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PostWAIS Welcomes Sergio Mukherjee (Brazil/India/US) (John Eipper, USA, 11/22/09 4:48 pm)
JE: WAISers who attended our conference last month will remember Sergio Mukherjee, who at the last minute stepped up to the plate to give a fascinating talk on affirmative action and development in India. Sergio's soft-spoken eloquence captivated us all, as did his command of the subject. Although in my book Sergio became a WAISer that very moment (and he's been on our mailing list since October), he now formally accepts the invitation by sending this bio: I am Brazilian by birth, Indian by blood and American by citizenship. My life has taken me to these three places multiple times, and I am grateful to the exposure I got from them in addition to other places I have been. After finishing my studies in Political Science at Cornell University, I was determined to learn a new language and to expose myself to a new society. Indeed, earning a research fellowship in Germany proved to be a unique experience much before I set foot in Heidelberg. At the time, once I disclosed to others the wonderful news of my acceptance, the wisdom of my decision was generally questioned first, while my achievement was congratulated second. I had expected, at the very least, the reverse order but I was mistaken. Congratulations had consistently lost the race to Why Germany? This succinct, seemingly ingenuous question, proved to be so popular and prevalent that after a few attempts of synthesizing my research proposal into a sound-bite, I simply retorted by saying: Precisely because of your question. Never mind that Germany has the strongest economy in Europe, is the largest exporter in the world, plays a key role geo-strategically within the EU as a bridge between Western and Eastern Europe, has the highest number of art galleries, museums and bookshops per square kilometer in the world, or has a fantastically rich intellectual tradition. In the minds of many outsiders, Germany is still a faceless and colorless country, perpetually inclined to remain hostage to its past; but not to the glorious parts of its past. In the case of Germany, and I am afraid only Germany, the general tendency is to shackle it to the darkest of its chapters. Originally, the central idea of my research agenda involved a study of the relationship between social capital and ethnic diversity. After some reflection, independent investigation and discussion with professors and students at Heidelberg as well as from the US, I extended the scope of my original plan and focused quite heavily on the issue of social integration of immigrants and minority groups in a comparative perspective (mainly between Germany, England, and France). I presented part of my output last December in an invited talk in Austria. For this reason, I conducted some field work (i.e. mostly interviews) in the neighborhood of Kreuzberg (Berlin), and the city of Bradford (England) and visited suburbs in Paris that were home to violent riots involving many young, disaffected Frenchmen of North African background in 2005. As I explored the pros and cons of different social integration models, I thought it would be instructive to have a 3-case-study comparison. More recently, but in this spirit, I started looking at India, in order to get a deeper perspective on how different institutional mechanisms can be created and/or adjusted to "manage diversity." As such, my current research, as a PhD student at the University of Pennsylvania, draws inspiration from my background and previous research, but looks more specifically and systematically at how India has managed to sustain its secular, democratic foundations by institutionalizing a model that accommodates diverse groups, religions, and languages. Contrary to Western perceptions that favor a model of "oneness" (one language, one religion, one culture), India shows the world an alternative model, based on pluralism, which calls for analysis. In sharing my current research interest, I do not mean to idealize any model nor the successes of the Indian case. Challenges do exist and part of my challenge is to uncover the challenges that are often overlooked by casual observers. In addition to my doctoral work at Penn, I am an editorial assistant to the Heidelberg Papers in South Asian and Comparative Politics (HPSAC), an electronic scholarly journal established by the department of Political Science of the South Asia Institute at the University of Heidelberg. Over the past years, I taught courses at Heidelberg in its Sociology, Political Economy and South Asian Politics departments. Prior to my stay in Europe, I worked for the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs (2003). I am fluent in English, Spanish, Portuguese, German and Bengali--and am learning how to play the dhoumbek, a Middle-Eastern hand drum!  Defined by Robert Putnam as "features of social organization such as networks, norms and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit." In other words, social capital can be understood as the levels of trust, tolerance, cooperation and reciprocity among individuals that arise from taking part in networks in a particular social environment. JE comments: I believe Sergio Mukherjee is the first WAISer to include a footnote in his introductory bio! Great to have you aboard, Sergio: your life embodies the WAISly global ideal, and I am certain you'll enrich our discussions for many years to come. I'm glad you joined us at WAIS '09, and even happier that you've joined the Forum.