News & Events

NLS Student Manhar Bansal Wins the SHA President’s Award for Student Scholarship

December 5, 2022

We congratulate second-year BA LLB (Hons) student Manhar Bansal for winning the SHA President’s Award for Student Scholarship. His paper titled “Of Powerful Particulars and Contingent Universals: Freedom, Feminism and Engaged Universalism” was awarded first place in the undergraduate division of the competition.

About the Award

This is an annual award given by the Society for Humanistic Anthropology (SHA), a section of the American Anthropological Association. It is presented in the undergraduate and the graduate categories.

The SHA mentions the award is based on “the extent to which papers explore what anthropology reveals about being human; capture the ways in which people create and/or transform meaning in various contexts; address the relationships between researcher and subjects; challenge conventional academic writing through alternative literary genres; and make anthropology accessible to the general public”. More details available here.

About the Paper:

The paper delves into the universal-particular debate using Anna Tsing’s much acclaimed monograph Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection (2005). I try and sketch out a framework of “engaged universalism” in the essay. I argue that a theory of engaged universalism must simultaneously view the particular as powerful and the universal as contingent. I use, particularly, the debate around transnational feminism to ask questions of the universal category of Freedom – understood in its liberal, emancipatory, Western formulation. I argue that the universal of freedom we take for granted, carries within it the Western, Enlightenment-induced idea of what it means to be a free individual. Its universality is contingent on its originary particularity. Thus, the Afghan woman’s practice of freedom engages on equal terms with the American version which currently claims to “speak in the name of the universal” but is always-already contingent. This is perhaps the starting point for the newer theory of universalism that Tsing calls for.

“This was a revised and developed version of my term paper that I wrote for Sociology (taught by Dr. Atreyee Majumder) in the second term of my first year at NLSIU. I was invited to receive the award and read a portion of the essay at the SHA awards ceremony at the American Anthropological Association meetings in Seattle in November which I attended virtually,” said Manhar.

The SHA has also uploaded a video of the reading which can be viewed below: