Appel à communications : South Asian Anthropologists Group Conference (2014 SAAG), “South Asian Utopias”, Brunel University (Royaume-Uni), 03-04/07/2014 — LIMITE : 31/03/2014

The urge to remake and reshape the worlds in which we live appears to have been reinvigorated of late. In the summer of 2011, while the attention of many in the West was turned to the Occupy movements mobilising then in London and New York, Anna Hazare launched his second fast-unto-death at Jantar Mantar in Delhi, protesting the inadequacy of the Indian government’s anti-corruption Lokpal Bill. Those who rallied around the diminutive man in the grounds of an astronomical-astrological structure might well have been seeking participation in a vision of an alternative future, radically different to the one in which they hitherto saw themselves as fated to live. Away from such spectacular articulations, however, lie quieter, older projects of making-perfect, of actions and visions which tend to the production of ‘the good’, whether these work to realise better intimate relations in everyday kinship, to secure safer working conditions on the factory floor, or to build virtuous selves and communities committed to God.

Taking as its theme the exploration of South Asian Utopias, the 2014 SAAG conference invites contributions which critically examine how people across the region produce, challenge, and deal with utopian visions of an ideal existence. Rather than dismissing them as impracticable, detached fantasies not to be taken centrally as the focus of research, we seek to understand the powerful impact of utopian visioning in South Asia today. This necessarily includes an engagement with the ways in which the gap between the present reality and the imagined, desired future is understood and how this changes over time.

We invite a broad and creative engagement with South Asian utopias and anticipate a wide range of papers. While studies of development organisations and processes, environmental movements, revolutionary insurgents, political activists, missionaries, and intentional communities such as artists’ collectives are of course encouraged, we do not mean to limit our call to these situations of overt ‘utopia-making’. Contributors might also consider, for instance, how people conceive of the perfect dwelling, household, neighbourhood, village or nation and how this influences life and action in the present. Or how people think about and enact the ‘perfect’ conditions for commercial activity for their businesses or educational achievement for their children. Other papers might consider utopian visions of inter- and intra-religious relations; queer utopias; perfected bodies.

Utopian ideals might tend to the creation of harmonious and more perfect forms of association. But these may conflict with other understandings of what makes for an ideal society. What is the relationship between conflicting utopias or between utopia and dystopia for South Asians and what is brought to bear to make sense of the difference? In what ways do the promotion of utopian visions conceal more than they reveal about present-day life and how are they ‘institutionalised’? Where are such visions absent or suppressed and why?

We also ask contributors to interrogate the assumptions of the freedom-seeking subject that such utopian visions might involve. A focus on utopia can throw light on the various subjectivities that people in South Asia desire to enact or are compelled or persuaded to enact. Do those who share a utopian vision agree, for instance, on the nature, location and configuration of consciousness, intentionality and agency? Is subjectivity limited to humans or are non-humans such as animals, plants, and gods equally bound up in the creation of a perfect society? This might be explored by work that deals with understandings of science, biotechnology, stem cell research and GM crops as well as by dystopian visions of degraded landscapes devoid of meaningful sociality.

Turning the lens on us, contributors might also want to consider how anthropologists of South Asia engage or deploy utopian or dystopian modes in our ethnographic research and writing, resurrecting older questions about the relation between the ideal and the real in anthropological knowledge making.

SAAG 2014 will be hosted by the Department of Anthropology, School of Social Sciences, Brunel University, Uxbridge, Middlesex, UB8 3PH.

Lunch and refreshments will be provided, for which a small contribution will be required. There will also be a social event on the evening of the 3rd involving a meal at a local restaurant. We also hope to provide some travel bursaries for students, which will be announced later, but potential participants are encouraged to look for other funding opportunities. Some limited accommodation – at your own expense – will be available on campus (please inform the SAAG team as soon as possible of accommodation requirements).

SAAG is a relaxed and friendly event which aims to stimulate intellectual debate and dialogue on current research and emerging issues in the anthropological study of South Asia. Papers will be pre-circulated to participants; the format for panels will be announced at a later date. As usual, we welcome paper proposals from people at any stage of their academic career, from first year PhD students onwards.

If you would like to attend or submit a paper for SAAG 2014, please contact For those proposing a paper, please send a title and abstract of no more than 250 words by 31st March 2014.



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