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48 | Round Table: Contested Academic Spaces in South Asia

This round table looks into the ways in which students engage in prefigurative politics, how they anticipate and model university ‘differently’, how they anticipate alternative futures and how they work towards altering political spaces within the education system.


· Eva Gerharz Fulda University of Applied Sciences (Fulda, Germany)
· Joanna Pfaff-Czarnecka Bielefeld University (Bielefeld, Germany)


· 07/28 | 11:00-12:30 UTC+2/CEST

Long Abstract

South Asian students are increasingly disillusioned with the system of higher education. Much of this is linked to a deep sense of frustration related to a lack of facilities, deficient studying conditions, rising fees and deepening social inequalities. Students are also demanding the decolonization of higher education by getting rid of hegemonic knowledge within the curricula and the inclusion of indigenous stocks of knowledge. Students’ activism is particularly geared towards changing the university’s political and institutional spaces either by making concrete demands and/or by engaging in prefigurative politics. By engaging in prefigurative politics, young people develop a “capacity to aspire”, through embodying forms of social relations, decision-making, and specific (sub-)cultural systems of representation. With their aim being to model imagined futures, prefigurative politics serve to provide the means to articulate aspirations in the present, and envision and experiment with alternative life-designs, gender order, and citizenships – albeit on a temporary and often highly volatile basis. In this round table we seek to discuss this new development on the basis of theoretically and empirically grounded insights into projects and experiences with activism in South Asian universities. Who are the actors involved? Which negotiations are taking place within such initiatives? How are alternative narratives of better education produced? Which strategies do activists employ? Is there scope to change existing actor/power constellations and how do activists succeed? Under which conditions can institutional settings be altered and in how far does this change the political culture of the social space of the university?