Between Comparison and Context: Global and Local Movements in South Asia

deadline for submissions: 
December 10, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
The University of Chicago
contact email: 

Conference website for details and abstract submission:

No abstract shall be accepted through email. No registration or submission fees.

Submission Deadline December 10th 2020, 5pm CST (GMT-6)

The organizing committee of the Eighteenth South Asia Graduate Students Conference (SAGSC-XVIII) is pleased to announce the 2021 conference: Between Comparison and Context: Global and Local Movements in South AsiaThe conference will take place on 4th, 5th, and 6th March 2021. We invite graduate students from all disciplines of study, and at any stage of their graduate career to apply for this conference. 

Social movements have historically been the trigger for mobilization, action, and transformation in all parts of the world, including South Asia. The aim of this conference is to expand the study of movements in South Asia, while simultaneously interrogating South Asia as a field of study.  Keeping in view recent instances of mobilization, along with examples from the long history of the sub-continent, we invite papers that study the emergence, forms of organization, methods, politics and impact of social movements in South Asia. In particular, we are interested in papers that engage with the methodological question of the context-specificity of these movements along with the ways in which they compare with other movements across the world. We welcome papers from diverse disciplinary and methodological approaches based on the broadest interpretation of the concept and practice of movements– contemporary as well as historical.

In their research, South Asianists often wonder whether knowledge about the region needs to be produced within a comparative schema, or if it can be generated within the specific context of the local alone. When analyzing movements across temporal and spatial planes, this methodological debate is tremendously productive whether across, or within, disciplines. For instance, should scholars of modern human rights movements work with the universalist assumptions of the concept or embrace a South Asia-specific understanding?  Or, how does a scholar of the Bhakti movement use Western liberal terms of ‘reform’ to understand the religious movement in that context? Does movement mean the same thing across modern and early modern South Asia? How does studying Dalit movements in India, alongside racial justice movements in the US (and their transnational dialogue), improve our understanding of both?

Traditionally, South Asia has been a fertile ground for the study of a variety of social movements, such as worker, agrarian, linguistic, anti-imperial, religious, (anti)caste, Adivasi and women’s movements lending itself to a variety of comparative and interpretative approaches. We invite graduate students who work on various mobilizations, mass transformations, social trends, and socio-cultural movements in South Asia to contemplate upon their specific research cases with an eye towards the interaction between the global and the local. Where do we locate specific cases in South Asia within a larger network of movements? How have local movements been inspired by other, larger networks? Are movements in South Asia only derivative of global moments and can only be understood comparatively, or are there context specificities that mark their singularities? Paper proposals can address the following prompts but are definitely not restricted to them.

  • Intellectual movements and their cultural forms (art, literature, film, etc.)
  • Social reform movements (religion, caste, gender, peasant)
  • Political movements (human rights, women’s rights, pro-democracy) 
  • Regional and linguistic movements in South Asia
  • Migrations and movements
  • Postcolonial progressive movements
  • South Asian conservatism and global right populism
  • Elite movements and legal mobilization
  • Mass movements and social media
  • Labor and peasant movements 
  • Civil rights movements
  • Contending definitions of justice and rights within movements
  • Movements for legal and constitutional reforms
  • Middle-class mobilizations
  • Neo-religious or neo-spiritual movements in South Asia (and the diaspora)
  • Environment and resource-preservation movements
  • Revolutionary and armed movements
  • Cultures of protests

We invite graduate students (MA, MPhil, PhD) from a wide range of departments including Anthropology, Archaeology, Art History, Comparative Literature, Film Studies, Gender and Sexuality Studies, History, Law, Linguistics, Philosophy, Political Science, Religion, Sociology, South Asian Studies. Please submit abstracts through the link on the website for individual papers of no more than 250 words by 5 pm CST on 10th December, 2020. Only one abstract per person is allowed. Panel proposals will not be considered. We will notify applicants of a decision by early January 2021. 

Given the current circumstances and travel restrictions in place, there is a high likelihood that this year’s conference will be held online. In such a situation, we hope to accommodate participation from various parts of the world by conducting  the virtual proceedings approximately between 8.30 am to 1pm CST (GMT-6) on all three days. If you have any questions, please write to us at

Organizing Committee: Krithika Ashok (Law School), Sanjukta Poddar (SALC), Supurna Dasgupta (SALC)

Faculty Advisor: Prof. Muzaffar Alam (SALC and History)