Questioning the Present


Convener: Dilip Parameshwar Gaonkar

What is the nature of our present conjuncture? With what contradictions is it wrought? What possibilities does it open?

These questions were long the core of the humanities and social sciences, but over the last half century, their centrality has waned. Driven by a quest for precision, Braudel’s histoire de la longue durée gave way to l’histoire événementielle and even la microhistoire and, among more quantitative studies, narrower topics became increasingly dominant. As scholars across the humanities and social sciences turned their attention to more immediate concerns with discrete texts and narratives, the analysis of big framing concepts like modernity or global capitalism receded. Engagement with the big themes never vanished, but they are back at the center of attention. We live in an unsettled era and a present moment rife with transnational transformations and global challenges. New technologies call our attention to upheavals in capitalism and indeed in our understanding of the human itself. Shifiting political paradigms reflect increasing disorder within different polities and suggest that we might be on the verge of a reconstitution of the modern world-system. Building on the Center’s previous engagements, especially with “alternative modernities,” this forum seeks to explore not just what is going on now, but the significance of ‘now’ in macro-historical and global contexts.

The Center for Transcultural Studies, in collaboration with the Center for Global Culture and Communication (CGCC) at Northwestern University, is launching an online forum titled Questioning the Present. Every two months, we will congregate via a video conferencing service to address these questions and problems.

This is a hybrid forum, fostering dialogue among CTS members at the same time we invite the public to participate, via the co-sponsorship of the CGCC.

The inaugural session, on December 10, 2020, featured Dipesh Chakrabarty discussing his forthcoming book, The Climate of History in a Planetary Age.


Veena Das

Slum Acts
Friday, April 22, 2022
10am CDT

Organizer: Dilip Gaonkar
Presenter: Veena Das
Discussants: Piergiorgio Donatelli, Sameena Mulla, and Brighupati Singh

Free and open to the public. On Zoom.

Slum Acts

Michael Sandel

The Tyranny of Merit
Friday, February 4, 2022
10am CST

Organizer: Dilip Gaonkar
Presenter: Michael Sandel
Discussants: Charles Taylor, Nilüfer Göle, and Craig Calhoun

Free and open to the public. On Zoom.

Click here to read "Winners and Losers," chapter 1 in The Tyranny of Merit.
The Tyranny of Merit

Claudio Lomnitz

Colegio Nacional Lectures on State and Violence in Contemporary Mexico
Friday, December 10, 2021
10am CST

Organizer: Dilip Gaonkar
Presenter: Claudio Lomnitz
Discussants: Veena Das and Fernando Escalante

Free and open to the public. On Zoom.

Click here to read a translation of Claudio Lomnitz's lectures at El Colegio Nacional.
State and Violence in Contemporary Mexico

Mukulika Banerjee

Cultivating Democracy:
Politics and Citizenship in Agrarian India
Friday, October 29, 2021
10am CDT | 4pm BST | 8:30pm IST

Organizer: Dilip Gaonkar
Presenter: Mukulika Banerjee
Discussants: Deepak Mehta and Lisa Mitchell

Cultivating Democracy

Souleymane Bachir Diagne

Postcolonial Bergson
June 3, 2021

Organizer: Dilip Gaonkar
Presenter: Souleymane Bachir Diagne
Discussants: Naveeda Khan, Charles Taylor, and Gary Wilder

Postcolonial Bergson

Sianne Ngai

Theory of the Gimmick:
Aesthetic Judgment and Capitalist Form
April 29, 2021

Organizer: Dilip Gaonkar
Presenter: Sianne Ngai
Discussants: Mark Greif, Joseph Jonghyun Jeon, and Leigh Claire LaBerge

Theory of the Gimmick

Partha Chatterjee

I Am the People: Refletions on Popular Sovereignty Today
April 8, 2021

Organizer: Dilip Gaonkar
Presenter: Partha Chatterjee
Discussants: Paulina Ochoa Espejo, Ritty Lukose, and Lars Tønder

I Am the People

Jianying Zha

China's Heart of Darkness:
Prince Han Fei and Chairman Xi Jinping
February 25, 2021

Organizer: Dilip Gaonkar
Presenter: Zha Jianying
Discussants: Loubna El Amine, Geremie Barmé, and Pratap Bhanu Mehta

China's Heart of Darkness

Dipesh Chakrabarty

The Climate of History in a Planetary Age
December 10, 2020

Organizer: Dilip Gaonkar
Presenter: Dipesh Chakrabarty
Discussants: Craig Calhoun, Hartmut Rosa, Michael Warner, and Mukulika Banerjee

The Climate of History in a Planetary Age
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