Academic journal article ARIEL

Cultural Studies and the Reinvention of English Pedagogy in India

Academic journal article ARIEL

Cultural Studies and the Reinvention of English Pedagogy in India

Article excerpt

Abstract: The last two decades have witnessed a crisis in English departments in India. Globalization and the liberalization of the Indian economy spawned a new nationalism that was openly political and overtly critical of the ideological investments embedded in canonical English texts. A perceived need to reinvent English studies to suit the exigencies of the Indian postcolonial milieu encouraged a shift toward cultural studies methodology. This paradigm shift is most evident in the construction of M.A. and Ph.D. syllabi at various Indian universities. Such syllabi have increasingly focused on issues of gender, class, and caste oppression, dismantled the cultural hegemony of British literature, and opened up the canon to include Indian and other non-British texts. This essay analyses English postgraduate course syllabi and studies the critical postcolonial pedagogies adopted by universities in India. These pedagogies foreground cultural studies as an interdisciplinary site for research into new areas of contemporary life, complicating the political assumptions of English studies but nevertheless remaining in dialogue with the parent discipline.

Keywords: cultural studies in India, English pedagogy in India, postcolonial pedagogies, Shakespeare in India, comparative literature


This paper argues that the institutional practices and ideologies of English studies in India introduced by British colonial administration, which has continued its legacies in post-Independence India, have undergone significant revisions in the last three decades. Many recent pedagogical decisions, including syllabi revisions and curricular reforms, point to a destabilization of the imperial, hegemonic agendas that had earlier informed the institutionalization of English literature programs in India. The socio-economic, cultural, and political imperatives of British rule made a particular kind of English literary teaching inevitable as part of the mandate for civilizing "the native"; however, this literary instruction also rendered the Enlightenment ideals attributed to colonial modernity highly questionable and constitutive of hegemonic interests. The nearly seamless continuation of colonial English education into nationalist and later postcolonial contexts, with its pedagogical mimicry rooted in an implicit trust in the emancipatory potential of colonial modernity, however, encountered challenges in the 1980s and 1990s in India with the rise of subaltern studies, women's studies, and Dalit studies. This essay looks at the contemporary revisions of English literary education in India, specifically the paradigm shift in which instructors and students begin to question their replication of colonial ideologies in English classrooms. I characterize this shift as a turn toward cultural studies in the curriculum that aspires to at least partly dismantle the interpellation of the student as the civilized native. The new curriculum encourages students to read the canon critically and subversively and thus radically critiques the very idea of a universal or apolitical canon. The rise of scholarship focusing on identity politics, casteism, sexism, racism, and homophobia, along with a growing awareness that the political and the cultural cannot be delinked from epistemological formations, has rendered academic practices in India more complex and political.

I. Colonial Transactions

Several scholars have argued that English became a discipline in an age of colonialism with the sole imperial mission of educating and civilizing colonial subjects in the literature and thought of England, which consolidated Western cultural hegemony in complex ways. (1) In his infamous 1835 "Minute on Education" written for Lord William Bendnck, Governor General of British India, Thomas Babington Macaulay states:

   I am quite ready to take the oriental learning at the valuation of
   the orientalists themselves. … 
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