On 19 November the Australia India Institute heard from two extraordinary scholars who asserted the need for scholarly and other writing to be more accountable to people’s struggles for self-representation and self-determination.
Wiradjuri poet, writer and academic Dr Jeanine Leane spoke of the racism and cultural appropriation that characterises representations of Aboriginal people in settler literature. She highlighted the important challenge to settler representation posed by Aboriginal storytellers and scholars. Professor Richa Nagar explained that it was a desire to challenge the separation and hierarchy between who becomes the subject of knowledge and who is given the authority to produce, legitimate, and disseminate that knowledge that inspired her to begin co-authoring with eight women activists working in North India. She has continued this project of challenging the separation of activist and academic work through her involvement with Sangtin Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan (SKMS), a movement of small farmers and labourers.
There are many parallels between the work of these two very different scholars. In the final pages of her novel Purple Threads, Leane describes going to university and learning about Marx. She writes that the women who raised her could have explained Marx better and in far fewer words. Nagar opens her book Muddying the Waters with the story of the pundit (priest or learned man) and the boatman. The pundit mocks the boatman for not knowing about Marxism, capitalism and feminism but when the boat capsizes it is the boatman’s knowledge of swimming that saves him, while the pundit drowns. Both scholars ask us to question whose knowledge we value and why.
Missed the discussion? Watch it in full below!