useful” knowledge and the consequences of such a perception, focusing specifically on the emphasis on the teaching and learning of English. This project analyzes the educational and epistemological history of a specific case where English has had the maximum socioeconomic purchase for decades – postcolonial India – to infer what the future might hold in a world that privileges a single non-native language. It will test the working hypothesis that although English is undoubtedly “useful” given the current global conditions, an overemphasis on the language as a long-term vehicle for the creation and sustenance of a knowledge society risks actively undercutting the larger goals of true knowledge creation and dissemination, leading instead to an untenable loss of epistemological diversity.

 This project comes at a time when increasing global economic integration has led to arguments that the English language is the key to prosperity and growth, and is therefore the most “rational” and “useful” choice. However, the identification of English as the language of international science and business is also leading to a conflation of different concepts like “knowledge,” “skills” and “information.” Such a conflation may have consequences contrary to the ones desired. This project studies mainstream and alternate approaches to education in order to arrive at a better understanding of both the potential and pitfalls along the path of a an English language-based education in a non-English-speaking context.

 In conclusion, this project will attempt to address the following, closely-related, questions:  

• What constitutes knowledge within an education system in a linguistically diverse and economically-driven milieu?;

• How do the curricular and pedagogical emphases influence theperceived relationship between knowledge and language?;

• How do the institutional and socioeconomic emphases on English as an international language, particularly of science and technology, affect actual application, analysis and innovation in contexts where it is not the users’ first language?;and

• How have institutional definitions of knowledge affected society and social well-being? What has been the effect ontraditional knowledge systems?

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
Ambedkar’s Paradox of Differentiation: Language, Nation and Recognition of States in Postcolonial India, 1946-1968
Bharadwaj Vasudha, Bharadwaj Vasudha (2015), Ambedkar’s Paradox of Differentiation: Language, Nation and Recognition of States in Postcolonial India, 1946-1968, in Indian Economic & Social History Review, 52(1), 79-108.
A Global History of Modern South Asia, 1707-Present (Concise History of the Modern World Series)
Bharadwaj Vasudha, Fischer-Tiné Harald, A Global History of Modern South Asia, 1707-Present (Concise History of the Modern World Series), Wiley-Blackwell, Chichester UK.
Language of Power or ‘Fringe Language’?: English and Identity Politics in India, 1946-1968
Bharadwaj Vasudha, Bharadwaj Vasudha, Language of Power or ‘Fringe Language’?: English and Identity Politics in India, 1946-1968, in International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 247.
Un-Indian English: Language, Community, and Identity Politics in Twentieth-Century India (in preparation)
Bharadwaj Vausudha, Bharadwaj Vausudha, Un-Indian English: Language, Community, and Identity Politics in Twentieth-Century India (in preparation), Cambridge University Press (showed interest), Cambridge UK.

Collaboration

Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley United States of America (North America)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
Südasieninstitut, Universität Heidelberg Germany (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
Department of Linguistics, University of California, Davis United States of America (North America)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
Rice University Houston United States of America (North America)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais Belo Horizonte Brazil (South America)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
Center for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi India (Asia)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
Colloquium History Department of Rice University Individual talk Language of Power Or 'Fringe Language'?: English in Postcolonial India, 1946-1968 26.10.2015 Houston TX, United States of America Bharadwaj Vasudha;
Colloquium Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais Individual talk Language and Identity Politics in Twentieth-Century India 29.10.2014 Belo Horizonte, Brazil Bharadwaj Vasudha;
Panel "Connecting histories of childcare and schooling in global perspective,” 4th European Congress on World and Global History Talk given at a conference Educating the new citizen of a free India: Democracy, Identity and the Agendas of Education 04.09.2014 Paris, France Bharadwaj Vasudha;
Workshop "Traversing super-, trans-, and inter-: Central and South Asia revisited,” International Society for the Linguistics of English Conference Talk given at a conference Patriotism, power, and practicality: Regionalism, linguistic conflict, and English in 1960s India 26.08.2014 Zürich, Switzerland Bharadwaj Vasudha;
23rd European Conference on South Asian Studies Talk given at a conference Strange mixture of East and West’: national identity and Anglo-Indians in late colonial / early postcolonial India 23.07.2014 Zürich, Switzerland Bharadwaj Vasudha;
Panel “Contesting ‘Corruptions’: History, the Nation and its Constituents,” Association for Asian Studies Conference Talk given at a conference Educating the (Un)Corrupted Citizen: Diverse Visions for Postcolonial India 27.03.2014 Philadelphia, United States of America Bharadwaj Vasudha;
Workshop “Modernity, Morality, Knowledge, and Society" Talk given at a conference Form versus substance: Agendas of education in independent India 25.05.2013 Zürich, Switzerland Bharadwaj Vasudha;
International Symposium “Orientalism from the Margins: Perspectives from India and Russia Talk given at a conference Power of the Pen: Translated Texts and Negotiations of Caste Identity in Colonial India 15.05.2013 Lausanne, Switzerland Bharadwaj Vasudha;
Panel "Malaysian Culture and Identity" Talk given at a conference Malaysia Forum Global Conference 2013 06.04.2013 Massachusetts Institute of Technology, United States of America Bharadwaj Vasudha;


Self-organised

Title Date Place
Panel "Centres and margins: the nation and its dissonances in late colonial India,” 23rd European Conference on South Asian Studies 21.07.2014 Universität Zürich, Switzerland
International Exploratory Workshop (SNF) “Rethinking Inequalities", 4th Young South Asia Scholars Meeting 21.07.2014 ETH Zürich, Switzerland
Workshop “Modernity, Morality, Knowledge, and Society” 25.05.2013 ETH Zürich, Switzerland

Abstract

This research project will examine efforts to create a knowledge-based society in late twentieth century India through language and educational policies, from an initial phase when the government negotiated different language ideologies in the realm of education to the more recent shift towards seemingly pragmatic considerations of economic growth. During the early phase of this undertaking, the legacy of anti-colonial nationalism as well as the need to reduce social and economic inequality greatly influenced the educational policy adopted by the government, leading to a reduced official emphasis on the English language. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, however, the focus shifted towards the need to sustain the unprecedented economic growth of the 1990s, and towards the explicit creation and maintenance of knowledge as a measurable resource. The shift in approach resulted in English being redefined as a determinant of both access and opportunity (Pitroda 2009). This reevaluation of the place of English in the twenty-first century is representative of debates among both policy makers and academicians the world over, all of whom are engaging the question of how central “anglobalization” is to a contemporary society’s economic growth and level of human development. The economic and social conditions that facilitated the shift in the sociology of knowledge described above in India, however, also have had less quantifiable repercussions with significant transnational implications. The early institutional articulations of what constituted “knowledge,” “education,” and “knowledge societies” resulted in the solidification in social perception of different hierarchies of language, culture, and even entire knowledge systems. Particular forms of knowledge emerged as “modern,” “rational,” and “scientific” as opposed to “traditional” within socioeconomic and political perception, and were clearly more privileged than others by the end of the twentieth century. Recent policy developments also suggest that societal and institutional conflations of “knowledge” and “information” have led to language and knowledge being commodified rather than being treated as organic, ever-evolving entities. In particular, the conflation of the systematic organization and dissemination of information via degree-granting institutions with the ability to understand and innovate on known ideas within various fields frequently have made the mainstream “knowledge” promoted by government-approved educational institutions less useful in all but economic terms. The combination of economically-driven cultural hierarchies and the socio-educational commodification of knowledge has had far-reaching results, which different civil societies and non-governmental organizations within India are trying to address. These groups engage in promoting alternate approaches to the preservation, production, and consumption of multiple constructions of knowledge. The exceptional models of education that they espouse not only challenge conventional thinking in terms of policy and governmental implementation, they also underline the importance of preserving traditional knowledge forms which, once lost, must be re-discovered and re-disseminated through the institutional apparatus. Ultimately, this project examines the implications of a socio-educational emphasis, at the school level, on the English language and all that it represents in the processes of producing and consuming knowledge. It analyzes the rationale and effects of various curricular and pedagogical choices made by standardized boards of education in India within their specific historical contexts. This primary analysis is supported by case studies of the Eklavya Foundation and its Hoshangabad Science Teaching Programme, and the Social Work and Research Center (SWRC) (better known as “Barefoot College”), which underline the ideological nature of institutionally supported knowledge, the role of power in creating what Foucault calls subjugated knowledges, and the subjectivity of the very notion of rationality. Michele Foucault’s discussions of power and knowledge, Jürgen Habermas’s views on rationality, and Pierre Bourdieu’s concepts of field and habitus will provide some of the theoretical underpinnings of the project. This study of India, though apparently localized, has transnational relevance as many countries, both western and non-western, debate the pros and cons of the “anglicisation” of their respective educational systems. The researchers expect this study to challenge the argument that truly “useful knowledge” in the twenty-first century is only, or even primarily, articulated in English. The project will test its working hypothesis that although English is undoubtedly “useful” given the current global conditions, an overemphasis on the language as a long-term vehicle for the creation and sustenance of a knowledge society risks actively undercutting the larger goals of true knowledge creation and dissemination, and will lead instead to an untenable loss of epistemological diversity.
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