This memorial roundtable, in his memory, on Labour, Space and Politics: Raj Chandavarkar and the History of Modern South Asia, was held at the Association for Asian Studies (AAS) Annual Meeting was held on 22 March 2007.
Rajnarayan Chandavarkar was one of the foremost scholars of urban and working class history writing on South Asia. His sudden death in April 2006 has been an inestimable loss to the academic community. The empirical depth of Chandavarkar’s scholarship stood out amongst his contemporaries. The impact of his work on the field remains to be assessed. This roundtable will focus on several areas where Chandavarkar’s contributions remain significant and offer new directions for future scholarship.
Chandavarkar’s challenge to universalising narratives of world capitalism opened up new ways of understanding the social spaces, political choices and organising strategies of urban working classes. Larger formations such as class and nationalist politics articulated with everyday relations amongst women, migrants and the urban poor. The earlier importance given to the workplace as the primary site of class mobilisation gave way to a wider understanding of how the spaces of the neighbourhood and countryside enabled workers to engage in urban politics. His attention to social organisation emphasised the shifting nature of class and community identities in the context of mass action, challenging functionalist conceptions of social structure and political agency.
This roundtable will situate Chandavarkar’s wide-ranging contributions to the historiography of modern South Asia, addressing critiques of his work as well as areas where his interpretations have gained acceptance. This roundtable also points to new directions which his work and mentorship have helped shape amongst his peers and colleagues. The participants include senior historians, younger scholars, and Chandavarkar’s former students from the U.S., U.K. and India.
Frank F. Conlon, Department of History, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Douglas Haynes, Department of History, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire
Subho Basu, Department of History, Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York
Lisa Trivedi, Department of History, Hamilton College, Clinton, New York
Nikhil Rao, Department of History, Wellesley College, Wellesley, Massachusetts
Shekhar Krishnan, Program in History and Anthropology of Science & Technology, MIT, Cambridge, Massachusetts