Kerala's regional experiences of modernity have been a subject of rigorous academic pondering since the 1990s. The lively debate on multiple modernities/alternative modernities has initiated fresh research on South Asian modernities in the last two decades, theorizing the idea of 'national modernity' ('our modernity'). The subaltern/postcolonialist scholars who explored the discursive linkages between 'nation' and 'modernity' proposed that the 'Indian' modernity had emerged with unique characteristics owing to the historical specificity of the subcontinent’s experience of colonialism. For these scholars, nation is the scale for understanding modernity. The 'regions' within the nation are largely understood as sharing the foundations of this emergent national modernity. These scholars hardly problematise the 'region' and take it for granted as a pre-discursive, homogeneous and ontologically coherent entity that appears as a monolithic linguistic-cultural-administrative entity — a point of view shared across the nationalist, Marxist, postcolonialist and subalternist scholarship. Regionalism(s) as a variant of nationalism perseveres as an implicit guiding principle for theorising regional modernities as variations of the national modernity.
This is the point of departure for us: we, the Kerala Modernity Studies Collective, argue that the region is a problematic category which has to be theorised before venturing into mapping out the cartographies of modernity. A region is an assemblage of multiple space-times. We, through the project on Kerala Modernity, re-examine the idea of region by turning our analytical lenses on Kerala, the South Western part of the Indian subcontinent. Our main proposition is that without understanding the multiple space-times of the region, it is impossible to make sense of the complexities of Kerala modernity beyond its general depiction as a 'Malayalee modernity'. The theorisation of Malayalee modernity has been critiqued for the placing of the dominant caste, middle class, 'Malayalee' male subject at its centre at the expense of other subjectivities. Existing literature has explored the region's modernity around this cartography of Malayalee modernity that reproduces the nationalist-regionalist idea of Kerala as sharing a linguistic-cultural identity since long back but consolidated as a progressive secular space with the advent of Kerala Renaissance in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and later on with the unification of Kerala as a single administrative unit in 1956. We challenge this dominant cartography by bringing in other geographies of the region which frames its experiences of modernity. The project attempts to do it along three coordinates; first, an understanding of the region as not completely determined (both methodologically and historically) by the nation; second, an emphasis on the ‘region’ as not a given, pre-discursive, homogeneous and inert domain, but as internally multiple and constantly de/re-territorialised, and third, its existence as part of and contributing to global modernity.
The regional modernities framework we develop is significant in other contexts/regions too. The project is interdisciplinary in nature and we plan to produce a series of working papers, research articles, monographs and edited volumes that deal with the empirical and theoretical aspects of regional modernities in South Asia. We have recently published our first edited volume on the theme titled, KERALA MODERNITY: Ideas, Spaces and Practices in Transition, published by Orient Blackswan, Hyderabad (2015). Click here for details.
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* The images used in this wesite are details from Venugopalan Sleeps Outside (2009, Acrylic on Canvas, 58"x27", 58"x15", diptych) by Aami Atmaja