Public Intimacies: Reading the Contemporary in Bangladesh

Tuesday 08 October, 2013
1pm, $0

Columbia University, Schermerhorn Extension
1200 Amsterdam Avenue, Room 457

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Sheldon Scheps Talk by Lotte Hoek (University of Edinburgh) & Delwar Hussain (Durham University)

Presented by Columbia AGSA (Anthropology Graduate Student Association)

Where might one look to get traction on the current social and political situation of Bangladesh? How might the domain of the intimate articulate the sites and signs by which the current dispensation can be understood? Between a middle class agitation for death penalties in the War Crimes Tribunal, anger and grief among workers in the wake of the Rana Plaza industrial disaster, and Islamist disaffection with the ban on the Jamaat-e-Islami from electoral democracy, a range of aggrieved parties are mobilized and agitating on the streets and blogs of Bangladesh. Deeply held convictions and personal grief take on potent public forms in the run-up to the unpredictable 2014 elections.

The frameworks available for analysis of the contemporary in Bangladesh often remain limited to predictable preoccupations with development goals and Islamist reform. In this joint presentation, anthropologists Lotte Hoek and Delwar Hussain suggest that a focus on intimate renderings of intently public concerns provide a lens onto the contemporary moment in Bangladesh that complicates these frameworks. From personal attachments to the rubble of a decomposing industrial past to the public articulations of private ‘obscenities’, Hoek and Hussain pursue a view of the contemporary in Bangladesh through a detailed engagement with the sites where public culture and intimate lives intersect.

This presentation will engage two recently published books: Delwar Hussain’s Boundaries Undermined: The Ruins of Progress on the Bangladesh-India Border (Hurst, 2013) and Lotte Hoek’s Cut-Pieces: Celluloid Obscenity and Popular Cinema in Bangladesh (Columbia, 2013). Hussain will present his ethnographic engagement with the cross-border coal-mining industry that has replaced the state-owned lime-stone factory that brought a vision of modernity to its inhabitants on the Bangladesh-India border. Hoek will draw upon her ethnographic account of the Bangladesh film industry and the sexually explicit materials that pepper its dystopic accounts of a violent, money-hungry and Bangladeshi urbanity.

Delwar Hussain is a writer and anthropologist focusing on the contemporary Indian Subcontinent. He was educated in London and Cambridge and has written on Bangladesh for The Guardian since 2009. Hussain is currently researching his next book, a social and cultural history of Dhaka. He is a research associate based at the University of Durham.

Lotte Hoek is Senior Lecturer in Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh. Her research focuses on visual culture and the anthropology of media, particularly in Bangladesh. She is currently undertaking a three-year research project into the political uses of modernist art in Bangladesh since 1952, funded by the ESRC, UK.


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