05-08-2021  Thursday


Thursday Seminar on "Reservation vs. Merit: The Cultural Career of a False Dichotomy"

Date: 05 August, 2021
Time: 15:30 - 16:30

Venue: Online Meeting/Video Conferencing

Coordinator: Dr. Mashood K. K.


Prof. Satish Deshpande, Delhi University

Zoom link


Meeting ID:

940 5808 5713




In contemporary India, the terms “reservation” and “merit” have accumulated meanings that are far in excess of their literal referents. They have also acquired a strong polarity in popular culture such that each is seen as the antithesis of the other. However, developments in the twenty-first century have exposed many problems with both terms, eroding their credibility and inviting critical scrutiny of the sort that was previously deflected by the dominant common sense.

The use of both terms in contestations on the question of equalising opportunities across social groups (particularly those defined by caste) is further complicated by the fact that much of the thinking on these matters is derived from the Western liberal tradition that decisively privileges the individual over the communities that she/he/they may belong to. Finally, the era of neoliberal hegemony (which may be weakening today) has repositioned the capabilities and inclinations of the state, making its interventions more contradictory but also more consequential than before.

Can we re-examine and disaggregate these monolithic terms into context-specific variants that can help evade the impasses we witness today? How can we bring more constructive clarity to the issues involved in the democratisation of opportunities in higher education? Is it possible – and useful – to think of reservation and merit as co-implicated rather than dichotomous terms? These are some of the questions that the presentation will address.

Bio sketch:

Satish Deshpande teaches Sociology at Delhi University. His most recent books are the edited volumes, Sectarian Violence in India: Hindu-Muslim Conflict 1966-2015 (2019, with Sanjay Palshikar); Beyond Inclusion: The Practice of Equal Access in Indian Higher Education (2013, with Usha Zacharias); and The Problem of Caste (2014). His areas of interest include caste and class inequalities; the theory and practice of social justice; and higher education and the social sciences, especially questions of pedagogy and language.