The Politics of the (Im)Possible: Utopia and Dystopia Reconsidered
Edited by Barnita Bagchi
New Delhi, London, Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2012.
This volume brings together articles on utopia and dystopia in a breadth of disciplines—history, literature, gender studies, political science, sociology, anthropology, and Native American Studies.
'Barnita Bagchi’s “Ramabai and Rokeya: The History of Gendered Social Capital in India” compares how women writers and activists Pandita Ramabai (1858-1922) and Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain (1880-1932) promoted women’s education. Bagchi argues that these women attacked patriarchal norms through their educational and welfarist associations. Of particular note in this chapter is the idea of gendered social capital, which refers to “how certain kinds of social capital can be analytically viewed as constitutively gendered” (p. 69). This would include caregiving institutions, elementary school teaching, voluntary welfarist associations, and the like. These essays demonstrate that, through the aid of organizations, women could promote educational opportunities for others.
The contributions to Women, Education, and Agency demonstrate that women have found methods of gaining access to formal education; utilized a variety of informal educational tools; and sought to use their learning to influence other women, society, and culture. Women have been active players in educational history and only forgotten because their means of learning have most often been nontraditional. This book, however, asks readers to also consider the relevance today in reflecting on the long history of women attempting to fulfill their potential as human beings and the importance of accessing education in that struggle. It is a book that begins historical inquiry, urging readers to consider problems that persist and looking for methods to remedy these problems.'
--- Liberty Sproat. Review of Spence, Jean; Aiston, Sarah Jane; Meikle, Maureen M., eds., Women, Education, and Agency, 1600-2000
. H-Education, H-Net Reviews. January, 2012.URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=34441
3. 'Sultana's Dream and Padmarag: two feminist utopias (Penguin India, £7.99) brings together two fictional works by Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain (1880-1932); the first a much-anthologised futuristic fantasy written in English in 1905, the second a 1924 novel which subversively interweaves elements of traditional romance - missing heroine, melancholy hero, purloined letters - with the first-person accounts of several inhabitants (Hindu, Muslim and Christian) of a women's refuge. Translator Barnita Bagchi's comprehensive introduction charts the legendary Bengali Muslim writer-reformer Begum Rokeya's life and times.'
4. My edition with critical introduction and part-translation of Rokeya Hossain's 'Sultana's Dream amd Padmarag: Two Feminist Utopias' has been cited in numerous important publications on postcolonial literature and history since 2009: these include Priyamvada Gopal, The Indian English Novel: Nation, History and Narration (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), p. 195; Gender and Change: Agency, Chronology, and Periodisation, ed. Alexandra Shepard and Garthine Walker (Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2009), p. 218; The Postnational Fantasy: Essays on Postcolonialism, Cosmopolitics and Science Fiction, ed. Masood Ashraf Raja, Jason W. Ellis, and Swaralipi Nandi (Jefferson: Macfarland and Co., 2011), p. 14; Feminist Writings from Ancient Times to the Modern World: A Global Sourcebook and History, by Tiffany K. Wayne (Santa Barbara: ABC-Clio, 2011), p. 377.
5. 'Taking a broader perspective, Bagchi, Sinha, and Bagchi (2005) destabilise the stereotype of information, communication and technology as hallmarks of India’s modernity, seeing such developments as having strong roots in history that date from pre-modern times: encompassing continuities and ruptures across the vast and localised canvas of India.'
6. 'Moreover, new technologies and media are not valueneutral (see, for example, Munshi et al., 2007) and can potentially lead to what Bagchi et al. call a ‘cognitive imperialism’ if users other than from the western world remain a ‘passive observer and recipient.’ (Bagchi et al., 2005: 10).'
---Kirsten Broadfoot, Debashish Munshi, and Natalie Nelson-marsh, 'COMMUNEcation: a rhizomatic tale of participatory technology, postcoloniality and professional community,' New Media & Society 12:5 (2010): 797–812: p. 802.
7. 'In the concluding chapters of this book, there are expressions of hope that information technology has been an effective tool for spreading awareness of miscarriages of justice, such as the slaughter of Muslims in Gujarat, the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib, and Ariel Sharon’s bulldozer destruction of Palestinian neighborhoods. But the book seeks to give perspective on how the vast majority of Indians still lack meaningful access to ICT. With over 100 million boys and girls not in school, the overall literacy rate stands at 65 percent for males and 54 percent for females. Literacy is ‘defined as the bare ability to sign one’s name’, observes Barnita Bagchi. ‘The majority of those who do go to school do not complete even five years of schooling.’...Webs of History sees the democratic potential in ICT, though the editors harbor disappointment in elites who deep down appear committed to these technologies as a means of fortifying entrenched privilege. When looking at a range of interviews of academics in development studies, education, IT, and management conducted by an LSE student, Bagchi reports that overwhelmingly they believed that ‘the first role of ICT was to further the careers and upward mobility of the middle and upper class Indians who can afford higher IT education, while second in importance came the value attached to ICT as a tool of strengthening the geo-political and economic interests of India. Much lower down came the role of ICT education as an agent of poverty alleviation or other welfarist development’ (pp. 269–70).'
---John Trumpbour, Alex Bryson, Rafael Gomez, Paul Willman, Kim Scipes, Greg Gigg, Janet Wasko, Rose Tang & Tom Mertes, 'Labor in the Information Age,' Labor
History, 51:1 (2010): 145-166: p. 149.
8. Other citations of Webs of History: Information, Communication and Technology from Early to Post-Colonial India have appeared in, for example, James W. Cortada. "How New Technologies Spread: Lessons from Computing Technologies." Technology and Culture 54.2 (2013): 229-261. Project MUSE. Web. 24 May. 2013. <http://muse.jhu.edu/>; James Cortada, The Digital Flood: The Diffusion of Information Technology Across the U.S., Europe, and Asia, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012; Roland Wenzlhuemer, Connecting the Nineteenth-Century World: The Telegraph and Globalization, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012; and in Nitin Sinha, Communication and Colonialism in Eastern India: Bihar, 1760s-1880s, London: Anthem Press, 2012.
9. 'As 400 years is rather a long time over which to pursue agency, the structural aspects could have been the focus of the book, for example, how modernisation processes created an aura of change – a lot of it through education – but how the precariousness of women in academe remained persistent. Muravyeva’s essay, forinstance, on Russian women in European universities in the latter half of the nineteenth century is an excellent example of structural change. Other essays, such as Bagchi’s on the internationalist and organisationalist approaches of Ramabai and Rokeya, Erdemir’s on Sukufe Nihal, and Pedersen’s on Wollstonecraft, also give a
sense of how women’s agency is placed within larger contexts of social and economic transformation...Barnita Bagchi also emphasises the role of religion in India and the importance of inter-religious women’s networks in the all-women stories of Pandita Ramabai (1858–1922) and Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain (1880–1932). The contribution of the Indian case to the book is important as transnational connections are most evident in this essay.'
---Elif Ekin Aksit, Ankara University, Review of 'Women, education, and agency, 1600–2000,' in the journal History of Education 42:2 (2013), pp. 287-289: p. 287. DOI:10.1080/0046760X.2012.754504
10. 'Barnita Bagchi has also shown how Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain and other Indian women reformers, such as Pandita Ramabai, paradoxically used the transnational character of the British empire to facilitate an anti-imperialist women’s movement for women’s education in early twentieth-century India . Hossain’s imagined multifaith, multi-racial, cooperative, caring, economically stable female community – Padmarag or The Ruby – with education at its centre was far from reality, however, as imperial states used gender stereotyping both to exalt the colonising nation and to demean the colonised. This was exemplified by the British in nineteenth- century India.'
---Ruth Watts, 'Society, education and the state: Gender perspectives on an old debate, Paedagogica Historica: International Journal of the History of Education 49:1 (2013), pp. 17-33: p. 31; DOI:10.1080/00309230.2012.745886
11. Barnita Bagchi's paper is a lively and affectionate tribute to the Bengali writer Leela Majumder, who to all appearances was a staid school teacher at Shantiniketan.But she was also a prolific writer who with her restless travels, and varied career wrote an energetic series of stories for children. Although these may be read with a feminist slant, Bagchi is quick to state that Majumder cannot be fitted into a neat category such as feminist literature....These, and many more articles in the book have been motivated by a genuine concern to understand children's literature in a context that is wider than that within which the writer is situated. The number of perspectives included make it a valuable resource for teachers, scholars, parents, and anyone interested in children.
---Deepa Onkar, 'A Varied Tapestry', review of Reading Children: Essays on Children’s Literature, Ed. RImi B.Chatterjee and Nilanjana Gupta, Orient Blackswan. The Hindu, 3 July 2010. The Hindu is one of India's leading newspapers. http://www.thehindu.com/books/a-varied-tapestry/article498578.ece
12. Barnita Bagchi’s critical exploration of the interface between female education and the fictional form in Britain (1778-1814) easily commends itself as a trendsetter for several reasons. Written with feeling, fervour and objectivity, the volume breaks through severalpolitically correct barriers – literary, pedagogic, canonical and cultural – and comes out as a pioneering work in its category.
The best part of Bagchi’s approach is to break out of artificially constructed binaries. Thus, while proponents of the literary canon in the western academia keep fighting a rear guard battle and appear defensive about the White Anglo-Saxon and Protestant (WASP) tradition,
Bagchi has no such anxiety. Similarly, she shows that the social and political conservatism of writers, including women authors, need not necessarily be a drawback when judging the merit of their literary-cultural contributions. The five women writers that she takes up for
close study did not evince a pronounced affinity towards radical or revolutionary causes such as the French Revolution or the American War of Independence. Nevertheless, argues Bagchi, their fiction showed a deep engagement with the woman question and punctured male pretensions regarding what constitutes ‘correct’ female behaviour. Thirdly, while most educationists and littérateurs continue to operate, despite the call for interdisciplinary research, in separate spheres, Bagchi brilliantly brings them together so that both benefit in a manner that goes beyond superficial eclecticism.
---Sachidananda Mohanty, University of Hyderabad, Review of Pliable Pupils and Sufficient Self-Directors: Narratives of Female Education by Five British Women Writers 1778-1814, Economic and Political Weekly 40:6 (23 February 2005): 532-533: 533. http://www.epw.in/system/files/pdf/2005_40/06/Education_and_Female_Identity.pdf