Dr. Nissim Mannathukkaren
Engaging with the Public
As an academic, one has no option but to grapple with two vital questions:
1) What are the objectives of knowledge production? 2) Can knowledge exist as an esoteric entity? From my perspective based on a critical and emancipatory social science, these two questions are interrelated. All kinds of knowledge that are produced should ideally have the objective of transforming inequitable and oppressive social relations, and contributing to human wellbeing in a wider sense. Therefore knowledge cannot have an ivory tower social existence. It is this understanding, especially solidified through graduate seminars that I have taught like the Development and Philosophy of Social Science, which has resulted in my endeavor to engage with the wider public--outside the academic universe--through popular newspapers and magazines. It has been a very rewarding as well as fascinating exercise, especially when one writes for a large and varied public like that of India. The greatest challenge is to translate difficult academic concepts into terms that a lay audience can understand, and to say what one has to say in very limited space. At the same time, what is remarkable is the way the supposedly lay audience responds to arguments which are not always cast in lay terms. The sophistication and critical bent with which many ordinary people analyze arguments reinforces what the Italian thinker and activist Antonio Gramsci had theorized about the contradictory consciousness of ‘people’. For him, consciousness is contradictory because it has both critical as well as regressive elements. The prospect of contributing in some way to consolidating and multiplying the former is what is the most satisfactory aspect of engaging with the public. Ultimately, democracy and development cannot realize their goals if the public cannot realize its potential through exercising its own critical consciousness.
Links to a few of my articles in the popular press:
“Think Different?” The Hindu, November 6, 2011.
“An Impending Water Bomb in Kerala,” The Wall Street Journal, December 22, 2011.
“Garbage as our Alter Ego,” The Hindu, November 3, 2012.
Associate Professor, IDS