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Engaged anthropology in the time of late liberalism

Activists, anthropologists, and the state in India

Moyukh Chatterjee

Cody, Francis. 2013. The light of knowledge: Literacy activism and the politics of writing in South India. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Middleton, Townsend. 2015. The demands of recognition: State anthropology and ethnopolitics in Darjeeling. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

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The “Eurasian Question”

Solved by Migration?

Liesbeth Rosen Jacobson

This article examines the arrangements that authorities put in place for populations of mixed ancestry from two former colonies in Asia—the Dutch East Indies and British India—and compares them with those of French Indochina during decolonization. These people of mixed ancestry, or “Eurasians,” as they were commonly called at the time, were a heterogeneous group. Some could pass themselves off as Europeans, while others were seen as indigenous people. The arrangements were negotiated during round table conferences, at which decolonization in all three colonies was prepared. Which agreements were made, what consequences did they have, and how and why did these differ across the three colonial contexts? To answer these questions, I use material from governmental archives from all three former colonial contexts. The article shows that information on the paternal ancestry of Eurasians was decisive in the allocation of European citizenship and admission to the colonizing country.

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Living in Harmony?

“Casteism”, Communalism, and Regionalism in Indian Social Science Textbooks

Basabi Khan Banerjee and Georg Stöber

Three societal lines of conflict, “casteism”, communalism, and regionalism, are regarded as severe challenges in present-day India. This article discusses and compares differences between presentations of these lines of conflict in six textbook series for social sciences prepared by the Indian states of Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, and by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) in New Delhi. The variations in perspective, scope, and approach are related to changing educational approaches and to specific discourses of identity politics, which may be explained in terms of the impact of different positions adopted by states and the union towards the issues, and in terms of the discursive dominance of specific sociopolitical viewpoints.

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Detachment as a corporate ethic

Materializing CSR in the diamond supply chain

Jamie Cross

This article examines efforts by De Beers, the world’s largest supplier of rough diamonds, to better regulate the conditions under which its stones are cut and polished across a global network of buyers, contractors, and subcontractors. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork at an offshore processing unit in South India that was built to service De Beers’ buyers, this article explores how ethical accounting regimes are materialized on the floor of a global factory and how they are grounded in an industrial bureaucracy. In a global supply chain like this one, I argue, codes of practice and audit checklists demand to be understood as material technologies that afford companies and individuals new purchase on an ethic of detachment.

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Upward mobility in a forgotten tribe

Notes on the "creamy layer" problem

Megan Moodie

Public discussions of recent demands by the Gujjars of Rajasthan, India, for inclusion on the list of the state's affirmative action beneficiaries have often veered away from the legitimacy of their claims and toward whether elite Gujjar leaders can speak for less educated and less affluent community members. This article examines how this latter set of questions-often described as the “creamy layer“ problem in reference to a group's elite who have “risen to the top“ and need to be “skimmed off“-can obscure the real workings of affirmative action on the ground and the limitations encountered by groups seeking upward mobility. Ethnographic research with the Dhanka tribe reveals deep concerns that upwardly mobile groups are in danger of downward mobility without the protection of affirmative action-based hiring practices, and that middle class elites within the tribe can be important political advocates for others within the community.

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'Inter-publics'

Hindu Mobilization beyond the Bourgeois Public Sphere

Ursula Rao

This article develops the notion of interconnected publics as a means to understand better both the escalation of Hindu political activism in the 1990s in India and its subsequent waning in the new millennium. I argue that the prime visibility of Hindu fundamentalism in the 1990s was a result of the effective—yet tenuous—connection between various spaces for public communication. The emerging 'inter-public' effectively imbricated the private viewing of religious soap operas with public ritual and political debate to produce, for a short historical moment, the image of a vibrant, forceful, and dominant Hindu nation. The aim of this article is to contribute to Indian studies by discussing the essential, yet in the literature mostly neglected, connections between devotional practices, media Hinduism, and political mobilization. At the broader conceptual level, I argue for a theory of inter-publics that interrogates how multiple 'micropublics' link up to create tangible political effects.

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Richard York, Christina Ergas, Eugene A. Rosa and Thomas Dietz

We examine trends since 1980 in material extraction in China, India, Indonesia, and Japan—which together contain over 40% of the world's population—to assess the environmental consequences of modernization. Economic and population growth has driven rapid expansion of material extraction in China, India, and Indonesia since 1980. China and India exhibit patterns consistent with the Jevons paradox, where the economic intensity of extraction (extraction/GDP) has steadily declined while total extraction grew. In Indonesia, extraction intensity grew along with total extraction. In Japan, total extraction remained roughly constant, increasing somewhat in the 1980s and then slowly declining after 1990, while extraction intensity declined throughout the entire period. These different patterns can be understood to some degree by drawing on political-economic and world-systems perspectives. Japan is an affluent, core nation that can afford to import materials from other nations, thereby avoiding escalation of material extraction within its borders. China and India are rapidly industrializing nations that, although increasingly drawing on resources from beyond their borders, still rely on their own natural resources for growth. Indonesia, an extraction economy with less global power than the other nations examined here, exports its own natural resources, often unprocessed, to spur economic growth. The trends highlighted here suggest that in order to avert environmental crisis, alternative forms of development, which do not involve traditional economic growth, may need to be adopted by nations around the world.

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The Allotted Share

Managing Fortune in Astrological Counseling in Contemporary India

Caterina Guenzi

Anthropological studies on causality in South Asia in the past decades have focused mostly on local idioms of 'mis fortune', with very little attention being paid to ideas of 'fortune' and 'luck'. This article, based on fieldwork carried out among astrologers and their clients in Banaras, shows that astrology provides an ideological framework for the conceptualization and management of fortune in present-day urban India. According to astrologers' analyses of horoscopes, 'destiny' (bhāgya, lit. 'allotted share') is conceived as a form of wealth acquired at birth that can be augmented or diminished as a result of planetary influences and personal choices. The author suggests that, beyond the Sanskrit tradition, the semantics of destiny can be linked to decisionmaking processes and values of achievement that mark the lives of middle- and upper-class families in contemporary India.

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“Ginger is a gamble”

Crop booms, rural uncertainty, and the neoliberalization of agriculture in South India

Daniel Münster

Responding to agrarian crisis at home, cash crop cultivators hailing from the South Indian district of Wayanad increasingly engage in the seasonal production of ginger in other states of India. This is a purely profit-based and unsustainable crop boom that takes a toll on both labor and the environment. This ethnographic analysis of speculative ginger cultivation situates this emerging economic complex in the regional political ecology, farming practices, individual farmers' hopes and aspirations, and in relation to the qualities of ginger as a cultivar. It argues that ginger is a special kind of boom crop and that its cultivation on large tracts of leased land is the manifestation of a moment of agrarian uncertainty and the neoliberalization of agriculture in South India coproduced by the properties of ginger. As a neoliberal boom crop, ginger exemplifies a regime of flexibilization of agrarian accumulation that has proved a profitable move for some, but has brought financial ruin and debt traps for many others.

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Classifying the Natives in Early Modern Ethnographies

Henry Lord's A Display of Two Foreign Sects in the East Indies (1630)

Amrita Sen and Jyotsna G. Singh

This article examines the politics and rhetorics of early modern ethnography via Henry Lord's famous treatise A Display of Two Foreign Sects in the East Indies (1630). Lord, a chaplain with the East India Company, attempted to classify Indian religious and caste identities—particularly those of the Banians—at a time when England's trading fortunes in India were still tenuous, though promising. Turning to the Shaster which he understands as the Banian Bible, Lord offers his readers a glimpse into Hindu mythologies—stories of genesis and the flood—which result in the creation of the four Indian castes. Understood in terms of humoral, psychological, and moral taxonomies these castes fall within emergent proto-racial hierarchies. Simultaneously, the journeys of the four brothers—Brammon, Cuttery, Shuddery, and Wyse—progenitors of their respective castes reenact familiar tropes of European travel writing combining the logic of profit with the “discovery” of hitherto unclaimed lands and erotic bodies.