Call for Papers: Multitude and Democracy: Experiences from Northeast India and Myanmar

An international conference sponsored by PRIO and co-organised by Omeo Kumar Das Institute of Social Change and Development (OKDISCD)


16 April 2015

​​Time: 19-20 February 2016
Place: Guwahati, Assam

Host organisation: Omeo Kumar Das Institute of Social Change and Development (OKDISCD)
Conference organisers: Åshild Kolås (PRIO) and Bhupen Sarmah (OKDISCD)

Ethnic minority and tribal communities in post-colonial Myanmar and India have experienced similar efforts by the nation state towards political unification and integration. Encompassing myriad socio-cultural identities, the northeastern region of India (conveniently referred to as the 'Northeast') and the ethnic states of Myanmar have been political enigmas since the inception of the nation state. Processes of strengthening and extending the instrumentalities of the nation state – warranted by the objectives of 'development' and 'democracy' – have all been questioned by what is commonly and imprecisely known as 'ethno-nationalism'. In the political assertion of a particular community, demands are usually made for official recognition of their separateness by differentiating themselves historically, socially, culturally, politically as well as territorially. Such political assertions often assume the form of autonomist, separatist or secessionist movements. The protracted sovereignty movement in Nagaland is a striking example of political assertion of a collective being of the Nagas, transcending international as well as internal state boundaries. In India, the status of Manipur is another burning question, and while the protracted Assamese sovereignty movement has largely been marginalized, another secessionist movement is intensified in the name of the Bodo tribe. A crucial feature common to all the political units of the region, covering both Myanmar and Northeast India, is the political assertion of ethnic identity by communities of culture as inhabitants of a defined territory or 'homeland'. Such identity construction and corresponding political assertion for official recognition of separateness is rooted in the nature of the democratic space provided by the nation state. Though autonomist demands have been accommodated in both the state structure of Myanmar and the federal union of India, at the same time coercive forces are often applied mercilessly in tackling and resolving challenges to the Westphalian nation state as posed by secessionist movements. The outcome is a war-like environment, blazingly victimizing democracy.

In view of these challenges, the conference on Multitude and Democracy: Experiences from Northeast India and Myanmar is an attempt to comprehend the region's autonomist, separatist and secessionist movements within their own historical contexts, questioning how this can be related to the vision of democracy. Is the idea of democracy as conceptualized by these movements distinct from what is currently available under the structure of governance? How has the issue of women's representation and gender inequality been addressed by the nation state as well as its contesting movements? The conference will seek to analyze these movements and address the relevant questions by applying the concept of 'multitude' as 'political subject' (Hardt and Negri, Empire, 2000) and '… composed of innumerable internal differences that can never be reduced to a unity or single identity – different cultures, races, ethnicities, genders and sexual orientations; different forms of labor; different ways of living; different views of the world; and different desires' (Hardt and Negri, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire, Penguin Books, 2004). We welcome abstracts from social scientists writing on these themes and addressing these questions. We will cover travel expenses for accepted participants upon receipt of a draft paper (ca. 8,000 words) of publication quality. Following the conference, papers will be published in venues to be decided by the organisers.

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Abstract deadline: 15 June 2015

Notification of acceptance: 1 July 2015

Deadline for draft papers for publication: 15 November 2015

Read the Call for Papers

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