This article proposes an anthropology of affirmative action that is embedded in analysis of the wider political economic transformations in which affirmative action policies emerge. It is argued that this historically situated approach enables analyses of the relative effects of affirmative action on processes of socio economic marginalization. The focus of the article is on the combination of preferential treatment policies and the provision of education as a state-led response to historical marginalization. These policies are explored in the context of adivasis (tribal or indigenous peoples) in Jharkhand, India. The analysis shows how, despite improvement in absolute educational outcomes among adivasis as a result of these policies, inequalities in relative outcomes are being reproduced and are widening. This is explained in part by market-led gains within the private edu cation sector for more advantaged sections of society that outweigh the predom inately state-led improvements for adivasis. The analysis demonstrates the limitations of contemporary affirmative action in affecting the relative position of socioeconomically marginalized groups in contexts where the state is losing some of its universal features and ambition.
Secondary education, indigenous people, and the state in Jharkhand, India
Rob Higham and Alpa Shah
Adivasi and Dalit political pathways in India
Nicolas Jaoul and Alpa Shah
Does the dominant, statist conception of citizenship offer a satisfying framework to study the politicization of subaltern classes? This dialectical exploration of the political movements that emerge from the suppressed margins of Indian society questions their relationship to the state and its outcomes from the point of view of emancipation. As this special section shows, political ethnographers of “insurgent citizenship” among Dalits and Adivasis offer a view from below. The articles illustrate the way political subjectivities are being produced on the ground by confronting, negotiating, but also exceeding the state and its policed frameworks.
Ethnographies of affirmative action
Alpa Shah and Sara Shneiderman
This is the introduction to a special section of Focaal that includes seven articles on the anthropology of affirmative action in South Asia. The section promotes the sustained, critical ethnographic analysis of affirmative action measures adopted to combat historical inequalities around the world. Turning our attention to the social field of affirmative action opens up new fronts in the anthropological effort to understand the state by carefully engaging the relationship between the formation and effects of policies for differentiated citizenship. We explore this relationship in the historical and contemporary context of South Asia, notably India and Nepal. We argue that affirmative action policies always transform society, but not always as expected. The relationship between political and socioeconomic inequality can be contradictory. Socioeconomic inequalities may persist or be refigured in new terms, as policies of affirmative action and their experiential effects are intimately linked to broader processes of economic liberalization and political transformation.