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Report of the Rongmei Scholars' Association (RSA) Third Talk
Date - 23rd October, 2021



Brief Report of the Rongmei Scholars’ Association (RSA) Third Talk
Topic: “Smaller Communities and Social Imagination”
Speaker: Dr. Kamei Aphun, Sr. Assistant Professor,
Department of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics,
University of Delhi.

Date: 23rd October, 2021, Time: 6:00 PM

The Rongmei Scholars Association’s Third Talk was held on an online platform on 23rd October, 2021. On the onset, the chairperson of the Talk, Dr. Veronica Khangchian, Department of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics, who is also the General Secretary of the Rongmei Scholars’ Association (RSA) in her opening remark welcomed all the guests, invitees and participants and shared a brief profile of the speaker, Dr. Kamei Aphun.

The Speaker in his introductory notes stated that his talk would include broad issues and local and regional narratives in his chosen topic “Smaller Communities and Social Imagination”. The talk revolves around smaller communities and their social responses to social processes and realities today. The twin challenge of asserting identity as well as need for economic progress have resulted in the emergences of new form of social life’. How they baffle with them is what the speaker has deliberated on great details. While dealing with the subject, the speaker said:

1. One has to respond to the Western critical thinking that elements of cultural particularism (in India as well as in Northeast in particular) can produce universalization of social realities, and that, social themes and issues of India society (though seen as unique and peculiar of its own) can produce generalized theories”. The speaker followed the model of the founding fathers of the Indian Sociology and Anthropology to argue that particularistic culture has contributed to the development of Indian Civilization.

2. That, the studies on the North East should be seen beyond “area study” or “Regional Study” which many scholars (even in India) thought are exclusive and limited in nature. And that, social anthropologists should link the cultural particularistic elements found amongst the smaller communities to universalistic culture which are applicable to all societies.

The speaker divided his presentation into six broad 6 sub-themes although his main focus was on theoretical and conceptual framework. He sought help from other writings to supplement his points. He also clarified that ‘smaller communities’ one may question why the adjective is used as comparative, not as positive as well as superlative.

It is because in culture studies ethnic group are always studied in comparison and sense of comparing or competition with each other exists in aspect of social and cultural life. He mentioned that some have used the term ‘smaller communities’ loosely and some refer it to some common interest although his presentation stressed on cultural meaning of the term smaller community. He cited the work of American Anthropologist Robert Redfield who used the term little community that is social formation.

According to Redfield, little community produced little tradition and remained isolated in most cases although little tradition and great tradition (or say mainstream) has a continuous interaction between them. He departed from Redfield suggestion that little community remain isolated as he stressed on the increasing aspect of cultural interaction. As it seen in society today even in Northeast, the principle of universality applies, he stated.

The speaker has also mentioned about the important aspect of cultural interaction between the smaller community and bigger community where smaller community borrowed the cultural, trade and practices of the mainstream cultures. He coined the term ‘routinisation of culture’ to refer to the cultural exchange between smaller communities and great tradition as it is a routine process among them. He cited the lower caste imitation of upper caste cultures in Indian society. Routinisation is not free from any challenge as smaller community has to assert their identities and to achieve economic growth and progress in society.

This process could lead to serious conflict, as it seen in the case of Mujahir in Pakistan, Sinhala in Sri Lanka and Nepalese migrant in Bhutan, he noted. Smaller community comes together and formed a generic name with a motive to safeguard their interests. This new form of social life gives to identity crisis in smaller community.

He bring forth the issue such as identity formation when the study of tribe comes in which is for self-determination. Smaller Communities in the process of identity formation, the most aspect is the making of the tradition although there are aspects, such as, reproduction, increase of use of technology and tradition making. He pointed out that smaller communities are faced with identity crisis.

There are two important challenges for smaller communities such as, to preserve their identity and, to open up so that they prosper, grow and compete with the bigger community. In doing so, there is a distortion in tradition making. He identified different factors in distortion of tradition making such as- migration, conversion, colonization, modernization, and globalization.

The speaker emphasized that a new dimension of social life emerges with the cultural interaction through routinisation. The speaker further proposed the need to re-look the works of Western scholars on Indian Societies and themes of studies of the Northeast should be beyond ‘area study’ or ‘regional study’ based on the cultural interaction and imitation that has been taking place.

After the speaker concluded, the chairperson shared main takeaway of the talk and time was opened for questions and discussions.

After the discussion, the rapporteur of the event, Poujaibthai Gangmei, PhD scholar at Department of Law, North Eastern Hill University, Meghalaya, presented a summary of the event, followed by vote of thanks from Gangmumei Kamei, School of Human Studies, Ambedkar University, Delhi.

Dr. Aphun Kamei,
President, RSA

Dr. Veronica Khangchian,
General Secretary, RSA


* This information is sent by Rongmei Scholars’ Association (RSA) who can be contacted at rongmeischolars(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This Post is webcasted on October 26 2021

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