Want to Deprovincialize Your Political Theory Syllabus a Little? What I Learned at APSA


American Political Science Association (APSA) annual conventions typically offer a rich selection of pre-conference short courses. This time I went to “Deparochializing Political Theory.” Sponsored by Steven Johnston and Michaele Ferguson and organized by Emily Beausoleil, this course offered two excellent sessions on how to enrich your political theory syllabus with ‘non-western’ content. Loubna El-Amin spoke about Chinese political thought, and Michaelle Browers on Arab and Islamic political thought. These are my course notes from last week, in a Q&A form. My gratitude goes to Michaelle and Loubna for letting me copy/paste from their course materials.

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Cultural Cues and Clues for the American in India

Newcomers to India, however extensive their previous study about the country, are likely at times to find themselves in baffling or embarrassing situations as a result of their ignorance of local attitudes and customs.

Thus begins Gordon C. Roadarmel’s Cultural Cues and Clues for the American in India, which you can now download here.  My friend and mentor Arthur Rubinoff recommended it for various reasons, including the fact that this booklet went to every India-bound Fulbright scholar between 1970s to early 1990s (the first publisher, in 1971, was the Center for South and Southeast Asia Studies at UC Berkley, the last, in 1995, the U.S. Educational Foundation in India).   Born in India to missionary parents and a frequent traveler to New Delhi and Allahabad, Roadarmel was regarded as one of the foremost specialists in modern Hindi literature in his time, at least in the United States (in a book review of published in 1970 in the journal Mahfil, Gayatri Spivak is critical of Roadarmel’s translation skills, describing him as a “native American with some Indian schooling”; Vol. 6, No. 2-3, p. 35).  In addition to a number of interesting revelations about Indian and American elites in the middle years of the twentieth century, Cultural Cues and Clues invites reflection on standard ethnographic items such how (not) to experience Otherness (“except in parts of South India, people try to keep food above the middle joints of the fingers”), the use and abuse of analogical reasoning (“Chapaties, however, which resemble tortillas, are always eaten by the fingers) or language politics (“Since most Indians have not learned their English from Americans, they may have difficulty in understanding your accent and some of your vocabulary”).   Well worth a read – even if you’re not an American academic planning to do fieldwork in India several decades ago.