Rigour in the margins

Why did so many of these fiercely independent and mischievously creative spaces have to be created outside of the university system? Certainly, from a pedagogic point of view, it is something of a shame that many of Indian's most creative writers and social scientists, in disciplines other than history, have been housed in such institutions, somewhat cut off from students. It has also meant that sometimes, Indian social science and humanities looks weaker than it actually is. It is more dispersed. We are not entitled to self-congratulation. But an occasion such as the CSDS's anniversary is also a reminder of how interesting public argument in India can be. Certainly, it is to the credit of so many Indian intellectuals that they have resisted taking the standpoint of the state, perhaps far more so than in other democracies. Indian social science, with some exceptions, has also been woefully under-professionalised. But it has also had to cope with the extraordinary challenge of intervening in a society rapidly changing, with little overlapping consensus, and a cacophony that can be bewildering. The CSDS, in some ways, paved the way for the thought that intervening in this complex process will require a different kind of institutional imagination as well.

But it has to be said that for the most part, the migration of so much interesting work and engagement with contemporary issues to spaces outside the university was largely a result of push factors. The combination of dogmatism, factional politics and dispiriting institutional complexity in many of our universities have made these small institutions hugely attractive. As Yogendra Yadav is fond of reminding us, to judge our institutions by standards taken from models elsewhere is to completely miss the point that we have evolved our own institutional cultures. Perhaps our institutional eco-system will look different from what has evolved elsewhere. The CSDS was a pioneer in this respect.

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