Arjun Appadurai presenting at JWTC
In the first public lecture of the 2010 edition of the JWTC, entitled “Slum Cosmopolitanism: The Cultural Tactics of Mumbai’s Urban Poor,” Arjun Appadurai gave us a taste of how one can fly from elevated discussions on Weberian thought, down to the vernacular; a move without which any enterprise aimed at theorising can prove not only vain but also irrelevant. And this is a point worth underlying since this capacity is not that frequent among thinkers. What Appadurai precisely presented to us by putting forth the background, components and experience of “slum cosmopolitanism,” is a critique of the most frequently elitist definitions of cosmopolitanism.
One first comment that comes to my mind relates to the very attempt of the JWTC to “theorize from the South.” Because the workshop is meant to be an experiment, this endeavour will be further discussed in the coming days. The South is here thought mainly in opposition to the North as the still dominant provider of theory. It is also approached, to follow Jean and John Comaroff’s remark, from a “technical” point of view, as a place where experiments are conducted before being (re)exported to the North. Last but not least, the South, which is sometimes labelled “global,” remains an unstable notion, a multifarious space and time with many connections to its Northern counterpart. One way to further nuance this opposition is therefore to wonder if we are not actually trying to theorize from the Northern part of the South, and to stress that one would probably struggle to do so from the Southern part of the North. By this I suggest that Wits may not be representative of Southern based institutions of higher education and that it is probably a more privileged place to think from than many universities in
Slums, most commonly called townships in
Arjun Appadurai led us to a visit in the streets of Mumbai’s Nagpada slum, in a city he once described as the “city of cash.” He did so speaking with his guts just like an Edward Said would leave literature for a moment to speak against the occupation of
They are one challenge among others to
To such an extent and because the roots of racism and xenophobia (the two being interestingly distinguished by many in the South African case) are social, economic and political rather than otherwise, they are also a call to take seriously the “injunction” to local cosmopolitanism, which has too often been attacked or unprotected by the state, rather than that to comply with monolithic definitions of the self. This need for township resident organisations to be considered as full fledged interlocutors by state institutions, as well as by the ANC or the trade unions -many of whom still tend to view them as competitors rather than as partners- finally means that former leaders of the struggle are also entitled to renew their “capacity to aspire” if they want to succeed.
University Paris 1 & French Institute of