Areas of Activity
- Strategies and Cultures of Movement
- Information / Culture / Technology
- Building Bridges
CACIM – the India Institute for Critical Action : Centre in Movement - is an experimental initiative towards an informal association between individuals and organisations located in different parts of India and the world. Its goals are to encourage a culture of critical reflexivity and action in public work, by working through fundamental research and critical reflection, exploration, and action in the field of ‘movement’. Initially focussing on social and political movement, we propose over time to look at motion movement and energy / power as a fundamental aspect of all life process – and which is therefore richly manifested and explored in so many fields of human endeavour; and to learn across fields and traditions.
We hope to encourage learning across disciplines and across cultures, and to support and encourage all those involved in different ways with 'movement' - activists, researchers and teachers, professionals, artists artistes and composers, and thinkers, both the more mature and young, and both from the civil and incivil worlds - in relation to our respective work as individuals and organisations and also in networks. Our present focus is on cultures of politics in movement, the exploration of open space as a political-cultural concept, and by exploring this through actions, the exploration of cyberspace as open space. For our work so far, see Activities so far
We are also working on developing information management and documentation systems appropriate to and appropriable by smaller, more informal organisations and initiatives, and on studying and documenting the history and dynamics of particular movements.
CACIM, presently made up of a core of two people and with an associate circle of several more scattered in various parts of India and some in other countries, sees itself not as an organisation but as an association, and not independent but interlinked and interdependent, plugged into and learning from the world around us. With this vision, we presently conceive CACIM as evolving into a hub within networks among individuals and organisations located in different parts of India and the world.
CACIM has grown out of Critical Action (CA), an experiment since about 2001 in informal, voluntary association between individuals based in different parts of India and other countries focusing on the critical study of, reflection and exchange on, and engagement in emerging social and political movement. In a broader sense, CACIM has grown out of an earlier experiment and initiative that led to the formation and work of Unnayan, a civil organisation based in Kolkata, India, with which several members of CACIM and CA have been and remain associated. Formed in the mid-late 70s, Unnayan’s work has been in supporting the efforts of communities of the labouring poor in gaining control over their lives, and while doing so, in developing and maintaining a critical, independent relationship both with the communities and with other civil and political entities in the city, state, and country, and in promoting public debate in these areas.
CACIM works both independently and closely with and through Unnayan. For purposes of legal status, CACIM is also registered in India as a non-profit company. Although based in one country, it attempts to be transnationalist, ‘global’, and open in spirit and concern. It is simultaneously independent and autonomous and also interdependent.
At another level, CACIM’s goal will be to develop and to conduct itself as a loose, flexible, responsive, non-centralised, and lightweight association, or network, reflecting and manifesting its principles.
The principles that underlie CACIM’s work are criticality - referring both to critical reflection and critical thinking -, transnationalism and transcommunality, and engagement – and at all times and in many ways, a focus on movement.
- By ‘critical thinking’, we mean disciplined intellectual criticism that combines research, knowledge of historical context, and balanced judgment. We hope to articulate a culture of ‘criticality’ through a focus on critical reflection and thought, and a spirit of self-reflexivity; critical action; and critical pedagogy.
- By ‘transnationalism’, we refer to an outlook and working culture that constantly seeks to transcend national boundaries and cultural particularism and to encourage a larger, ‘global’ perspective.
- By ‘transcommunality’, we refer to an attitude and ethic of respecting diverse and divergent perspectives, and of seeing others’ well-developed internal senses of communal integrity as essential to self-transformation, rather than of conversion to what one believes.
- By ‘engagement’, we mean establishing and sustaining a conscious, discerning, and critical relationship.
CACIM’s work will also be based on and informed by the interrelated principles of voluntarism, mutual aid, and solidarity.
Resource mobilisation : One aim and aspect of the application of CACIM’s principles will be with respect to the question of the social and political dimensions of resource mobilisation for civil (non-state) public work, a crucial aspect of civil and political work and which is also a highly contentious question in certain circles. We are progressively defining principles that can inform our own work, and propose also to in time open public debate in this critical area. We plan here to take full advantage of the rich tradition in India of debate and controversy in this area.
Areas of activity
Over the next period, CACIM expects to have three main areas of activity : Strategies and Cultures of ‘Movement’, Information / Culture / Technology, and Building Bridges. The following paragraphs outline these areas, which are of course also not separate but interlinked and overlapping :
Strategies and Cultures of ‘Movement’
Since the 1970s there has been a spectacular growth of seemingly new ‘social’ movement, at local, ‘national’ as well as transnational levels in both the South and the North. ‘Social’ / civil activists and concerned researchers everywhere have had to engage with familiar questions, for instance, what should be the relationship between these social movements and traditional political parties ? For those of us rooted in / coming from ‘civil society’, what should be the approach to and relation with the parallel growth of incivil actors – the assertion of religious and ethnic fundamentalisms, or the identity movements taking the form of insurgent groups ? As, increasingly, historically oppressed and marginalised sections all over the world themselves autonomously articulate their own points of view ? And conversely, for those of us rooted in what we are here purposely terming ‘incivil society’, what should be the nature of our relations with those who like to call themselves ‘civil’ ? And cutting across all these questions, how can we, each one of us, coming from different professions and ‘communities’, reach across conventional boundaries and build a more transcultural, transcommunal culture ?
Activists have been forging new practices and developing new insights and theories, and there are some encouraging stories of successful transnational activism. At the same time, differences have also come up — sometimes as a North-South? divide, or along regional or cultural lines, sometimes based on areas of concern; and often on a class, caste, or race basis. Sustained transnational and transcommunal conversations can help avoid these difficulties, and perhaps to evolve and define new categories, new lenses through which to understand and address the world as it is emerging. The exchange of ideas that we hope CACIM can engender will provide support for these movements and for the individuals within them, and the bridges so formed could themselves become platforms and networks for more critical action.
Several CA members have, for long, been deeply involved with questions of ‘globalisation’ and of social justice; more recently, some have engaged deeply with the World Social Forum. This engagement has led over time to this becoming a significant programme in this area, more recently through CACIM, including the preparation and publication of several books, the organisation of seminars, within the Forum and outside and both within India and internationally, and more recently to helping in the founding of an international network of scholar-activists focussed on the exploration of the cultural-political concept of ‘open space’. A central concern of this work is on emerging cultures of politics in movement; the goal of the new network initiative is to explore and advance thinking and action involving new and more democratic ways of conducting and understanding politics and organisation within movements, institutions, and related political processes.
CACIM’s programme in this area :
- The publication during 2006 of several more books in the area of cultures of politics, in both English and Hindi
- The organisation of a ‘Hindi heartland project’, a sustained programme of debate on new politics in towns and cities across north India organised around the books we are publishing
- Organising a major international conference and seminar on these issues in early-mid 2007, as a follow-up to meetings and activities in 2005; and through all this, contributing to deepening public debate and scholarship on these issues
- Maximising the learning experience for all who take part, and critical reflection on this experience to draw lessons from it, will be a central part of this work
- The completion and publication of major bibliographies and chronologies coming out of studies of some specific popular movements in India and in global space
- The completion and publication of major studies into the history and dynamics of popular movements in India and in global space (the Narmada movements, the kudikidappukaran (hutment dwellers) movement in Kerala, and the basti (settlements of the working poor) movement in Calcutta / now Kolkata)
- The use of listserves and webspaces for circulating information, generating debate, and intervening in emerging situations.
Some of the publications we have produced so far have already been translated, in full or in part, into other languages (to our knowledge, German, Hindi, Japanese, Spanish, Swedish, and Urdu, and forthcoming in Arabic, Chinese, French, and Russian), and we are hopeful that this trend will continue.
Similarly, CACIM-generated material is now being quite widely posted on websites and listserves all over the world, and we again hope that this pattern will continue. In particular, we send our material to Choike (www.choike.org), the Debate listserve, the Social Movements listserve, the PGA listserve, the SACW (South Asian Citizen’s Wire), and to Open Space India, as well as to issue-based lists and websites as appropriate (such as relating to the Bhopal and Narmada movements in India, in the course of generating the ‘CACIM Delhi Demos Bulletin’ during March-April? 2006.
“Centred in Movement” : In general, CACIM will be centred in movement : In movement, energy, and power. The play of words is purposeful. Not a centre of, nor a centre for, but rooted and centred in movement, and organically related to and creatively supportive of it.
By ‘movement’ moreover, we propose over time to look not only at social and political movement but rather at motion, movement, and energy / power as a fundamental aspect of all life process – and which is therefore richly manifested and explored in so many fields : Architecture, art, biology, cosmology, cybernetics, dance, film, mathematics, music, physics, poetry, rehabilitation therapy, and theatre, among others, as well as in the social and political sciences - as also in life and politics in general, which so many of these fields seek to explore and to understand, and/or are expressions of.
There are already many initiatives in the social and political sciences of people attempting to critically employ emerging theory in biology, cybernetics, and mathematics to the understanding of social and political phenomena in general, and of movement in particular. Similarly, there are deep traditions of related work in, for instance, the exploration of the relationship of art, dance, and cosmology, of art, nature, and form, and of music and architecture, and more recently, of art, music, and power.
We believe that exchange between these fields – where questions of motion and of ‘movement’, interpreted and understood in different ways, is fundamental to all – can yield rich insights, for each of the fields and certainly for the understanding and practice of social and political movement. CACIM therefore proposes to create real and virtual spaces for the critical study of, reflection and interdisciplinary exchange on, and action in movement, in all these fields, with a present focus on gleaning understandings of our emerging social and political world. We are glad to be able to say that aside from encouraging participation in the initiatives we are taking, we are already – within six months of starting our work – being approached by activists and others to discuss how we can support them in finding spaces for reflection.
CACIM also undertook a related activity during June 2005 – April 2006, of salvaging and reincarnating a development- and movement-related document collection in Kolkata, gifted to CACIM by Unnayan, a prominent civil organisation in the 1970s-80s, at its request; of strategically gifting much of the library to other civil organisations in Kolkata and West Bengal, so that much of Unnayan’s excellent collection remains available to activists, students and researchers, and journalists in Kolkata; and of helping the Unnayan Governing Body to regularise their affairs. The remaining part of the library and Unnayan’s project file collection now lies with CACIM as a major repository of social documentation from an important period in the evolution of the voluntary / civil sector in India, and now forms the beginning of CACIM’s own movement-related document collection and library.
Longer term programme
Ashram for Critical / Recreative Reflection : A particular activity we have preliminarily discussed within CACIM is to establish an ‘Ashram for Critical / Recreative Reflection’ in the hill town of Shimla, in Himachel Pradesh, 10-12 hours from Delhi, as a ‘real’ space for those who feel the need to take a step back, to move to. We have a site in mind, and are formulating a project to raise resources for building such a centre, organised and designed in relation to an old building that already exists. With facilities planned for upto 15-20 residents, this would be available to eligible individuals (with the criteria still to be defined) to, individually or collectively, stay in for periods ranging from a week upto six months, to read, write, compose, create, reflect, or whatever.
Information / Culture / Technology
The sweeping emergence of transnational networks of civil and incivil activism over the past three decades, to a degree unknown in history and movements in themselves, has been greatly facilitated by the information-communication technology revolution. But with this emergence and facilitation, ICT has also introduced some profound challenges and contradictions, some visible and some hidden.
CACIM therefore proposes to make Information / Culture / Technology its second area of activity; ‘ICT’ redefined. While retaining a generic interest in the field, CACIM proposes to initially look at and work in three areas, through research and practise : The geography, politics, and culture of cyberspace; the relationship of information & communication technologies and power relations in movement; and developing documentation systems while remaining critically conscious of the cultural impacts of information systems. In terms of the first area, we have now already taken three pro-active, experimental initiatives :
- Established two listserves (Chennai Open Space Action List and WSFDiscuss)
- Set up, together with other members of the EIOS Collective, a new worldwide network of scholar-activists involved in or concerned with movement, OpenSpaceForum? (www.openspaceforum.net)
- Organised along with Sarai, CSDS (Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi, India), a first seminar-discussion on ‘Internet and a Culture of Openness’, at Sarai.
In terms of the third area, we came to the conclusion after 3-4 years of work in this field that available ‘international’ and ‘standard’ documentation systems and software – when examined closely – are deeply biased in cultural terms, user-unfriendly, and exclusionary, and also inappropriate for some and even many of the kinds of more informal documents and documentation that movements generate and work with. As a consequence, CACIM has - in the course of its own work - engaged itself in the work of developing a more inclusive, user-friendly, and culturally sensitive documentation system, so far nicknamed DIMS (Data & Information Management System). Once fully developed, by using this in our own work and by also making this available on an open basis, we hope to contribute to the emergence of an alternative paradigm of social and political research and of knowledge production, exchange, and sharing.
Projects prepared / proposed
- ‘Bringing Knowledge to Life’, a project proposal for developing an inclusive, user-friendly, and culturally sensitive documentation system, intralinked such that the data comes alive – thereby making data and knowledge accessible to a wider public and contributing towards making this standard practice
- ‘Developing software infrastructure for customizable document indexing and for peer-to-peer networking of document collections across organizations’. Servelots Infotech Pvt Ltd (Bangalore), CACIM (Critical Action : Centre in Movement), (New Delhi), Civil Society Information Exchange Pvt Ltd (Bangalore), and Environment Support Group (Bangalore)
- ‘Transforming Power Relations ? Democratising the world ? The impact of emerging information and communication technologies on power relations and strategies in transnational civil activism’. A Research Proposal.
Apart from a general focus on transnational networking among activists, campaigners, academics and policy-makers, CACIM proposes to take on particular programmes of the building of strategic bridges between countries, regions, and communities separated by geography, history, and profession. We see this idea of ‘bridges’, of the building of strategic links between specific societies in the world as a generic idea. In time, a number of bridges can span and encircle the globe in different directions.
Our work so far has included some amount of bridge building between India and Brazil, aiming at facilitating the free and open flow of peoples and ideas – of human and intellectual capital. We believe that this can be an important and strategic contribution at this juncture of world history. Our activities have so far involved the preparation and circulation of concept papers, the organisation of workshops in this field at the World Social Forum in Mumbai (India) in 2004 and in Porto Alegre (Brazil) in 2005, and responding to requests for information and advice from organisations and institutions in Brazil and India.
CACIM’s primary resource is its membership and the experience of the activities it has undertaken over the past some years. In addition, it has a library and a small office in New Delhi, and two webspaces that it maintains. It works on the basis of sales from publication sales, fellowships, grants, and solidarity donations. It is seeking resources for carrying out its work.
In terms of membership, at present CACIM is made up of a core of two people and with an associate circle of several more scattered in various parts of India and some in other countries :
Present Directors : Sanjib Baruah (New York and Guwahati), Jai Sen (New Delhi and Kathmandu).
Core team : Madhuresh Kumar (New Delhi), and Jai Sen (Delhi and Kathmandu); supported by Subramanya Sastry (Bangalore).
Associates : Prashant Bhushan, New Delhi; T B Dinesh (Servelots), Bangalore; Kishan Kaljayee (Bharatiya Gyanpeeth), Delhi; Manju Menon (Kalpavriksh), Pune; Arvind Nair (A K Nair & Co), New Delhi; Leo Saldanha (Environment Support Group), Bangalore; and Subramanya Sastry (Environment Support Group), Bangalore, Kalyani Menon Sen (Jagori), New Delhi.
CA – Critical Action Members : Prashant Bhushan, (lawyer and author, New Delhi); Jeremy Brecher, (historian and author, West Cornwall, Connecticut, USA); Sundar Chaterji, (communicator, actor, and film and television director/producer, Chennai, India); Tim Costello, (trade unionist and author, Cambridge, Mass, USA; Dave Ranney, public affairs policy activist and author, Chicago); Leo Saldanha, (environmentalist, Bangalore, India); Jai Sen, (architect, campaignist, and researcher, New Delhi, India); David Szanton, (anthropologist and programme development consultant, Berkeley, California, USA and Johannesburg, South Africa); Wiert Wiertsema (environmentalist and public affairs policy activist, Amsterdam, The Netherlands) and Leah Wise (union organiser and civil rights activist, Durham, North Carolina, USA).
CACIM’s library consists of the extensive private collection of movement-related documents belonging to Jai Sen (some 10,000 documents) and also the part it has retained of the major development- and movement-related library that Unnayan gifted to CACIM during 2005 (some 3,000 documents). It has started on the project of digitalising its indexing system, and also of uploading documents onto the webspaces it works with.