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Why do we need to study the languages in which India's political actors themselves speak about and inside their politics? In this first seminar in the series Anastasia, the project's PI, sets out its research aims.

Much of what goes on in India’s politics remains opaque to Western Political Theory. Important, ubiquitous political institutions, like the weighing of candidates during elections or the ‘royal courts’ held daily by India’s politicians, are dismissed as the flotsam of ‘traditional culture’ of no political substance or consequence for Political Theory. India’s political universe, with a distinctive, deep history of political ideas, institutions and practices, with centuries of formal political theory and experience, is shoehorned into a set of largely exogenous, Euroamerican analytics, which obscure or distort its logic. The seminar series introduces the ERC-funded project on ‘India’s politics in its vernaculars’, in which a team of 24 scholars (anthropologists, historians and scholars of politics) will start to map out the conceptual terrain of India’s politics through a careful analysis of the political uses of 17 Indian languages. In my opening shot I shall reflect on why such a project is urgently necessary and how we will go about doing what we have set out to do.

About the speaker

Anastasia Piliavsky

Principal Investigator, Anastasia, is a social anthropologist trained at Boston University and at Oxford. She has conducted extensive ethnographic and historical research in northern India since 2002. She now teaches at the India Institute at King’s College London, having previously taught anthropology and South Asian studies at Bristol and Cambridge. Anastasia works on India’s vernacular norms of personhood and relatedness, and the ways in which these orient India’s democratic process, and especially local conceptions of political representation and responsibility. She is especially interested in how hierarchical values – idioms of kingship, patronage and divinity – shape Indian conceptions of political good, and the implications of this for comparative democratic theory. She has previously written on crime, policing and corruption in India, on secrecy and the public sphere, on ‘criminal tribes,’ patronage and democracy, hierarchy and egalitarianism, and on social theory and the history of anthropology at large. Anastasia was previously co-Investigator of a European Research Council & Economic and Social Research Council-funded project on South Asia's democratic cultures. She is editor of Patronage as politics in South Asia (Cambridge University Press, 2014) and author of Nobody’s people: Hierarchy as hope in a society of thieves (Stanford University Press, 2020).

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