Monday, February 10, 2014

Internationalization of knowledge production and folklore

It is an honor and a great pleasure to talk to all of you today at this important conference on folklore.  It is so nice to see many of my friends after many years.

I understand that, next two days, we are going to discuss about the various issues of folkloristics  with special reference to Desi knowledge system, functioning of rural and tribal communities, production and distribution system among rural and tribal societies and sustainable development in relation with folklore etc.  

In this address, I want to focus on three main points-

1.                  The problems in understanding desi knowledge system
2.                  Internationalization process of knowledge production and
3.                  Our immediate responsibilities

There has been an intensive dialogue on these subjects in recent years, involving governments, NGOs and academia of both developed and developing countries, on the conceptualization of Desi knowledge, its sustainability,  its relation with poverty and cast system, information delivery mechanisms and evaluation of various forms of development activities. Much of these dialogues have been concentrated on either bridging or parting the division between east and west, upper caste and lower caste, urban and rural, written and oral etc. Surprisingly, there is not quite as much vibrancy in exchanges of perspectives between written and oral or in other words between desi and non-desi knowledge systems, and its impact on development cooperation strategies and institutions and on their approach to the ongoing debate on the global development agenda. I welcome this opportunity to share my perspective on some of these issues. I look forward for hearing from you over the next two days.

It is most easily understood when one first understands the folk practices of one’s own life. We must have told hundreds of stories heard from others, baked something that we learned from our mother or a family member. As a child we played at least few games. We all celebrated holidays. In these taken for granted aspects of everyday life are the elements of our own folk cultures. We share many things that make us a group. These systems of shared knowledge and practices that allow us to work together with out explaining ourselves, that allow us to get each others jokes. Folklore is so much a part of our lives that we often overlook it, but it is such subtle details and activities that make the substances of our everyday lives-the foundation of who we are and how we define others and ourselves. When we talk about folk culture, we mean ways of seeing the world that are shared by members of a community and the meaningful traditions and everyday activities that result. Folklorists study the creative expressions of various groups-verbal arts, such as stories, songs, jokes and proverbs; music and dance; beliefs, ranging from spiritual beliefs to racial and ethnic stereotypes; medicinal and healing practices, festivals and other community gatherings, food ways, and material art form such as vernacular architecture, carved objects, graffiti, and embroidery. For some folklorists, the value of this research is the artistry of the expression itself; they examine an epic, for instance with in its larger social and political context in order to understand and appreciate the epic better. We are often interested in understanding a particular group of people and regard their traditional arts and practices as keys to comprehending the world view and culture of the group. All are interested in knowing how the artist and his community understands and appreciates the art form. These approaches contribute to the understanding of a local knowledge, which we often vaguely refer as a desi knowledge system.   

We also then describe and interpret not only the activities, beliefs and artistic practices of the groups we study, but also document how the group defines itself and its art forms. In recent days most folklorists study the present-the traditions of living communities. But many others believe that these knowledge productions belong to Pre-colonial India. We are furthering our studies with such understandings, sometime with confusions, and some time with misperceptions.

However, I urge my friends for looking at following issues when we work on folklore- 

  1. Firstly, over the travail of centuries knowledge production by uneven communities spread across the Indian sub-continent underwent the long processes of continuity and change involving innovations, additions and abandonment in the wake of marches and migrations of material cultures, interactive co-existence, assimilation and acculturation, relationships of control, stratification and domination, cults and sects, hierarchy and exclusion, invasions and subordinations, dissents and protests, incorporations and reconstitutions. The major marches and migrations were of Mediterraneans, Persians, Macedonians, Parathions, Greeks, Kushans, Sakas, Chinese, Huns, Iranians, Turanians, Afghans,  Pathans, Jews, Arabs, Mongols and Mughals who came to the sub-continent at different points of time roughly between BCE 1000 and A.D 1600, impacting  knowledge production. Hence one should not talk like fundamentalist when he or she referring to Desi knowledge production. Desi is also a mixture of many cultures.  And changes.  We have Buddhist impact on Bhutas of Tulunadu, Jainism impact on Death rituals, Islamic impact on performances and so on. Hence,  we should be very careful while projecting desi knowledge system.

  1. Secondly, Desi knowledge had differences in terms of theoretical as well as technological levels from region to region at all times as required by particular language, materials and environment, and as enabled by the varying heritage of communities. Hence we should not forget that the desi knowledge system has been produced in the contexts of time, space, communities/ Castes and individuals. This intellectual tradition is multiple in nature.

  1. Thirdly, traditions of Desi knowledge production in the sub-continent were many but all of them underwent the processes of continuity and change in the wake of the historical incidents.  

  1. Fourthly, what are our plans for re-appropriating the Desi knowledge system to the fast changing contemporary society?

The emergence of a new class of socially unencumbered laborers, revival of trade and markets, accumulation of money in the hands of the towns-men, migration of laborers into towns, transformation of the guilds into small factories, growth of production beyond local consumption, expansion of market, enhanced development pressure on productive technology, distributive need for quicker transport etc are the new languages of our culture. Globalization was necessitated by the new economy of mechanized manufacturing, need for expansion of market beyond cultural borders. Global Control is far more than mere political subjugation and economic exploitation. Internationalization is an irresistible process of the penetration of Western culture into the local cultures and traditions, and their slow, traumatic and fundamental reconstitution from within rather than a sudden disruption or replacement. It is a process of the transformation of the traditional self into a self- Uprooting, self from within, a thorough revamping of the traditional worldview from within. It is a process of voluntary acceptance of a set of new meanings, measures and parameters of knowing ones self and the world distinctively, following them to judge the right and wrong, and living them mechanically through ‘mimesis’. It is a process of enthusiastic internalization of the truth about oneself, one’s culture and the cultural past as represented by the West, and seeking to live the representation as real and ideal. This internalization of the culture is believed as truth by us and our younger generation, which brought fundamental changes in the regime of knowledge production. Internationalization is thus a natural and easy process for a people largely ignorant of the knowledge systems of the cultural past of their sub-continent.

Tuning to this, our Governments and University Grant Commission started neglecting folklore. According to an article published in Prajavani – Kannada Daily on January 16th, 2014, there are more than 3000 candidates who have degree in Folklore, but  not recognized by any Universities for appointments. Then why we offer courses in folklore?

In fact, UGC has changing its focus on internationalization of higher education. Currently, trade in higher education services is a billion dollars industry, including recruitment of international students, establishments of University Campuses abroad, franchised provision and online learning. Higher and technical education has become a big service industry and is expected to increase 100% during this decade. India is a signatory to WTO, which includes General Agreement of Trade in Services ( GATS), where education is one amongst the 12 main sectors classified as services. Globalization of higher education has been on the thematic priority of the UNESCO and International Association of Universities ( IAU) Number of recent studies has indicated rapid increase in global demand for higher education. The economic impact of higher education is also important. According to NAFSA (National Association of Foreign Student Advisers) report, during 2012-13 academic year, 8,19,644 international students and their families at universities and colleges across the United States supported 3, 13,000 jobs and contributed $24 billion to the U.S. economy. This is a 6.2% increase in job support and creation, and a nearly 10% increase in dollars contributed to the economy from the previous academic year. With about 4,00,000 international students in Australia and about 9 billion Australian Dollar revenue to the Australian economy, and 5.7 billion New Zealand dollar to the New Zealand economy with about 2,00,000 international students, higher education now represents a largest export sector. In this context, recently the University Grants Commission has projected a vision for Indian Higher Education as part of its five year plan and set up a special standing Committee to promote Higher Education . This committee strongly recommended-

  1. Internationalizing higher education system and then exporting it. This will have economic and political benefits, including playing a vital role in building bridges between countries and across geo-political lines.

  1. Starting twinning programs through international linkages where Indian and Foreign institutions enter into voluntary combinations to further their mutual objectives and interests. Twinning programs are collaborative arrangements between two universities for enhancing or build capabilities of both the institutions to operate, manage and administer undergraduate or graduate programs, and to provide students with the opportunity of an International degree

  1. Establishment of Education Excellence and Export Zones ( EEEZs) to house world class Indian or International Universities and branches or campuses  of other international institutions to overcome the problems rigid controls, dilapidated infrastructures, out of date curriculum  etc.  

Honorable President of India, Shri Pranb Mukharjee in his recent address to the nation, stressed the need of internationalizing Indian education. As a result, higher education in India is rapidly changing and is ready to be governed by the business rules. As a result, English has become a national link language, resulted in creating global monoculture.

In such a fast changing and critical situation, where we, folklorists stand?  Can Indian folklore, which exists in various regional Languages, survive the global challenges?
To be very honest, we do not have, at least not in sufficient quantity or depth, are analyses of the cultural implications of this new world order.
Given the widespread fear of a kind of cultural imperialism spread through the new media, one would expect that there would be rich and thoughtful discussions of this question, but we find precious little on the subject. Many, including myself, would agree that there is at least a danger of a global, covertly American or more broadly English-language monoculture that relegates all other cultures to inferiority, antiquity, or second place.
I hope this conference will shed some lights on these crucial issues. If we work hard on these issues, we could provide a model for what the rest of the world could be like.
I hope, we could intensify following questions during discussions-

  1. Are we encouraging young folklorists to learn about traditional knowledge system in relationship to the global knowledge system?  
  1. What are our plans for  transitioning from old to new in a successful way
  1. What are our new ideas that appeal or seriously questions global market system?
  1. How are we focusing on quality of our scholarship rather than quantity
  1. Are we creating a value chain that leads to the development of culturally meaningful products?

Lastly, while asking these questions, many of our valuable genres are vanishing away. I urge honorable minister for higher education of Karnataka for helping Janapada Vishwavidyalaya for creating a Karnataka Audio Visual Archives ( KAVA)  and a vibrant website for Karnataka Folklore. The KAVA should include the product of thousands of researchers’ photography, audio-video recordings, field notes, interviews, reports and other types of documentations. When housed in publicly accessible archives, are invaluable to both professional scholars and community members investigating their heritage. When folklore is recorded and preserved, it offers important insights in to how people lived their lives, what they felt about their experiences, and how they understood the world. Increasingly people recognize the value of such documents. Even for the historian interested only in big events, these records illuminate, contextualize, and make sense of those events. I also request central government for starting a National Archives for Folklore  and a Central Folklore Academy.

I hope the conversation and debate will continue for next few days.

Before I conclude, let me thank Prof. Amabalike Hiriyanna, Vice Chancellor of this University and other friends for inviting me for this workshop, and for putting together a nice program.

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