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Critical Mind and Labouring Body: Caste and Education Reforms in Kerala

Research Project (to be discussed at the Winter Academy) by Sunandan K.N.

Sunandan K.N. is a Postdoctoral Fellow of the Transnational Research Group “Poverty and Education in Modern India” and currently based at the Center for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi. His research explores the concepts of mental and manual labour in relation to the caste experiences in the domain of education in India.

Exploring the various educational reform programs implemented in primary schools and high schools in Kerala in India in the last two decades, the project seeks to analyze the dichotomous concepts of mental and manual labour, theoretical and practical knowledge, and general and technical education which constituted the premise of these reform interventions. The broader objective of the project is to understand the role of caste practices in conceptions of body, skill and knowledge as constructed and disseminated in the practices of educational institutions in India. The work focuses on the crucial connection between the reproduction of the above concepts and caste as it is practiced in contemporary Keralam.

The critical scholarship has already mapped the failure of reform initiatives in challenging the continuing domination of patriarchal and casteist forces that operate in the domain of education. Most of these studies conceptualize the question of domination as problem of exclusion of the marginalized groups. This is expressed as the lack of representation of women and Dalits in the decision making bodies, lack of resources for these groups, their low enrollment and high drop-out rate in schools and in general as a problem of socio-economic exclusion.  Naturally the suggestions were focused on educational programs which can become more inclusive and incorporative of marginal groups. While these explanations are valid and important, this works attempts to extend this criticism to basic concept of ‘school’ itself, and as an extension, to the basic assumptions behind the present educational methodologies. The attempt in here is to shift the debate on the exclusions and dominations in education from the domain of institutional to the epistemological. This project attempts to locate the Brahmanical and patriarchal domination not just in the institutional structures but in the very conception of education based on the division between mental and physical labour. The major objective of this project is to develop some preliminary concepts that would help us understand education not only as a project of developing ‘critical thinking’ but also as a project of creating ‘critical action.’

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