TWO THEMES

(1) Stereotypes and the South Asian Culture – Education, Politics, Development and Conflict Resolution (7, 8 & 10 May)

‘Sri Lankans and Indians are spiritual’, ‘Sri Lankans are gentle and serene’, ‘Indians are irrational and inefficient’, ‘Indians are obsessed by caste’. Stereotypes like these dominate the European images of India and Sri Lanka. As the Asia-Link DEVHAS research shows, they are not new. Even though the language is different and political correctness has been added, the same stereotypes from the writings of missionaries and colonial officials of the past can still be found in contemporary literature and policy documents. At a time when the mutual relations have changed, most of these stereotypes create problems in European – South Asian encounters. Unfortunately, it seems impossible to get rid of them: stereotypes are stubborn; they emerge again and again. How then to deal with these stereotypes? Can we transform them? Can we replace them with new stereotypes? Do South Asians make use of these or other stereotypes as well? What does all of this tell us about the cultural differences between the two regions?



(2) Stereotypes and the South Asian Culture – Business (7 & 9 May)

More than in any other sector of society, new stereotypes emerge in contemporary international business relations. ‘Indian managers are flexible’, ‘Indian managers are good at implementing, but rarely show interest in a long-term vision’, ‘Europeans cannot cope with ambiguity’, ‘Indians are good team workers’, ‘Europeans are insensitive’, ‘Indians are terrible planners’, ‘Indians are tactical entrepreneurs’. These stereotypes are becoming popular: business people will agree as to their existence and validity and they are exchanged and presented in meetings and seminars. Peculiarly, the stereotypes often seem to contradict each other and they are often told smilingly and in amicable atmospheres, as if they are not to be taken too seriously. They do not seem to imply what they say at first sight: that all Indians are good team workers, or that no European can cope with ambiguity. They apparently play a different role. What is that role? Are more new stereotypes emerging in this sector of society? How are they different from the old ones? Can we extend this creation of new stereotypes to other sectors in society? Is the South Asian attitude towards these stereotypes similar to the European attitude? Can we make sense of cultural differences by seeing how such stereotypes function?