The “Urban Spaces” conference to be conducted by the students of the humanities department of IIT-Madras promises to open up new ways of thinking.

The annual conference of the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences (DoHSS), IIT-Madras, is the highlight of the calendar around this time of the year. Every year, the students, staff and the faculty of the department come together to debate issues of social importance, issues relating to the latest trends in academia. The event itself has a unique aim and looks to provide a platform for undergraduates to make their mark in the academic arena. In a country where conferences and research papers are almost the sole prerogative of master’s/doctoral students, such a conference comes as a welcome addition to the cluttered academic calendar.

By the students

Perhaps one of the few conferences of its kind run entirely by students, the students of DoHSS are in charge of every stage of the organising process — from narrowing in on the theme to deciding the speakers, from coordinating the call for papers to ensuring that news of the events reach as many people as possible. With close to twenty people working on this year’s edition, the team is upbeat and positive.

‘Urban Spaces’ is the theme this year and the conference will focus on issues of relevance in the areas of English, Economics and Development Studies. The format itself will involve keynote lectures and paper presentations by selected students.

The conference is the third of its kind hosted by the department, with prior editions focusing on themes such as ‘Negotiating Conflict’ and ‘Redefining Boundaries’. The conferences have played host to speakers such as Gopalkrishna Gandhi (former Governor of West Bengal), CS Lakshmi (Tamil writer who uses the penname “Ambai”) and Martha Nussbaum (American philosopher and former professor at Harvard and Brown University). This year, the speaker line-up for the event includes Dr. Shiv Viswanathan (Professor, School of Government and Public Policy, OP Jindal Global University), Dr. Amitabh Kundu (former Dean, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University), Dr. Tutun Mukherjee (Professor of Comparative Literature, University of Hyderabad) and Dr. Swapna Banerjee-Guha (Professor of Development Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences).

One of its kind

In the words of Dr. Solomon Benjamin, a professor at DoHSS who has been closely interacting with the conference team, “A student-run conference is important because it gives people the freedom to voice new ways of thinking that would otherwise not be possible because as professors, we would be caught up in disciplining. The openness of opportunities to raise new issues and perspectives in an engaged forum is perhaps the best thing about a conference of this kind. It is also especially important in understanding the theme as ‘Urban Spaces’ as opposed to just ‘cities’, particularly in an era where the boundaries between cities, towns and villages are becoming increasingly fuzzy. Cities are more strait-jacketed. Urban spaces allow you to explore.”

As the conference draws closer (February 7 to 9), the team has launched pre-conference events and regularly posts urban-centric articles on its Facebook page. “We use Facebook as a platform to reach out to the most number of people. It shouldn’t be for lack of information that people do not attend. We are looking forward to healthy participation this year,” signs off Jacob Roshan, Head of Conference and a fourth-year integrated master’s (Economics) student.