Engagement and Collaboration – Summary

The session, lead by Carol Greenhouse, was an exploration of the possibilities and limitations of engagement and collaboration given the different locations of the anthropologist, the field, and the people and objects being studied. The chief themes that were discussed included institutional collaboration, the personal experience of collaboration and the complexities of collaborative writing.

Following Carol Greenhouse’s introduction, the discussion began with an exploration of the problems of collaborative writing. John Borneman used his experiences of field work and collaborative writing to illustrate how collaboration involves incorporating another voice into your own, which could adversely affect the quality of research and writing. Carolyn Rouse responded to John’s recollections by directing the conversation towards the possibility of many people writing on the same subject. Is collaborative writing the most difficult part of collaboration? Is it even possible? Sundar Sarukkai added to the discussion by drawing upon his own experience of past writing workshops to explain that many students have great difficulty in writing together. Part of the complexity of collaboration in this sense comes from the difficulty of incorporating others’ ideas into one’s work.

David Bogopa changed the course of the discussion from the personal to the institutional. He described the problems of collaboration in South Africa where the Social Anthropology departments overlook the Cultural Anthropologists in any kind of collaborative projects. Satish Deshpande spoke about the situation in India and remarked that in the last few years there is an unending request and insistence from European and American universities for collaboration. He opined that this could have happened because of the bureaucratic reflex to the growing markets in India. Several of these projects end up going nowhere because both the parties are not aware of their priorities. Carolyn Rouse responded to this by inviting anthropologists to collaborate and articulate what they want from the collaboration so that they can work together. According to Gopal Guru, a sociologist or an anthropologist cannot operate on the field alone; there is a social need to work together. John Borneman responded by posing the question of whether it is possible to collaborate with those with different intellectual needs. He suggested that because of the mismatch of intellectual needs the difficulties of collaborative writing arise. Incorporating the ‘other’ deflects and truncates one’s voice and it affects the ‘other’ too. Collaboration need not be mutual co-operation. It should also work on the level of mutual criticism.

Sundar Sarukkai brought to the table an important problem with collaboration with respect to India. He said that institutions in southern India are marginalized by institutions in Delhi that pick up the best collaborative projects. A majority of Indo-Western and Indo-European collaborative projects are conducted by institutions and universities in Delhi. Collaborations between Western, especially European universities and institutions from South India are considerably fewer in number. Nikhil Govind noticed that collaborations have not happened between different regions and cultures even inside South India. He thought that this might have happened because institutions are clamoring to work with the metropol, the need that cannibalizes regional collaboration. Satish Deshpande put forward a need for defining ‘collaboration’. He said that all forms of reference to the other cannot be considered as collaborations. Meera Baindur observed that there are three major issues in collaboration: funding, problems in compromising in the aesthetics of writing and the fear of being exploited.

The chief topics of the discussions were the problems of collaboration within the institutional setup. One of the areas that could be explored further is the scope of scholarship outside the academia. There is a major threat to vernacular knowledge systems today. If a scholar writes in any language but English, especially non-European languages, it is almost impossible for her to validate her knowledge within academia. Even when there are attempts to involve people from outside academia, the institutional structures force those ideas to be articulated in the set form of academic publications.

– Madhava Chippali


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