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The Subaltern-Popular Conference 2: Re-Visioning Analytic Frames
October 21-22, 2005)

The Subaltern- Popular Conference 1(March 8-9, 2004)



The Subaltern and the Popular

March 8 and 9, 2004
University of California, Santa Barbara


The objective of the two-day symposium is to address the “subaltern” and the “popular” as subjects and modes of enquiry into culture and history. We begin with the proposition that the precise relation between the subaltern and the popular remains untheorized. Often, no analytic distinction is made between the two terms: phrases such as “history of the people” and “politics of the people” are used indiscriminately and interchangeably with “history of the subaltern classes,” all presumably identified by their resistance to or difference from “elite” politics, culture and history. What disturbs this conflation is the variegated passage of the term “popular” from its medieval European origins as a political concept to its use as a cultural concept since the late 18th century. Moreover, the term is evoked both in a positive sense (e.g. popular will as democratic will) and in a derogatory sense (e.g. popular opinion as uninformed opinion).

The need to conceptualize the distinction as well as the overlap between the two terms is made imperative by the theoretical and methodological impasse faced by historians of South Asia in the face of recent political developments, the most pressing of which is religious nationalism. While the idea of subaltern studies as a study of the politics of the people has been instigated throughout the career of the Subaltern Studies collective, the subaltern and the popular reside awkwardly even within the changing horizons of this scholarly endeavor. A new “analytic of the popular” must address the troubled relation of the popular to the subaltern-as-disenfranchised.

These are some of the questions we would invite the participants to address:

  • Is the “subaltern” primarily a political construct?
  • If we engage the problematic of the popular, how does that extend the frames of the discipline of history?
  • What constitutes evidence in this renewed framework?
  • What are the roles of popular cultural forms, such as popular art, film and music, in addressing and configuring the subaltern?
  • How does one frame the question of faith and religiosity given the collusion of the popular with the state apparatus?
  • What would be the theoretical impact of relaxing the Gramscian assumption that the subaltern is defined by insufficient access to modes of representation?
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University of California, Santa Barbara