Contemporary Society and Politics in South Asia: Reason or religion?
Tutor: Dr Atreyee Sen
Medium of teaching: English
Contemporary Society and Politics in South Asia: Reason or religion?
Department of Social Anthropology, University of Copenhagen, Spring Semester, 2015/2016
This course introduces students to recent anthropological debates about contemporary identity politics that define the study of society, religion and politics in modern South Asia (India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives). It begins with an investigation into what constitutes anthropological knowledge and ethnographic fieldwork in representing cultural realities in the region. The course will then critically explore tribal and caste discriminations through the lens of social and economic changes in South Asia. It will move on to consider various manifestations of identity politics in the region, including gender and kinship, queer sexualities and homosociality, colonial and post-colonial masculinities, minority religious identities, and show how they are shaped by current nationalist movements, communal violence, migration, globalisation and ‘westoxification’, visual cultures of commercial cinema, material consumption and religious traditions. The course unit will finally highlight the power negotiations, problems and possibilities of aging in the context of modernity in South Asia. The module will also consider how ethnographic representations of social transformations will equip students to review assumptions about hierarchy, cohesion and oppression in non-western societies. Course materials will include documentaries, ‘Bollywood’ films, web-based resources, literature, and newspaper articles in addition to scholarly books and research-based articles.
By the end of the course, a student should be able to:
- Demonstrate a critical awareness of key themes/debates on social, economic and political relations in post-colonial South Asia.
- Display knowledge of society and politics in South Asia through the use of both theoretical and empirical models.
- Evaluate how traditional social hierarchies are impacted and transformed by modernity and economic changes in South Asia.
- Locate the key areas where anthropological research can contribute towards quelling myths and assumptions about South Asian societies.
Tentative Course Outline
Topic 1 – Introduction: Towards an ethnographic study of South Asia
Topic 2 – Global and the tribal: Low caste identities and economic change
Topic 3 – ‘Gandhi, my mother’: Colonial and post-colonial masculinities
Topic 4 – ‘I hate Gandhi’: Aggressive Hindu nationalism in contemporary India
Topic 5 – Violent women: Subversive femininities and women’s vigilantism
Topic 6 – Lovers and lipsticks: Globalized media and consumption practices
Topic 7 – Transgression and visibility: Eunuchs and same-sex encounters
Weekly readings (only one of three choices):
Introduction: Towards an ethnographic study of South Asia
Key question: What is the place of religious hierarchies and political nationhood in contemporary anthropolgical debates on tradition and modernity in India?
* Veena Das, 1995, ‘The Anthropological Discourse on India: Reason and its Other’, in Critical events: An anthropological perspective on contemporary India, OUP, Delhi
Global and the tribal: Low caste identities and economic change (possible guest lecture by Dr Luisa Steur)
Key question: What is the difference between class and caste in India? How can recent ethnographic perspectives unravel the complexities of social hierarchies in the region?
* Amita Baviskar, 2005, Adivasi Encounters with Hindu Nationalism in MP, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 40, No. 48, pp. 5105-5113
* Luisa Steur, 2015 “Class trajectories and indigenism among agricultural workers in Kerala”. In Anthropologies of class: Power, practice and inequality. Edited by James G Carrier and Don Kalb. Cambridge University Press
* Alpa Shah, 2006, The labour of love: Seasonal migration from Jharkhand to the brick kilns of other states in India. Contributions to Indian Sociology, vol. 40 no. 1, 91-118
‘Gandhi, my mother’: Colonial and post-colonial masculinities
Key question: What is the contribution of colonial masculinities in the creation and perpetuation of indigenous masculine cultures and practices in South Asia?
* Caroline & Filippo Osella, 2006, Men and Masculinities in South India, London: Anthem Press
* Joseph S. Alter, 2004, ‘Indian Clubs and Colonialism: Hindu Masculinity and Muscular Christianity’, Society for Comparative Study of Society and History, 0010-4175/497–534
* Magnus Marsden, 2007, ‘All-male sonic gatherings, Islamic reform, and masculinity in northern Pakistan’ American Ethnologist, Vol. 34, No. 3
‘I hate Gandhi’: Aggressive Hindu nationalism in contemporary India
Key question: How does the various manifestations of Hindu nationalism impact everyday identity politics on the ground?
* Edward Simpson, 2004, ”Hindutva’ as a rural planning paradigm in post-earthquake Gujarat.’ In: Zavos, John and Wyatt, Andrew and Hewitt, Vernon, (eds.), The politics of cultural mobilization in India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, pp. 136-165.
* Atreyee Sen, 2007, Shiv Sena women: Violence and Communalism in a Bombay Slum, C Hurst and Co, London
* Thomas Blom Hansen, 1996, ‘Recuperating Masculinity: Hindu nationalism, violence and the exorcism of the Muslim ‘Other’’, Critique of Anthropology 16: 137
Violent women: Subversive femininities and women’s vigilantism
Key question: Can we situate the conventionally feminist concepts of women’s ‘agency’ and ‘empowerment’ in the context of female political participation in South Asia?
* Atreyee Sen, 2012, Women’s Vigilantism in India: A Case Study of the Pink Sari Gang, December, Online Encyclopedia of Mass Violence
* Swati Parashar, 2010, ‘The Sacred and the Sacrilegious: Exploring Women’s ‘Politics’ and ‘Agency’ in Radical Religious Movements in South Asia’, Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions, 11:3-4
Lovers and lipsticks: Globalized media and consumption practices
Key question: How does the globalized media produce hybrid identities in the context of South Asia?
* Purnima Mankekar, 2004, Dangerous Desires: Television and Erotics in Late Twentieth-Century India, The Journal of Asian Studies 63, no. 2, May 2004
* William Mazzarella, 2010, ‘Beautiful balloon: The digital divide and the charisma of new media in India’, American Ethnologist, Volume 37, Issue 4
* Raminder Kaur, 2001, Rethinking the Public Sphere: Media competitions and the Ganapati Festival in Mumbai, South Asia Research, 21:1
Transgression and visibility: Eunuchs and same-sex encounters
Key question: What kinds of public and private roles are performed and sustained by marginalized sexual groups in India?
* Gayatri Reddy, 2005, ‘Geographies of contagion: Hijras, Kothis, and the politics of sexual marginality in Hyderabad’, Anthropology & Medicine, Volume 12, Issue 3
* Filippo Osella, 2012, Malabar secrets: South Indian Muslim Men’s Homosociality across the Indian Ocean, Asian Studies Review, Vol 26, Issue 4
* Paul Boyce, 2006, ‘Moral ambivalence and irregular practices: contextualizing male-to-male sexualities in Calcutta/India’, feminist review 83
Detailed bibliography and other online and film resources will be made available at the start of semester II