Research Profile: Knowledge Cultures

Research at Max Weber Forum for South Asian Studies (MWF) represents the multiple approaches to the study of South Asia followed by German scholarship on the region. It emphasizes the study of knowledge cultures, with specific focus areas on (1) education, (2) knowledge and the economy, and (3) knowledge production, circulation, and medialization, but remains open to initiatives beyond these focus areas. Knowledge has formed a central aspect of everyday lives in modern South Asia, either as specific knowledges to be acquired – and frequently to be kept within particular social formations, be it the family, caste or community, or class – or as a generalized tool for upward mobility. Strategies of dealing with knowledge have ranged from secrecy to universal propagation, but often times have led to differential valuations of specific categories of knowledge in accordance with discourses on sociocultural and socioeconomic propriety. Processes of certification and even enforcement affected the desirability of specific forms of knowledge for particular groups and/or purposes. Expressing, communicating, and categorizing one’s knowledge has been intricately linked to social status and aspirations, and has frequently been contested both socially and politically.

Research at MWF defines knowledges in broad parameters, taking into account the kaleidoscope of forms of knowing that permeates the everyday in South Asian societies. Formal institutions of knowledge generation and dissemination receive equal attention than learning-by-doing processes; the vast array of knowledges characterized by knowing-how-to that are frequently depicted in modern South Asia (in Hindi/Urdu) as jugaad are studied next to the epistemic knowledges of humanistic inquiry and elite reproduction; bottom-up processes of knowledge acquisition and re-evaluation are explored as much as top-down processes of certifying categories of desirable knowledges by South Asian states, communities, and capital. The three focus areas of MWF highlight specific dimensions of knowledge cultures in South Asia.

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