This Axis is devoted to the historical and contemporary study of knowledge practices in culture, with a commitment to develop a critical and democratic ethos in the interface of the people, the State and the institutional world of knowledge production.

This axis inquiries into the political conditions and consequences of knowledge, and of science in particular. We see the production of knowledge as a social activity grounded in labour, which brings in the world of practitioners, both in the past and in the present, who create and transfer knowledge as part of their working lives. Artisanal and craft workers, revenue and irrigation professionals, village accountants and laboratory scientists, technicians and engineers are studied as knowledge practitioners working under particular social and political circumstances producing particular consequences for the people.

The concreteness of such a reflection relies on a historical outlook, which guarantees that the categories, theories, practices and experiences of practitioners are never dealt in the abstract but constantly referred to their historically emergent reality. The coupling of science and historicity itself raises a series of interlinked questions of relevance for the comprehension of knowledge practices, such as what is universal and what is particular in the flow of knowledge, what is abstract and what concrete?

Bringing the historical and the anthropological training of scholars, students and the people, this axis undertakes studies as diverse as the social history of mathematical practices in India, the emergent world of the engineering professionals in the making of colonial and national infrastructures, the emergence of photography as a social and cultural aspect of individual and family lives in south India and, more importantly, also invests in the building of archives of various kinds which underlines its historical and anthropological inquiries.

The continuing initiatives under the axis currently in the Department include specific projects on the Social History of Vernacular Mathematical Practices in South India (9th to 17th centuries); Nature, Knowledge and Labour in Deltas and Coasts; Craft, Science and Labour in India; Professional History of Engineering in India; Social History of Photography in South India and a longstanding programme on Contemporary Tamil Culture.

Contact: Senthil Babu