Transformational Modernities (Centre for Comparative Modernities) – WORKSHOP

Date / time: 9 March, 1:00 pm

Transformational Modernities (Centre for Comparative Modernities) - WORKSHOP



The Centre for Comparative Modernities is delighted to announce the final workshop of its 2024 spring term workshop series on 9 March 2024. Please note all sessions in this series will be online on Zoom at 13:00 UK time.

Zoom link:

Meeting ID: 948 8192 7692
Passcode: 571310

The Sexuality of Modernity: A Case Study from Colonial Punjab
Nikita Arora, University of Oxford

Abstract: In late colonial Punjab (India), western modernity, understood as moral degeneration and scientific advancement that arrived in Punjab with the British, was something to be feared and acquired at the same time. Sikh practitioners of indigenous medicines (mostly Ayurveda) thought the effects of modernity extremely harmful, discernible in their attacks on emerging urban cultures of dining out, going to the movies, reading novels, love marriages, etc. Anxieties regarding inter-caste, inter-religion, and inter-gender relationships were pervasive in health and advice literature of the period. However, there was one aspect of western modernity that they advocated heartily: sexual science. From roughly 1920s onwards, indigenous practitioners invoked the term ‘sexual science’ and incorporated several sexological claims in their books and pamphlets on health, illness, gender, domesticity, and reform. This legitimised their practices in an environment that was hostile to indigenous medicines. Further, sexual reform, couched in the language of science, allowed them to align their practices with the project of maintaining caste, class, and religious boundaries. However, by invoking ‘sexual science,’ these practitioners articulated, organised, and summoned a global (hetero)sexuality: anatomical, scientific, medicalised, and homogenous. It also served to displace and denounce pre-colonial and contemporaneous erotological literature. In this paper, I argue that, first, western modernity in this context was a simultaneous process of sexualisation and desexualisation of sex. Heterosexuality was anatomised and globalised, and in effect, heterosexual sex was decoupled from its desire-based discourses, and non-heterosexual acts and sexualities were delegitimised, omitted, occluded, or sometimes, directly attacked, but in effect, hypersexualised and seen as repositories of a surplus of sexuality. Second, sexuality, albeit globalised and hetero, was critical to acquiring a (western) modernity, which suggests a new relationship between sex, sexuality, the body, and the self. Using this as a case study, the paper revisits the relationships between sexualities, modernities, and colonialisms.

Children of Modernity: Pre-modern and Modern Childhoods in Late Twentieth Century Kerala
Glincy Piyus, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Bhopal

Abstract: The paper attempts to examine the various contours of modernity through the figure of the child and childhood in India to understand how they challenged the normative path imposed by Modernity—as configured by the West, in which a society moves from the pre-modern/traditional era to the modern era. However, looking into the modern concept of childhood within the larger framework of modernity in India, with specific reference to Kerala, childhood is assumed to have moved to modern childhood from its pre-modern times. Nonetheless, in the context of Kerala, with childhood used to retain the age-old caste, gender and class hierarchies and inequalities, and with an exclusive selection of children being chosen for the project of ‘becoming’, both the childhoods–––pre-modern and modern, which is often considered mutually exclusive becomes a reality in the late twentieth century. Although modernity generated a crucial new version of childhood and gave space for childhood, it also led to the complex and uneven existence of the same. Furthermore, the paper situates itself in the state of Kerala, India, which gained international recognition for its Kerala Model of Development, which enabled the state to achieve one of the highest developmental indexes in the country in the late twentieth century. Accordingly, the paper addresses three crucial questions. Firstly, how were the notions of modernity redefined to cater to the existing ideologies in Kerala? Secondly, how did this, in turn, reformulate the idea of childhood in Kerala? Finally, how did these new notions of childhood drastically or challenge the existing attributes of Modernity in the West? Subsequently, the paper utilises literary and cultural texts along with other secondary sources to address these questions and to critically understand the ambiguous nature of modernity in Kerala in comparison to the West.

To sign up to the Centre’s mailing list to receive news of our future events and opportunities follow the link or contact directly: