ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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A Scholar Activist, an Activist Scholar

Gail Omvedt (1941–2021)

I met Gail Omvedt in 1990, at the Centre for Social Studies (CSS), Surat, where I had joined as a faculty member, my first ever job. Omvedt had been a visiting fellow at the CSS for a few months, working on her book on the “new” social movements. I had known her for a long time before that only through her writings. She had already published quite extensively, in Economic & Political Weekly (EPW) and elsewhere, and had some well-circulated books, after her PhD in sociology from the University of California, Berkeley, in the 1970s. Some of these writings had also begun to appear as part of the required readings in courses of sociology and political science in Indian universities.

However, Omvedt was not a member of the faculty, in any academic institution in India or in the West, and was mostly seen as a marginal voice by the professional establishment, even though her publications were hard to ignore. She was perhaps also considered as an “outsider” because of the kind of perspective that she brought, which was very different from how the disciplines of social sciences had come to engage with subjects like caste and class, and later gender, environment and agrarian politics, topics that were very much her central concerns. Occasionally, her arguments perhaps also upset established wisdom and challenged the conventions of mainstream academic disciplines of the 1980s. I still remember how one of our teachers during my master’s course felt compelled to ask us to read her paper on a topic we were discussing in class, but was perhaps also uncomfortable enough by her arguments to add cautionary footnote that he was not really persuaded by her arguments and they were not really relevant for a proper understanding of the subject.

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Updated On : 28th Sep, 2021
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