K.E. Supriya
Department of Journalism and Mass Communication
End-of-Year Fellowship Report for 2005-06

My fellowship year at the Center for the theme “States of Autonomy” has been the most enlightening experience of my entire intellectual life. This by no way means that prior years working as a faculty or time spent as a fellow have not been good enough. It simply means that nothing can come to close to my experiences between 2005-2006. The opportunity to connect Gandhi’s economic thoughts and visions to contemporary debates on job outsourcing in the India-U.S.A context using the concept of autonomy as a hinge was simply invaluable. I also moved well beyond the mutually consolidating binaries of individualism-collectivism, problem-solution, universal-cultural difference.

The Center leadership is dynamic, introspective, and interpersonally genuine all at once and this really set a tone for the kinds of scholarly and working goals to set for oneself. Quite simply, I thrive best in an intellectual environment where I am able to engage theory and research in an adventurous manner, with plenty of time to reflect, in a place where I can engage in friendly banter as the spirit moves others and myself. All of this was possible at the Center under the aegis of Daniel Sherman, a towering intellectual figure and a shining example of the best the academy can offer the globe at large. Kate and Ruud are wonderful stewards in their own right. To me, Dan, Kate, and Ruud represent modes of search and discovery not at all dissimilar to 2 of the 3 cardinal Hindu cosmological principles of creation and preservation. The Center support staff are in a word, endearing. Maria, Amity, and Niamh are gems and I treasure my moments with them chatting about hip hop, reality TV, and Never Let Me Go.     

Each speaker session intrigued and challenged me to explore the meaning of this seemingly esoteric and resonant concept of autonomy which appears to have been relegated to the political, moral, ethical, and spiritual unconscious of the U.S.A. The most provocative speaker session for me was the symposium on art organized by Dan Sherman. Christina Klein’s presentation on Kung Fu Hustle was entertaining and informative and influenced my ideas on global culture and media.

The Center post-event receptions were amiable occasions where we had plenty of face time with both visitors and fellow fellows. The fellow seminars were good ways to guide one another toward accomplishing publishing goals. The assistant professors were very supportive of one another yet not afraid to voice their criticism in a constructive and vociferous manner. The group has a gift for humor and I wished for more! The work of a senior professor had finesse, which I hope to emulate, as I strive for full professorship. My own seminar was intense and fruitful because Dan Sherman, facilitated by substantial collective engagement by the group, asked a question that led to an epiphany. The question was something to this effect--“What was Gandhian about Indian call center workers?” This question followed my showing a vignette from a Bill Moyers PBS documentary where call center employees went disco dancing in Mumbai with their colleagues and in some instances turned the cubicles at night into a mini dance hall.

Incidentally, one evening when I was vegetating in front of a PBS documentary on Ronald Reagan’s ascent to presidency, I spotted the word “autonomy” on a placard of a 60s student protestor on the Berkeley campus. Ronald Terchek’s book bridging Western philosophy with Gandhis’ writings through a masterful and virtuoso exposition on Gandhi’s stuggle with autonomy was the Holy Grail. I have since identified a “must read” book on technology and autonomy.

To sum up, the year was a reawakening of sorts for me. I am beginning to feel my pores breathe again and my senses feel again. Quite simply, I have emerged from the Center with a new identity that will connect up my many selves of professor, teacher, citizen of Free India, permanent resident of the U.S.A., aspiring global traveler and foodie, and woman. This was partly due to self-realization and partly on account of a dramatic discovery. This has meant a brief period of overwhelming pain not unlike shedding old skin to acquire a new one or rather grafting new skin onto an old one so that one provides the foundational texture and the other the glow. During this time, the Center became a shelter for me. But I am beginning to feel the tremendous scholarly power that was generated this year through speaker events and seminars.

For me, autonomy is more than an abstract concept or a theory. It is more than a journal article or book. It is a means of self-understanding, a way of life, a mode of becoming, a path to travel from here on for me. Autonomy is the palliative to the excesses of individualism, the predictability of anonymity, the lack of affinity, and the erosion of community as we as a world are globally faced with the challenge of how best to take it from here in a way that preserves life and enriches culture. It can also be a contemporary aesthetic for global identity formation.


manuscripts in progress
Journal Articles
“Idioms of Identity for a Global Age: Patriotism and Nationalism in the Outsourcing Debate,” for submission to Cultural Dynamics.

Hip Hop Karma: Desispeak and Globalese in Karmacy,” for submission to Cultural Studies.

book manuscript
“I-800-HELP-US: From Gandhi to Outsourcing in a Limited Globe” (for submission to Jawaharlal Nehru University Press)
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conference paper        
“Gandhi as Global Sign: A Visual Assemblage,” South Asian Studies Annual Conference, Madison, October 2006
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Current department website

 

 

 

Center for 21st Century Studies

Merry Wiesner-Hanks
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Center for 21st Century Studies
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
P.O. Box 413, Milwaukee, WI 53201 USA
tel: 414-229-4141; fax: 414-229-5964; email:
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  Last updated 9/2/08 by RVD