Contributions to Contemporary Knowledge Lecture Series

While each department has its own internal lecture and discussion programs to host lectures by visiting scholars, FSS has instituted two lecture series beginning in 2012. These are the ‘Reading South Asia Lecture Series’ (approximately six lectures each year at the SAU campus in Chanakyapuri) and ‘Contributions to Contemporary Knowledge Lecture Series’ (one lecture per year organized by FSS at a neutral venue in New Delhi).

Archive: 2013

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Faculty of Social Sciences at South Asian University,

New Delhi


Contributions to Contemporary Knowledge - 2015

Gandhi as a Global Thinker:

Legacies of the Anti-Colonial Revolution


Keith Hart

Centennial Professor of Economic Anthropology

Department of International Development

London School of Economics

International Director

Human Economy Program

University of Pretoria, South Africa


Chaired by
Sugata Bose
Gardiner Professor of History
Harvard University


Date and Time:

Thursday, 29January 2015; 6.00 PM


Multipurpose Hall

India International Centre (IIC), New Delhi


About the series: The annual lecture series, Contributions to Contemporary Knowledge was formulated by the Faculty of Social Sciences at South Asian University in 2011 to showcase selected work of eminent scholars from any part of the world whose work would be of relevance to South Asia. It was launched for the first time in 2013 and has continued thereafter annually every January. Invited speakers, in addition to one major public engagement also offers a seminar at South Asian University on selected themes for its faculty and students, which is also be open for external participants. In 2015, the lecture and seminar will be facilitated by the Department of Sociology.


Abstract of lecture: The new human universal is not an idea; it is 7 billion of us searching for ways of living together on this planet. In order to do so we must be able to conceptualise world society as something that each of us can relate to meaningfully. Global thinking is in short supply and I look for it in key moments of world society’s formation.


Europeans launched world society in the nineteenth century when they coerced the peoples of the planet into joining their colonial empires. As a result, by 1900 Europeans controlled 80% of the inhabited land. The main event of the twentieth century was the anti-colonial revolution, when colonised peoples sought to establish their own independent relationship to world society.


Hart takes two main sources as exemplary of this movement: three New World Panafricanists (W E B Dubois, C L R James and Frantz Fanon) and Mohandas K Gandhi. In the early twentieth century, Panafricanism, fuelled by resistance to racism and was the most inclusive political movement in the world. Gandhi fed indirectly off these currents during his two decades in South Africa.


Kant claimed for himself a Copernican revolution in metaphysics. “Hitherto it has been assumed that all our knowledge must conform to objects… (but what) if we suppose that objects must conform to our knowledge?” Understanding must begin not with the empirical existence of objects, but with the reasoning embedded in all the judgments each of us has made. So the world is inside each of us as much as it is out there. One definition of ‘world’ is ‘all that relates to or affects the life of a person’. Our task is to bring the two poles together as subjective individuals who share the object world in common with the rest of humanity.


Gandhi’s critique of the modern state was devastating. He held that it disabled its citizens, subjecting mind and body to the control of professional experts, when the purpose of a civilization should be to enhance its members’ self-reliance. He proposed an anthropology based on two universal postulates: that every human being is a unique personality and as such participates with the rest of humanity in an encompassing whole. Between these extremes lie a great variety of associations. Gandhi settled on the village as the most appropriate social vehicle for human development.


The problem Gandhi confronted is crucial. If the world is devoid of meaning, then, being governed by remote impersonal forces known only to specially trained experts, leaves each of us feeling small, isolated and vulnerable. Yet, modern cultures tell us that we have significant personalities. In this context, how does one bridge the gap between a vast, unknowable world, which we experience as an external object, and a puny self, endowed with the subjective capacity to act alone or with others?


We must scale down the world, scale up the self or a combination of both. Traditionally this task was performed by religion, notably through prayer. Gandhi chose the village as the site of India’s renaissance because it had a social scale appropriate to self-respecting members of the civilization. Moreover, he devoted a large part of his philosophy and practice to building up the personal resources of individuals, not least his own. One aim of the lecture is to bring this project up to date.




About the speaker: Keith Hart is Centennial Professor of Economic Anthropology in the Department of International Development at the London School of Economics and International Director of the Human Economy Program at the University of Pretoria. He is an anthropologist by training and a self-taught economist who lives in Paris with his family. He also has a home in Durban, South Africa.


Hart studied classics and went on to explore the African diaspora in West Africa, North America, the Caribbean, Britain, France and South Africa. He has taught for a long time in Cambridge University, where he was Director of the African Studies Centre.


His interests include building a human economy; economic anthropology; money and finance; informal economy; African development; migration; national capitalism; the digital revolution in communications; social media; intellectual property and its discontents; the emergence of world society; world citizenship.


His recent books include Market and Society: The Great Transformation Today (2009), The Human Economy: A Citizen’s Guide (2010) and People, Money and Power in the Economic Crisis: Perspectives from the Global South (Vol. 1 in Berghahn’s Human Economy series), all co-edited volumes. He wrote Economic Anthropology (2011) with Chris Hann. He authored The Memory Bank: Money in an Unequal World (2000) and numerous papers. His next book, about African development in the twenty-first century, will be Africa: The Coming Revolution.


Invitations: If you would like to have an invitation to the lecture, please send a request with your name, postal address, email addresses to the following email addresses: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

For more information, please contact:

Mallika Shakya, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology

Samson George, Personal Secretary to the Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences

Telephone: +91-11-24122512-14; +91-11-24195000

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