Review: Tarabout, Gilles.

Malabar Gods, Nation-Building and World Culture: On Perception of the Local and the Global. In: Fuller, C.J. & Assayag, J. 2005. Globalizing India. Anthem Press. p. 185-209.

©Tessa Valo, 2007

As the title of the book suggests, it sets as its topic the widely discussed process of “globalization” – associated with widening and speeding up of the global interconnectedness and intertanglement of the global and local – and the way how globalization, resp. the effects of the globalization processes interact with particular societies and cultures and how these processes are experienced by ordinary people, i.e. it puts weight on the perception from below. When discussing globalization we have to have several crucial points in our mind: for the first it is the fact that though there is a great portion of people whom we can consider really “cosmopolitan”, the vast majority of the world’s population is bound to the local community and culture, thus the fact that the “global interconnectedness is extremely uneven” (2005:1) and for the second that there exists no either-global-or-local but always both-global-and-local; global and local are mutually affected, constituted, reinforced and influenced. What is in other words crucial is the fact that what we associate with the notion of the “global” (i.e. statehood, monetary economies, citizenship, modern mass media etc.) is always actually realized at the local level and is “embedded in the locally constituted life-worlds and power relations” (Eriksen 2003: 4). The essay written by Gilles Tarabout analyzes precisely this interplay of the local and global in the religious domain. Gilles Tarabout focuses on the transformation of a local religious cult known as Teyyam in the state of Kerala (for detailed description of the Teyyam ritual see Ashley 1979) into a regional, national and global cultural performance and analyzes the ways in which different segments of society used to imagine and imagine the relationship between the local and the global in relation to this ritual practice. In opposition to Appadurai (2005) Tarabout puts emphasis on historical continuities rather than on what Appadurai calls rupture and on the dialogical quality of the relation between the local and the global, where local people are considered as the true actors and agents playing active roles in creation of the representations of the global world. Tarabout focuses on the discussions of Teyyam, primarily a village cult of popular local deities, at different levels of society, which relate in some way or another to the idea of globalizing and the construction of the local in opposition to the global or universal. Thus he analyzes the different discourses related to the Teyyam cult which are unfolding around the particular segments of society, in the concrete around colonial administrators, Christian evangelists, reformist Hindu saints, local caste elites, Marxists, nationalists, folklorists, anthropologists and dramatists[1]. Each of these discourses having its own specific way how to conceptualize the Teyyam ritual and its place in the structure of the society, be it at the local or global level, and attributing the Teyyam different roles in the identity games. Teyyam can be now found in two forms, which are continually intersecting and mutually influencing; for the first we can find Teyyam-as-a-cult in the Malabar villages and Teyyam-as-a-stage-demonstration in the Malabar villages and everywhere else. Though it is tempting to associate the first one simply with the realm of the local and the second one with the realm of the global – as we have already pointed out – it is necessary not to fall into the trap of the fallacy of reification of these two realms and acknowledge the great variety of interrelations that come into play in constituting these two spheres. Though we will not repeat all of the examples given by Tarabout, we will now have a closer look at one, which can be thought of as representative for Tarabouts – in a great part implicit – thinking about the global and the local. He gives us an example of meeting of the Teyyam cult with the Christian missionaries which he conceptualizes as representatives of the global and presents us and account written about Teyyam by V. William, a student of the United Theological College, in 1944, where he explicitly writes that Teyyam “is the only survival of the most primitive animistic belief in religion which Hinduism does not desire to see any more … these animistic primitive cults act as a break to the forward movement of culture or civilization or religion which become static and stagnant” (Tarabout 2005:189). Tarabout puts further emphasis on Williams criticism of these cults who were considered as “superstitious, a cynical exploitation of poor ignorant people, devoid of any morality and ethics … and an obstacle to civilization, to the very notion of progress” (Tarabout 2005:189) and points out that Williams took support for his claims also from the local – Hindu – thinkers (e.g. Kunhikannan) who understood the cults in much the same way inspired by Christianity and ideas of modernity. Here we clearly see that Williams functions as a representative for the global – the Christian, the modern etc. whereas Kunhikannan functions as a representative of the local, because of his undeniable descent, even though he shares the same ideas inspired by modernity and is thus no less global (if we still want to hold this – as we see rather fruitless – distinction). The question which comes up here and which is not discussed by Tarabout is whether in this situation of great diversity of relationships between the global and local, that have according to his study more or less clear and consistent continuities which can be traced back through time[2], the implicit thinking in categories of the global and the local and looking for the representations of these in diverse situations is still meaningful. Tarabout is thus looking for the representations of the local and consequently also of the global, while necessarily implicitly thinking in the categories of the local and the global – which remain undefined and hidden to the reader – and finally denying the sufficiency and continually impugning the distinction between the local and global by emphasizing the interrelatedness, mutual interaction, cultural hybridization and dialogical character of the relationship between these two realms. In other words, he is saying that in reality the relationships are complex and cannot be reduced to the categories of global and local, while using analytical distinction of global and local when investigating and looking for examples of this supposed complexity and finally – probably ab invito – questioning the meaningfulness of this analytical distinction itself. The concepts of global and local and the way the author operates with them thus remain under-theorized and mainly hidden to the reader who is left with the common sense notions of globalization and a brief note on Appadurai as a theoretical source. And what is more, all this does not stop the author from talking about “representations of the global values” in the “individual experience at the village level” (Tarabout 2005:186), where we again do not know what is meant by global values and what does the word global stand for. The global thus becomes almost a mystique quality attributed to outside observers, commentators and others. The above mentioned just stresses the acute need of rethinking of the concepts of the global and local (though there have been many attempts, this area is still widely open to new theorizing, one example for all Ritzer 2003). It could be perhaps in this case better to talk about “transnational flows” rather than about globalization/global/local. For we have to have in mind that “whether it is ideas or substances that flow, or both, they have origins and destinations, and the flows are instigated by people” (Eriksen 2003:4) But, in favor of the author, it must be said that the examples he gives are more than interesting and fruitful and each of them calls for more attention.


Appadurai, Arjun. 2005. Modernity at Large. University of Minnesota Press.

Ashley, Wayne. 1979. The Teyyam Kettu of Northern Kerala. The Drama Review: TDR. 23(2): 99-112.

Eriksen, Thomas Hylland (ed.). 2003. Globalisation. Pluto Press.

Fuller, C.J. & Assayag, J. 2005. Globalizing India. Anthem Press.

Juergensmeyer, M. (ed.). 2003. Global Religions. Oxford University Press.

Kurtz, Lester R. 2007. Gods in the Global Village. Pine Forge Press.

Ritzer, George. 2003. Rethinking Globalization: Glocalization/Grobalization and Something/Nothing. Sociological Theory. 21(3):193-209.

Tarabout, Gilles. Malabar Gods, Nation-Building and World Culture: On Perception of the Local and the Global. In: Fuller, C.J. & Assayag, J. 2005. Globalizing India. Anthem Press. p. 185-209.

[1] In this critical summary we will go neither into repeating the examples given by the author or the description of the Teyyam ritual itself, not only because of the limited space we have but also because the underlying conceptual problem which this essay poses is considered more interesting.

[2] This is in his account highly questionable and resembles in his diction more a tracing back in time of the grand distinction between the modern West and backward Third World.

„No honey is sweeter than that of knowledge“ (Nietzsche & Descartes)

„It is not the world as a thing in itself, but the world as idea (as error) that is so rich in meaning, deep, wonderful, pregnant with happiness and unhappiness“ (Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human; aphorism 29)

„It’s all one skin and bone,
One piss and shit,
One blood, one meat,
From one drop the universe.
Who’s Brahmin? Who’s Shudra?”

“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good man to do nothing” (Edmund Burke)

“The only thing that really matters is what a man can do and what a man can’t do” (Jack Sparrow)

Reflections on a Wicked World
Ogden Nash
“Purity is Obscurity”


Ogden Nash

“Enter, breath.
Breath, slip out.
Blood be channeled.
And wind about.
O, blessed breath and blood which strive.
To keep this body of mine alive.
Oh, gallant breath,
And blood,
Which choose to wage
The battle they must loose.

Kants erkjennelsesteori og vitenskapsfilosofi: ”Finnes det plass for Kant i romtidsdansen[1]?”

©Tessa Valo, 2006

(an older essay on Kant, sadly only in Norwegian)

“En stor, kanskje den største delen av våre fornuftsoppgaver består i å analysere begrepene som vi allerede har om gjenstander”. (KrV B9; Ariansen 2006: 167)


Jeg har valgt en innviklet oppgave – å drøfte Kants erkjennelsesteori på en uhyre liten plass. Derav følger at vi dessverre ikke skal ha tid og rom til å gå i detaljer, og i stedet skal vi fokusere på de grunnlegender argumenter som står bak Kants filosofi og vitenskapsfilosofi spesielt. Det finnes ikke en entydig, uproblematisk interpretasjon av Kants verk, tvert imot, Kant er en av de mest omstridte og stadig aktuelle filosofer. Hver tid tolker Kants filosofi gjennom briller av de akkurat ledende teorier og tanker; det er mulig å se på Kant gjennom Hegels øyne, i tiden da logisk positivisme hersket filosofien fantes det noe som tolket Kant gjennom Humes øyne, i dag blir det vanlig å tolke Kant som foregriper av Wittgenstein og i visse områder også av Goodman[2] (Cf. Walsh 1981:723-725), Kant ble til en stor inspirasjonskilde for Putnam, som presenterte en meget tankevekkende tolkning av Kants verk; slik kunne vi fortsette, men dette er ikke hensynet. Vi selv er ikke et unntak, det er umulig for oss å gå ut fra våre overbevisninger og tolke Kants filosofi fra en arkimedisk punkt, og det var Kant selv best bevisst om. Det som skal presenteres her blir en av de mulige samtidige tolkninger av (deler av) Kants erkjennelsesteori, den gjøres ingen krav på å være uttømmende eller gyldig i en bredere sans. Vi skal se først og fremst på Kants grunnlegende påstander og etterpå vie litt plass til det som er etter min mening aktuell i Kants tanker om vitenskap og vitenskapelig undersøkelse. Vi skal dessverre ikke få plass til å drøfte spørsmål om Kant og dagens fysikk, selv om det ville være interessant. Jeg har derfor valgt å si heller hva Kant har å tilby oss i rammen av vitenskapsfilosofi.

Grunnlegende tanker

Not empriricism yet realism in philosopohy, that is the hardest thing” (Wittgenstein sitert i Westphal 2005:303)

Vi skal nå se på den grunnlegende delen av Kants filosofisk prosjekt, i.e. undersøkelsen av selve den rene fornuften og forsøk på dermed å gi metafysikken en vitenskapelig status (for å redde forestillingen om mennesket som et fritt og moralsk ansvarlig vesen). For at dette blir mulig, må Kant utvikle en vitenskaps- og erkjennelsesteori, som ville være i stand til å gi metafysikken som en vitenskap[3] fotfeste slik at den kunne begrunne et system av absolutt sikre og allmenngyldige prinsipper. Sentral for Kants prosjekt er ikke bare å gi en innsikt i måten mennesker[4] erkjenner verden på, men først og fremst å rettferdiggjøre menneskets (resp. vitenskapenes[5]) tro på den objektive[6], felles verden (Cf. Bird 1999:591). Kant insisterer på en nødvendighet av å styrte både Kartesiansk og empiristisk tradisjon og dermed å forandre radikalt vår metode av tenkning (Cf. Westphal 2005: 308-9). For å oppnå dette målet må Kant finne vei ut av Descartes rasjonalistisk tvil og Humes empiristisk skeptisisme samtidig som å innbefatte visse aspekter av både disse tenkemåter (Cf. Dicker 2004:4) og bygge en objektiv, fast og uknuselig bro mellom årsak og virkning. Han trekker en parallell med Kopernikus[7] – i stedet å ta utgangspunkt i objektene selv, henvender han seg til fornuften og dermed til fornuftsprinsipper som muliggjør selve erfaringen (Kant KrV: Bxvi-Bxviii, også i: Wood 2001:12-13). Kants Kopernikanske revolusjon er en metodologisk revolusjon og ikke ontologisk (”die veränderte Methode der Denkungsart” Bxiii), Kant snur på hodet prioriteten av metafysikk og etablerer epistemologi som det grunnlegende; transcendental idealisme er først og fremst en metodologisk og meta-filosofisk ståsted (Cf. Allison 1983:25). Epistemologi i Kants forstand er nøkkelen til metafysikk, bare ved å svare på det epistemologiske spørsmålet om hvilken natur empirisk realitet har, kan man svare på spørsmålet av selve metafysikk[8]. Kants epistemologi har to mål, en destruktiv og en konstruktiv, det destruktive målet er å trekke en grense for menneskelig erfaring, det konstruktive målet er å legitimere mulighet av objektiv kunnskap om verden (Cf. Dicker 2004:4-17). Ved hjelp av den negative konseptet av ting i seg selv (Ding an sich)[9] trekker Kant en grense for mulig menneskelig erkjennelse og objekter av erfaring [vi har ingen tilgang til en ikke-empirisk realitet, som ikke betyr at en slik realitet kunne ikke være et legitimt objekt for menneskelig interesse], samtidig som han – ved å postulere en gjensidig avhengighet av konsepter og objekter av mulig erkjennelse – grunnlegger mulighet av vitenskapelig og alminnelig erkjennelse og finner dermed veien ut av Humes skeptisisme. Han konstituerer en nødvendig relasjon mellom konsepter og empirisk realitet[10]; til å gjenta hans lapidarisk utsagn: ”Thoughts without concepts are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind” (Kant URL KrV: A 51). Men før vi skal se nærmere på denne tanken i relasjon med Kants filosofi av vitenskap, må vi forholde oss til begrepet a priori[11] og rollen den spiller i Kants filosofi. Selve spørsmålet om hvordan er erfaring mulig kan reduseres til det sentrale spørsmålet om hvordan[12] er syntetiske dommer a priori mulige. Erkjennelse a prioriuavhengig av erfaring av konkrete partikulære objekter, men ville være meningsløs uten anvendelse til konkrete partikulære objekter. Det som kjennetegner a priori erkjennelse er nødvendighet og streng allmenngyldighet (KrV B4-5, B 11-14), som på en viss måte smelter sammen (Cf. Sellars 1953:122). Det syntetiske i sammenheng med det a prioriske refererer først og fremst til det produktive potensialet[13] av fornuften å utvide vår erkjennelse[14] ut fra sine egne premisser. Hvis vi forholder oss til forestillingen om det a prioriske må vi ha i tankene den trusselen som variabilitet i forstand av kontingent og empirisk karakteristikk av forskjellige subjekter, forestiller for Kant og hans idé om empirisk erkjennelse (Cf. Politis 1997:260-6). Det er en trussel av skeptisisme, subjektivisme og solipsisme[15]. ”This threat can be neutralized by placing what is variable in experience within a framework of something invariable” (Ibid. 260), og det a prioriske forestiller akkurat denne rammen, ”for the framework can be fixed and invariable only if it is a priori” (Ibid. 261). ”If we were to treat the pure concepts of the understanding as merely empirical products, we should completely change their character and their use” (Kant KrV URL A92). Med andre ord, empirisk undersøkelse i natur kan ikke forsikre oss objektiv, invariabelt og sikker kunnskap, fordi den mislykkes i å overvinne akkurat denne trusselen og leder bare til forskjellige versjoner av Humes skeptisisme. Bare de fundamentale a prioriske konsepter av metafysikk med dens universelt omfang, kan, ifølge Kant, forsikre dette målet, i.e. objektiviteten. Som mennesker har vi en begrenset tilgang til a priori kunnskap, begrenset til den generelle struktur av erfaring og empiriske objekter som konstituerer den fenomenale (menneskets) verden. oppstår

Kant og vitenskapsfilosofi

Nå skal vi drøfte spørsmål av den regulativ funksjon av fornuft i sammenheng med Kants vitenskapsfilosofi og orientere oss mot det aktuelle i Kant sine tanker. All vitenskap bruker uempiriske konsepter, i.e. teoretiske ideer og syntetisk dommer a priori[16], i sine teorier, disse ideer er sentral for all vitenskapelig undersøkelse (og de facto all erkjennelse). Fordi ”no single observation of an object gives us fully determinate knowledge of that object […] even multiple observations of an object o not yield determinate knowledge of it until such observations are organized by means of and subsumed under concepts” (Guyer 2006:54). ”Such concepts of reason are not derived from nature, but we only interrogate nature, according to these ideas, and consider our knowledge as defective so long as it is not adequate to them” (Kant URL KrV: A646). Forstand (Verstand) ”conforms our various individual judgements regarding objects to the categories of thought” (Rescher 2000:6), mens Fornuft (Vernunft) i dens regulativ funksjon ”brings unity into the manifold of concepts by means of ideas, making a certain collective unity the aim of the operations of the understanding, which otherwise is occupied with distributive unity only”[17] (Kant URL KrV: A644). Som vi ser har fornuft ingen objekt in concreto og dermed har den ingen direkte forsvaring (i motsetning til forstand, som er begrunnet med dens funksjon som forener av sanseinntrykk) for dens regulativ virksomhet (Cf. Kant URL KrV: A664). Dens funksjon er en logisk funksjon[18] (Cf. Kant URL KrV: A660) som trenger en transcendental støtte; dens logisk virksomhet er meningsfullt bare og utelukkende i relasjon til det transcendentale prinsippet[19], som fungerer som en bro mellom vitenskapelig tankegang og objektiv realitet (Cf. Wartenberg 1992:230-3). Fornuft a priori genererer tre grunnlegende prinsipper, som er både fornuftens og vitenskapens prinsipper, eller bedre – maksimer (Cf.KrV: A666), som har en ren regulativ funksjon, de er ikke objektive prinsipper. Disse maksimer til sammen forestiller en ideal, fornuftens og vitenskapens ideal, ideal av en helt rimelig system av vitenskapelig kunnskap (completely adequate system of scientific knowledge), et ideal vi, som vitenskapsmenn, må strebe etter (Kant KrV: Bxiii-Bxiv; også i: Wood 2001:10-11). Akkurat derfor må den ikke forveksles med virkelighet (en slik forveksling ville lede oss bare til kontradiksjon). Vi må være bevisst om at “reason’s contribution to the framework of knowledge does not involve the actual constitution of objects that we know” (Wartenberg 1992:238). Fornuften “only indicates the way which leads to systematical unity, but does not determine anything beyond” (Kant URL KrV: A668)[20]. Disse tre maksimer eller prinsipper, som har først og fremst en heuristisk verdi, er: prinsipp av forbindelse/aggregasjonPrinsipp av aggregasjon (også referert til som prinsipp av genera /Cf. Wartenberg 1992/) ”keeps us from admitting an extravagant variety of different original genera, and recommends attention to homogeneousness” (Gleichartigkeit) (Kant URL KrV: A660). Sagt på et annet måte – den krever at vi (og vitenskapsmenn spesielt) utvikler en konseptuel struktur som ville redusere kompleksiteten og variabiliteten av vår empiriske kunnskap ”by searching for generic concepts and laws of which known empirical concepts and laws will be specifications.” (Wartenberg 1992:234). Prinsipp av spesifikasjon krever på en måte det motsatte, og det er differensiering av en generisk konsept inn i to eller mer spesifiske konsepter[21]. Dette prinsippet ”checks that tendency to unity, and prescribes distinction of sub-species before applying any general concept to individuals” (Kant URL KrV: A660). Og den siste, prinsippet av affinitet, forener både disse prinsipper ved å foreskrive homogenitet ”through the gradual transition from the one species to another: thus indicating a kind of relationship of the different branches, as having all sprung from the same stem”. (Ibid.). Dette siste prinsippet fullfører ideen av systematisk konneksjon; dette systematisk enhet av de tre fornuftens maksimer er akkurat den ideen vi streber etter å fullføre i våre vitenskapelige undersøkelser, men er aldri i stand til å oppnå[22]. Vitenskapelig praksis er et forsøk på å avsløre den gjensidig systematisk sammenheng mellom de enheter som konstruerer vår kunnskap (Cf. Wartenberg 1992:245), vår kunnskap er ikke bare en opphopping av fakter, men en systematisk struktur av proposisjoner avhengige av hverandre. Akkurat denne tanken om vitenskapelig holisme[23] var og stadig er aktuell i visse retninger av vitenskapsfilosofi. La oss bare nevne Kuhn (Kuhn 1962) og hans tanke om theory-ladenness av data. Før vi kommer til slutten av dette essayet må vi framheve rollen som eksperiment spiller i Kants vitenskapsfilosofi. Ifølge Kant, og de fleste vitenskapsfilosofer, er eksperiment en målrettet aktivitet (Cf. Kant URL KrV:A51), som krever anerkjennelse av rollen som teoretiske ideer spiller i den, men som på den andre siden også legitimerer våre ideer og forvandler våre hypoteser i vitenskapelige sannheter (Cf. Kant URL KrV:A660-1). ”Kant takes science to be an enterprise whose specific products attain validity by being tested against empirical data” (Wartenberg 1992:244). Kant URL (Prinzip der Aggregation), prinsipp av spesifikasjon (Prinzip der Spezifikation) og prinsipp av affinitet (Prinzip der Affinität).

Noen få ord til slutt

Det som er stadig revolusjonær i Kants vitenskapsfilosofi er den vekten han legger på gjensidig avhengighet av våre teorier, ideer, konsepter etc. og fenomener. Det er en tanke mange ikke vil se når de streber etter rene og objektive data, men Kant har visst oss, at det er mulig å være objektiv samtidig som man ikke nekter rollen ideer spiller. For ”if experience were a mere rhapsody of unconceptualized sensations, no statements could be made about it (since making statements involves the use of concepts), and hence no true statements” (Matthews 1969:208). All vår erkjennelse skal alltid være bare en menneskelig erkjennelse, men ville det finnes vitenskapelig glede hvis vi allerede kjente til hvordan det egentlig er og måtte ikke strebe etter en uoppnåelig ideal?


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  34. Rescher, Nicholas. 2000. Kant and the Reach of Reason: Studies in Kant’s Theory of Rational Systematization. Cambridge University Press.
  35. Scruton, Roger. 2001. Kant: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  36. Sellars, Wilfrid. 1953. “Is There a Synthetic a Priori?”. Philosophy of Science. 20(2):121-138.
  37. Walsh, W.H. 1981. “Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason: Commentators in English, 1875-1945”. Journal of History of Ideas. 42(4): 723-737.
  38. Wartenberg, Thomas E. 1992. “Reason and the Practice of Science”. I: The Cambridge Companion to Kant. Guyer, P. (ed.) Cambridge University Press. 228-249.
  39. Weinert, Friedel. 2005. ”Einstein and Kant”. Philosophy. 80: 585-593.
  40. Westphal, Kenneth R. 2005. “Kant, Wittgenstein, and Transcendental Chaos”. Philosophical Investigations. 28(4): 303-323.
  41. Wood, Allen W. (ed.). 2001. Basic Writings of Kant. New York: The Modern Library.

[1] ”Romtidsdansen” er lånt fra en av samtaler med Arne Næss om Albert Einstein (Næss 2005:95).

[2] Det må bemerkes at paralleller er i de meste tilfeller bare tilsynelatende og overfladiske, går vi dypere i saken, finner vi sentrale motsetninger. Men det betyr i hvert fall ikke at Kant ville ikke være en meget inspirerende person generelt og for de nevnte spesielt! For en omtale av relasjon mellom samtidig anti-realisme og Kant cf. f. eks. Allais 2003.

[3] Her må vi skille mellom metafysikken før Kant og det som Kant streber etter. Han gjør det eksplisitt at metafysikken som vi har sett den har ikke noe fotfeste og at den må etableres helt på nytt. ”It is a wholly new science which no one had previously even thought of, even the mere idea of which was unknown, and towards which nothing of all that had hitherto been done could be used, except the hint that Hume’s doubt could give” (Kant 2004:68, Prolegomena 4:262).

[4] For det som Kant beskriver er unik menneskelig måte å erkjenne verden på, den er felles for alle mennesker, vi kunne si at de anskuelsesformer (rom og tid) og kategorier forestiller en grunnlegende ”universal human nature”. (Cf. Politis 1997: 271; Matthews 1969:208). I denne sammenheng må vi bemerke at menneskelig måte å erkjenne verden på står hos Kant ikke i kontrast til andre skapningers måte å gjøre det samme; helt omvendt ”the contrast is not with beings whose knowledge depends on sensibilities different from ours, but once again with beings whose knowledge does not depend on sensibility at all, that is, God.” (Politis 1997: 272).

[5] ”The first Critique constitutes not so much a theory of everyday knowledge, as a theory of scientific knowledge. Kant was not interested in knowledge of but in knowledge that; in other words not interested in the condition of knowledge […] of objects as much as in the possibility of founding the truth of our propositions about objects.” (Eco 1999:69).

[6] Spørsmålet: ”Ist also die Suche nach einem Objekt nichts anderes als die Jagd nach einer Chimäre? […] muss beantwortet sein!” (Mittelstaedt 2004:209).

[7] ”The point of Copernican revolution is to remind philosophers that they are not Gods; that we can know about things only what human beings can know and only in the way human beings can know things, using the human conceptual framework. The point of insisting that our experience is of ‘appearances’ and that we can not know anything about ‘things in themselves’ is, at least in part, to remind us, that the things we can say, and hence the things we can know, are determined by the nature of human experience and that we cannot step outside the limitations of our human experience.” (Matthews 1969:215).

[8] Heidegger går så langt til å si at Kritikk av den rene fornuft har ingenting med epistemologi å gjøre og at transcendental epistemologi bare tjener en metafysisk mål. (Heidegger 1973:17).

[9] Konseptet av ting i seg selv (og dermed konseptet av noumenon) har først og fremst en limitativt (negativ) funksjon; det er feil å reifisere denne tanken og forestille seg en virkeligautentisk) verden av uerkjennelige ting (Cf. Rescher 2000: 6-10). Forestillingen av ting i seg selv oppstår gjennom prosess av abstraksjon, gjennom prosses av ”thinking away” av sensibilitet. ”The thing-in-itself is accordingly a creature of understanding (Verstandswesen: ens rationis) – a product of abstraction – arrived at by prescinding from the conditions of sensibility. To be sure such creatures of understanding do not carry us beyond the domain of phenomena and their grounding”. (Rescher 2000:8). ”Kant does not assert the existence of a world of objects not accessible to our senses, but perhaps accessible to other beings […] He is interested only in the concept of such a world, as a way of emphasizing the limitations of our human knowledge and avoiding the excesses of dogmatic metaphysics” (Matthews 1969:215; 209). Konsept av ting i seg selv har med andre ord ingen positivt innhold, men det betyr ikke at den er meningsløs – tvert imot – den leder oss til tanken om Gud (Guden er ikke en tenkende vesen, det er en ”vesen” med intuisjons evne), til tanken om en annen, ikke-menneskelig, form av erkjennelse (uformidlett, direkte, intuitiv). ”I had therefore to remove knowledge, in order to make room for belief.” (KrV Bxxx). Men dette emne er, dessverre, utenfor ramme av dette essayet. (

[10] Empirisk realitet består av objekter som kan være erkjent (av mennesker), hvor ”something becomes an object of experience only through the unification of: a given, forms of sensibility, schematization in imagination, concepts of understanding, and the final synthesis in the transcendental unity of apperception.” (MacKinnon 1978:25).

[11] Leser vi Kant merker vi veldig fort at selv om ”a priori enters the Critique as an epistemological predicate, attatching primarily to items of knowledge, it quicky becomes applied to almost everything in right: judgements, concepts, intuitions, faculties, synthesis are all labelled a priori”. (Kitcher 1982:217). Som vi ser, spiller begrepet a priori for Kant en sentral rolle, og vi skal se på hvorfor.

[12] Kant tar for gitt at syntetiske dommer a priori finnes og bruker eksempler av slike dommer f. eks. i geometri til å undersøke hvordan de er mulige ”in order to be able to deduce from the principle of the possibility of the given cognition the possibility of all other synthetic cognition a priori”.(Prolegomena 4:275).

[13] ”If there is a genuinely Copernican aspect to his revolution, it lies in the fact that he suspends all judgement on from in re and assigns a synthetic-productive, and not merely abstractive, function to the old active intellect.” (Eco 1999:68).

[14]”The generation of cognition a priori, both according to intuition and according to concepts, and finally the generation of synthetic propositions a priori in philosophical cognition, constitutes the essential content of metaphysics”. (Prolegomena 4:274).

[15] La oss bare minne en passasje i Kritikk – A91-2/B123-4, hvor Kant presenterer en slik trussel av ”kaos”.

[16] Jeg skal heller snakke om ideer og regulativ funksjon av fornuft enn om konkret funksjon av syntetisk dommer a priori. Selv om Kant tok deres eksistens for gitt, er den i dagens vitenskapsfilosofi meget omstridt, og samt selve innholdet av dette begrepet. Omtaling av dette emnet ville ta oss plass, som vi ikke har, derfor skal jeg snakke mer om generelle tanker om vitenskap, som dessuten har en mer større potensial for dagens vitenskapsfilosofi. For omhandling av dette emne se f. eks.: Castañeda 1960, Dicker 2004, Felch 1950, Hintikka 1968, Kaminsky og Nelson 1958, Miller 1941, Sellars 1953, Putnam 1974 og 1992.

[17] ”The understanding forms and object for reason in the same manner as sensibility for understanding.” (Kant URL KrV: A665).

[18] ”This use of reason is one in which reason is simply trying to put its own house in order.” (Wartenberg 1992:231).

[19] Vi må merke her at det transcendentale kunnskap som her refereres til ikke overskrider den legitime grensen av det som vi mennesker er i stand til å erkjenne a priori (i.e. den strukturen av empiriske /fenomenale/ verden).

[20] Cf. Kant URL KrV: A663.

[21] The transcendental principle of specification sets an infinite task for the understanding, namely that of producing more and more specific concepts for the generic ones in its scientific theories…it therefore might seem that science is constituted by two contradictory drives, one toward unity and one toward diversity” (Wartenberg 1992:239-40).

[22]Men, “it does not follow, however, that one may learn nothing of the world through the glasses, and, indeed, if the sun is bright, one may learn more than he would otherwise” (Henle 1962:226), og denne ideen skulle ikke lede oss til en hvilken som helst form av skeptisisme.

[23] På en måte er denne tanken veldig nær Quines vitenskapelig holisme (selv om Quine er langt fra enig med Kant i de fleste påstander han holder), og jeg ville gjerne betegne den som en forgjenger av (ikke bare) Quines syn på vitenskap. La oss bare minne Quines meget sitert dictum: “our statements about the external world face the tribunal of sense experience not individually but only as a corporate body” (Quine URL 1951).

On Hypergamy

On Hypergamy

©Tessa Valo, 2007

Abstract: The aim of this brief article is to discuss the extent to which marriage can be conceived of and serve as a strategy how to achieve a higher status within a given social hierarchy. We will examine this topic through examples from several, in some respects radically different, social systems – from the nineteenth-century Cuba, traditional Hindu caste system, the social organization of Trobrianders of Papua New Guinea to the twentieth-century Italy. We will argue that though marriage can, in some cases, serve as an effective strategy how to achieve a higher status, it must always be accompanied by other salient factors relative to the respective social system – thus it can not serve as a mean how to achieve this aim alone, but must always – to definite extent – go hand in hand with other culturally approved ways which lead to this goal.

The classical descent theorists conceptualized marriage as a recognized relationship that has, as such, the potential to create legitimate heirs and successors and thus assure the continuity of the given social order as well as of their own selves (Yanagisako & Collier 1996:235). This aspect of marriage will turn out as a crucial one in our discussion of different marriage strategies; the moment of perpetuation of the given social order and hierarchy and of ones position within it is always present, hypergamy – i.e. the practice of selecting a spouse with a higher social status than oneself – might be thus seen from this perspective rather as an exception to the rule (which, in a sense, strengthens it).

Our first example will take us to the nineteenth-century Cuba, where hypergamy in a form of interracial marriage, though not common, functioned as an effective mean how to climb up the social ladder. The social position of an individual in the nineteenth-century Cuba was first and foremost determined by his or her family origin – where African origin generally implied slavery and low status – but personal achievement could, to some extent, alter the ascriptive status (Martinez-Alier 1989). The social hierarchy in Cuba had a class rather than racial nature, though class was associated and expressed in racial terms[1] (the whiter the higher status and the other way round). Choosing physical appearance as a criterion to classify the society hierarchically was comprehensible in a system where slavery, i.e. low status, was associated with a dark skin color, and this criterion would work perfectly well if interracial marriages/cohabitation (together with immigration of Chinese and American Indians) would not occur and thus would not produce ambiguous uncategorizable cases. The intraracial marriage was, according to the official policy, an ideal; ethnic groups or rather groups of people sharing the same/similar phenotype and/or skin color were conceived as the basic endogamic units, where the hereditary principle determined their membership and perpetuation (Ibid. 134). Thus group exogamy as a rule took the form of hypergamy – either in a form of marriage or hypergamous free unions. What made the hypergamous (interracial) marriages and unions possible to occur was the fact that “consensus as to the legitimacy of the ‘fundamental’ nature of the social order was absent” (Ibid. 138) together with a certain idea of social mobility and first and foremost with the penetration of the primarily Christian notion of equality into the secular ideology. Hypergamous marriage, which meant social advancement for the inferior woman and most importantly for her offspring and no automatic loss of status on the part of the white man, was facilitated by the absence of generally approved and legitimized rigid social structure and hierarchy. The hypergamous marriage thus meant equality, though it was still an exception – here we can clearly see that marriage generally served (and serves) as a mean of reproduction and perpetuation of the already existing social hierarchy even though ways how to advance through marriage might be found especially in a situation of the emergence of ‘ambiguous cases’ which could undermine the legitimacy of the official vision of the social structure.

Now we will look closer at another example coming from the traditional Hindu society and its caste system as it is described by Dumont (1980). Dumont analyzes the hierarchical caste system and – importantly for our example – focuses on the deviations from the endogamic rule (which is understood more as an implication of hierarchy than as an independent principle), showing that these deviations (hypergamy) rather than disruption of the integrity of the social system, partake on its very spirit. He describes a practice of hypergamy encountered in north India, where there exists a slight status difference between spouses, an inferiority of wife’s family in relation to the husband’s, which is considered normal and does not even effect the offspring’s status (Dumont 1980:116; cf. Davis 1941; Khare 1972). The significant difference between the caste system, as described by Dumont, and the above presented example from the nineteenth-century Cuba lies in the fact that an Indian is ‘born into a caste and dies in it’ (though sub-castes can slightly modify their collective status). But what is more “in northern India, hypergamous marriage being the rule, it meant hierarchy carried into the most intimate spheres of the system” (Martinez-Alier 1989:139). Marriage thus again has the primary function of reproduction of the given social order and though hypergamy occurs, its function is in its consequences rather precisely the opposite than we would wait – it is an institutionalized part of the given social system.

Now we will have a closer look at a radically different social hierarchical system and at if there exists a possibility how to advance on the social ladder through marriage, namely that of Trobrianders of the Papua New Guinea. We will first focus our attention on the system of the social hierarchy of Trobrianders, especially on the chieftainship and the crucial role of yams (not only in relation to marriage). In the Trobriand system “a person’s right to sit higher than the rest comes from his birth and the authority brought by his ancestors”, but “how many people will actually sit under him comes from the authority he himself is able to summon” (Weiner 1987:103). Thus a person can have legitimacy, but even though he can lack power, therefore “every person, including chiefs, must work to develop power in their relationships with others” (Ibid. 103). The power of a Trobriand chief is highly localized and covers his own hamlet and other villages and hamlets only through individual matrilineages to which he is connected through his women or the same place of origin of the ancestors; the chief is thus in a need to expand this primary network and to seek support with hamlet leaders in different villages. Power is in the Trobriand society tightly connected with economy (or rather economic status) and economy means yams and yams can be highly effectively acquired through marriage, i.e. through yams produced for women by her matrilineal kin. Chief’s full yam house not only symbolizes that he is powerful but also assesses his strength and his success in the continual negotiations of his status and relations mainly with his kin as well as non-kin. Thus when there are good harvests chief can expand his wealth and in such way also his power, he can be generous and distribute yams as a payment for villagers’ work which in turn gives more glance to his status. As we have seen, chiefs have the privilege to be polygynous; this enables them to acquire more yams, thus more wealth and power than a common man could ever dream about. “Even if a hamlet leader is very strong and has five or six men making gardens for him, in addition to his wife’s yams, his accumulation is limited when compared to what a chief can expect” (Ibid. 106). Thus in this system “women that chiefs marry assume a role of great consequence in their political careers” (Ibid. 106), or rather – it is not only women but women and her matrilineal kinsmen that play the crucial role, since it is the alliances which are the most important and whose strength is expressed in the quantity and even quality of yams in chief’s yam house. Marriages are thus one way how to expand the chiefs network of allies and probably the most effective on which other means (derived from the amount of yams gathered) rest. The social hierarchy of Trobrianders thus rests on a combination of ascribed and achieved statuses; as a member of a given ascribed status one has definite rights and privileges which one must respect but on the other hand has also the possibility to improve ones standing through work in the yam gardens and possibly through profitable marriage. But even though a slight social mobility is possible through one’s activity, radical change in status is practically excluded, because for the first the rights and privileges ascribed to each status group themselves prevent the occurrence of such mobility by favouring the chiefs and leaders so that the commoner can never outdo them on the basis of his work and for the second, that the social relations expressed in and also dependent on the yam production and thus also wealth must be continually negotiated and reaffirmed (not less because of the perishable quality of yams). Even here we can see that marriage primarily serves as a mean of reproduction of the given social hierarchy; though for the women (and consequently also their kin) who marry the chief, this can mean an upward change in their status, this practice in its consequences only strengthens the social hierarchy, the social division and maintains the already existing social order.

Our last example comes from the twentieth-century Italy and its ‘bourgeois class’ of family firm owners in the district of Como (Yanagisako 2002). Before we proceed to the role marriage can play in this social system, we will first have a look at how firms are reproduced and under what conditions the upward social mobility can occur. Understandably all family firm owners aspire to move up the Como industrial hierarchy and even a high degree of upward mobility in the local systems of such firms is reported. The goal of reproduction and upward movement depends on successful transmission of the firm to the next generation and on the effective accumulation and reinvestment of the capital. The social hierarchy of the Como bourgeoisie is by no means rigid and impervious; it is the other way round. The character of the class is rather temporal (Yanagisako 2002:99). Though the class (especially the upper class) could be reproduced through marriage (in case of marrying out of the daughters of the family firm owners[2]), the main weight rested on the shoulders of the nuclear family and specifically its sons, who were trained to reproduce the social status and even to move the family up on the social ladder. But what is more, in the upper fraction of the Como bourgeoisie “strict boundaries are drawn between the family and in-laws, who are sometimes even excluded from holding shares in the firm […] sons-in-law and daughters-in-law, no matter how accomplished or skilled, are not considered viable candidates for firm management” (Ibid. 176). Here sentiments such as fear and distrust to in-laws that are conceived as having no personal attachment or bond established to the family firm and can thus represent a potential threat to the firm and its emergence, come into play. Marriage can not serve (at least for upper fraction of bourgeoisie) as an effective strategy of acquiring of a higher social status since that/it is dependent on considerably different factors such as capital accumulation and effective marketing strategies and development.

We have peeped into four different hierarchical social systems and looked at the possibility of marriage as a mean how to achieve a higher social status. In Cuba this strategy, though not broadly diffused, was effective, which was made possible by the non-rigidity and no generally shared legitimacy of the social hierarchical system. In the Hindu traditional society hypergamy, on the other hand, in fact strengthened and became a part of the given hierarchy and had no real consequences for the social status of the offspring. In Papua New Guinea marriage (and in case of the chief marriages) could serve the purpose of acquiring a higher social status but only within the limits given by the ascribed statuses. In the case of upper fraction of Como bourgeoisie advancement through profitable marriage alliances was for the family firms and their families not possible. We can thus conclude together with Bourdieu that

marriage strategies as such must not be seen in the abstract, unrelated to inheritance strategies, fertility strategies and even pedagogical strategies. In other words they must be seen as one element in the entire system of biological, cultural and social reproduction by which every group endeavors to pass on to the next generation the full measure of power and privilege it has itself inherited (Bourdieu 2002:558)


Bourdieu, Pierre. 2002. Pierre Bourdieu on Marriage Strategies. Population and Development Review. 28(3):549-558.

Davis, Kingsley. 1941. Intermarriage in Caste Societies. American Anthropologist. 43(3):376-395.

Dumont, Louis. 1980. Homo Hierarchicus: The Caste System and Its Implications. The University of Chicago Press.

Holy, Ladislav. 1996. Anthropological Perspectives on Kinship. London: Pluto Press.

Khare, R. S. 1972. Hierarchy and Hypergamy: Some Interrelated Aspects among the Kanya-Kubja Brahmans. American Anthropologist. 74(3):611-628.

Leach, E. R. 1961. Rethinking Anthropology. London School of Economics Monographs on Social Anthropology. No. 22. London: Athlone Press.

Martinez-Alier, Verena. 1989. Marriage, Class and Colour in Nineteenth-Century Cuba: A Study of Racial Attitudes and Sexual Values in a Slave Society. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.

Rosaldo, Michelle Z. 1974. Woman, Culture and Society: A Theoretical Overview. In: Rosaldo, M. & Lamphere, L. (eds.). Woman, Culture and Society. Stanford University Press. pp.17-42.

Weiner, Annette B. 1987. The Trobrianders of Papua New Guinea. Thomson Wadsworth.

Yanagisako, Sylvia J., Collier Jane F. 1996. Comments on “Until Death Do Us Part”. American Ethnologist. 23(2):235-236.

Comaroff, J. 1992. Of Totemism and Ethnicity. In: Comaroff, John & Comaroff, Jean (eds.). Ethnography and the Historical Imagination. Westview Press. Pp. 49-67.

Yanagisako, Sylvia Junko. 2002. Producing Culture and Capital: Family Firms in Italy. Princeton University Press.

[1] This may be paralleled with Comaroff’s statement about ethnicity: “The origins of ethnic groups and consciousness may lie in the structuring of inequality. But, once objectified as a ‘principle’ by which the division of labor is organized, ethnicity assumes the autonomous character of a prime mover in the unequal destinies of persons and populations. To wit, just as working class black Americans do not view their blackness as a function of their class position, but their class position as a function of their blackness” (Comaroff 1992:59).

[2] But it must be noted that here it comes just to reproduction of social status as such on the offspring, with no relation to the reproduction of firm and ‘family’ social status which is here crucial, since the woman becomes a part of the family of her husband and thus looses the relation to her own family of orientation.

©Tessa Valo, 2007


„Declare without hesitation that this is a Hindu rashtra, a nation of Hindus. We have come to strenghten the immense Hindu shakti into a fist. Do not display any love for your enemies … The Quran teaches them to lie in wait for idol worshippers, to skin them alive, to stuff them in animal skins and torture them until they ask for forgiveness. [We] could not teach them with words, now let us teach them with kicks … Tie up your religiosity and kindness in a bundle and throw them in the Jamuna. Any non-Hindu who lives here does so at our mercy.“ (Uma Bharati, cit. in. Talbot 2000:175)

The primary objective and aim of the Hindu nationalist movement is the unification of all Hindus into a single community that would serve as a foundation of a strong Hindu rashtra and that would ensure social cohesion in India. The Indian state, civil society and social formations should be according to this ideology “reorganized in a holistic and organic way along exclusively ‘Hindu’ precepts” (Bhatt; Mukta 2000:408). The ideal of Hindutva is thus one of assimilation, one that aspires to dissolve all religious pluralism and constitute India as a religiously homogenous Hindu nation. This means for the Hindu nationalist movement overcoming of all the innumerable divisions of the Indian society (caste divisions which remain the strongest, family, gender, territory, rural-urban divisions etc.) and integrating all the marginal groups, such as untouchables and other backward classes, into the body of the Hindu society and simultaneously reinforcing and strengthening the division between non-Hindus, especially Muslims, and Hindus themselves. Muslims are being constructed as the Other, as invaders, foreign transplants and as a great threat to Hindus. Muslims and secularism are recognized as the two main enemies. We can thus identify four basic premises underlying the claims of the right-wing Hindu nationalists: for the first the ‘Hindu’ identity is constructed as the privileged, exclusive identity, encompassing all other types of identities which are considered as subordinate; for the second the bearers of the above mentioned identity are presupposed to share a distinct ‘Hindu’ culture, which is perceived as a source of common interests; for the third “ ‘Hinduism’ is a phenomenon which can be understood largely sui generis, and in isolation from political and economic processes and conflicts” (Searle-Chatterjee 2000:498) and for the fourth ‘Hinduism’ is primarily considered as a culture that is associated with a particular group of people and with a particular country (”one nation, one people, one culture”) (cf. Searle-Chatterjee 2000). Though the Hindu nationalist movement is often labeled as “fundamentalist”, I would rather use the more fitting label borrowed from Nikki R. Keddie and consider the Hindu nationalist movement as a part of the New Religious Politics (from now on religiopolitics), which is characterized by several distinctive features which are all part of the Hindu nationalist politics:

These features include, first, an appeal to a reinterpreted, homogenized religious tradition, seen as solving problems exacerbated by various forms of secular, communal or foreign power. Second, these are populist movements that aim at gaining political power in order to transform governments on the basis of their religiopolitical program. Third, they are not led by liberals or leftists and have predominantly conservative social views (Keddie 1998: 697).

This definition has the advantage of being broader and including not only religiously fundamentalist aspects of Hindu nationalism and omitting all the connotations the word “fundamentalist” without question has.

The Emergence of the Hindu Nationalism and the Sangh Parivar

The origin of the idea of the Hindu Rashtra lies in the mid to late nineteenth century, in the British colonial period and is connected with the names of Vivekananda, Dayanand Saraswati and Aurobindo Ghose. But it must be noted that it is highly problematic to trace the historical origins of Hindu nationalism since Hindu nationalism itself claims legitimacy in the writings of this period. Vivekananda has thus for example become a crucial icon of the Hindu nationalist discourse, though the Ramakrishna Mission he founded has distanced itself from the Hindu nationalism (cf. Bhatt; Mukta 2000). But the birth of Hindutva itself can be dated from 1920s when the founding text of Hindu nationalism and a definition of Hindutva – Vinayak Damodar Savarkars Hindutva – or who is a Hindu? (1923) – was written. Hindutva can be translated as ‘Hinduness’, i.e. the essence of being Hindu. “Hindutva is fundamentally an empty signifier that has become extraordinarily politically potent” (Bhatt; Mukta 2000:413) and serves as a great example of the invention of a primordial tradition that is supposed to stand at the core of the contemporary identity politics. Hindutva is associated with common blood resp. ‘race’, jati, Vedic-Aryan forefathers, and makes use of different ethnic, religious, ‘racial’ and nationalist motives, but does not use any of these exclusively – its nature is thus fundamentally eclectic. In 1924 the most important male nationalistic organization – the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – was founded by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, while Golwalkar is considered as the ideological father, the great “guruji”. This organization is still at the core of organizations that are allied to Hindutva ideology (the so called Sangh Parivar), it is a highly centralized semi-paramilitary organization devoted to recruitment and training of young men for service to the Hindu Nation[1]. Later numerous offshoot organizations were created, the most important ones were: the Jana Sangh in 1951, which was the precursor of the current Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) in 1964. This ‘family’ of organizations which RSS created is often labeled as Sangh Parivar, and these organizations are the largest body of organizations in Indian civil society. The BJP formed in 1998 its first shaky coalition government which was followed by another coalition government in 1999 which was in power until 2004.

Demonizing the Muslim Other

The Muslim Other plays in the Hindutva ideology a crucial role in defining, delineating and creating a boundary around the Hindu community; the Muslim Other is usually portrayed as the absolute opposite of the Hindu, where the Hindu is the educated, civilized, tolerant, rational, modern, caring etc. This polarization is also present in the distinction between semitic and non-semitic religions which is being continually emphasized. The well-known case of the Ayodhya (van der Veer 1994; Talbot 2000), the recovery of Ram’s birthplace from the hands of its Muslim “occupants” and the building of a new temple became another strong and potent symbol of the restoration of the Hindu nation and its pride and of demonizing the Other. Muslims are also presented as a “pampered” minority with special reservations and since the era of the ‘Mandalisation’ of politics, when special reservations were assigned to different groups of the Indian society – which was apprehended as dividing the Hindus – the Muslims began to be perceived as greater a threat to the Hindu nation; the stereotypes and prejudices were strengthened. Secularism is in this context conceived of as overriding Hindu rights (and labeled as ‘pseudo-secularism’) since it is connected with appeasement of minority claims and favoring of Muslims (Ruud; Mageli; Price 2006:380), secularism is thus “portrayed as a source of national weakness” (Talbot 2000:176). Another way how to create and strengthen the boundary between Hindus and Muslims is the strategy of using Hindu women’s bodies and portraying Muslim men as violators of the Hindu women and thus the evil and threat to the Hindu nation (cf. Das 2006). The nuclearization of India serves as another mighty symbol and an agent of Othering between India and Pakistan.

Idealized Men and Women as Portrayed in the Ideology of Hindutva

Men and female bodies hand in hand with cultural representations of femininity and masculinity serve as powerful symbols and metaphors for depicting a nation. In the discourse of Hindu nationalism two images of manliness and masculinity are especially highly celebrated – i.e. the image of Hindu soldier and warrior monk (Banerjee 2006) – and have great impact also on women, who are trying to respond properly to the call of nationalism that glorifies muscular strength, moral fortitude, readiness to go to the battle and defend the nation against the enemy, the Other. Women can thus within the frame of this ideology play either roles of heroic mothers, chaste wives or celibate warriors (Banerjee 2006). The gendered power imbalances as such are not challenged and the patriarchal Hindu family remains in the ideology of Hindutva the primal reference point.

Hindu Religiopolitics and Public Rituals

Since the primary aim of the Hindu Religiopolitics is to unite all Hindus and overcome all possible divisions within the Indian society, the ever-present polytheism and hierarchichal differentiation within Hinduism is necessarily perceived as a great problem that must be dealt with. It is highly problematic to translate all the multiple – regional, caste, family – gods and goddesses, beliefs and practices into symbols of unity, when these signify belonging to a definite group or category. The Hindu nationalist leaders are perfectly conscious of this situation and have therefore chosen several deities that appeal to as great number of people as possible and that symbolize best the pan-Hindu unity. The pantheon of the ‘celestial nationalists’ thus consists of Rama, Ganesha, the ‘epic’ Krishna, Durga and others (Fuller 2004). The Hindu unity is promoted in public rituals and worships of these gods and in diverse festivals, which also serve as a manifestation of Hindu strength and physical control. “Converting private devotion into demonstrative public worship has been a consistent strategy of Hindu nationalists, whose broader aim is to transform the polity and civil society, and the public sphere as a whole.” (Fuller 2004:287).


As we have seen from the brief sketch of the ideological background, symbolism and metaphors employed by Hindu nationalists, the arena where Hindu nationalists operate is very broad and can not be reduced to either the religious or the political field. The Hindu nationalism emerges in the sphere of the public and thus attacks directly and in different ways the representation and recognition of individuals and the creation and institutionalization of diverse communities.


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  1. Talbot, Ian. 2000. India and Pakistan. Arnold, Oxford University Press.
  2. Thapar, Romila. 1989. Imagined Religious Comunities? Ancient History and the Moderen Search for a Hindu Identity. Modern Asian Studies. 23(2):209-231.
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[1] „We expect three-four things from our workers. First, that they take pride in Hindutva. Second, that they have knowledge of Hindutva. Third, that they have the ability to expend time and energy, and be ready to meet responsibilities given. And they have to have discipline. As our workers get ready, they are sent, for overall development of society, to different fields according to their abilities. Their main task is to take along other sections of society and to try and find solutions to problems in those assigned areas, under the Hindutva ideology.“ From an interview with RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan in the Outlook Maganize (http://www.rss.org/New_RSS/Columns/Colum

Power, Resistance and their Religious Manifestations: The Cases of the Colonial and Postcolonial Period

©Tessa Valo, 2007



As the title of this essay suggests, we will be concerned here with the fundamental relation between power, resistance, and the religious manifestations of these. Though power and resistance can take many forms and are as such to a definite degree present in almost any conceivable ritual practice, be it initiation ceremony chisungu or rites performed by the Christian Church, we will focus our attention on two more explicit examples of this interplay, which stem from the interaction of two different conceptual systems; these being the language game played by the colonizers and another played by the colonized. The situation of the colonial and postcolonial subject is in other words an example par excellence in relation to our object of interest. But before we can proceed to the concrete examples, a brief theoretical sketch is highly needed; we will operate here with three rather problematical notions, i.e. the notions of power, of resistance and of the “religious”, which all call for clarification, even though the space here is limited.

The concept of power (and consequently also the one of resistance) has become almost an obsession in social sciences of the last few decades[1] (especially with the help of its influential promotion by Foucault), and we thus have to be more careful when using it, not to fall in the realm of reductionism of such notions as ‘power is an aspect of every social relation and interaction’ or, as Walzer has called it, ‘micro-fascism of everyday life’ (cf. Brown 1996). There is, of course, no doubt that the whole of social life entails degrees of domination and subordination, but the institutions that on one hand dominate also on the other hand enable. Power and resistance are distinct but interdependent aspects of power relations. “Resistance imposes limits on power” (Barbalet 1985:531); “the influence on social relationships exerted by powerless agents derives precisely from their resistance to power. Resistance limits the effects of power and in doing so materially influences the ‘conditions of reproduction of those social systems’ in which those resisting power have its subordinate positions” (ibid.:542). One more aspect of power must be emphasized here – power depends on action[2]. Power is not a static entity, it has to be continually negotiated and constructed anew, it is a matter of social relationship – there is simply no power without those over which power is exercised. At this moment it may be of use to recall the fundamental relationship between society, action and religion as described by Durkheim, in his own words, “it is action that dominates religious life, for very reason that society is its source” (Durkheim 2002:48; emphasis mine). And it is precisely religion that can serve these two sides of the same coin, i.e. power and resistance – it is on one hand “world-maintaining” and on the other “world-shaking” (cf. Billings & Scott 1994:173), as it is capable of legitimating power as well as challenging it. In the analysis of the two examples that have been chosen (the one coming from the colonial South Africa and the other, more recent and actual, from the postcolonial India), we will focus more on the discursive (primary) level, where power and resistance are expressed through various religious metaphors, classifications and symbolism. One reason for focusing on the discursive level as on the primary one is that the fundamental struggle underlying all power relations evolves around meaning, i.e. the definition of the reality itself resp. around whose definition is to be established as the dominant, valid, and norm giving. What we have to bear in mind and what will prove as crucial is the fact that “powerless groups must learn to master the language of the powerful, and in this process they may have to alter their cultural identity substantially” (Eriksen 1991:274) together with the idea that “classifications are not otiose, they do something, they are necessary in organization” (Douglas 1999:196; emphasis mine). And again we have to bear in mind that religious symbols and religious expressions “cannot be understood independently of their historical relations with nonreligious symbols or of their articulations in and of social life, in which work and power are always crucial” (Asad 2002:129)[3]. The idea of religion itself is a part of particular history and discourse of knowledge and power; this point comes out clearly in our first example.

The Impact of Christian Missionary Activity on South Africans

Though the Christian missionary activity exercised (not only) over the South Africans presented itself in purely religious terms, the impact it had and the way it substantially changed the everyday life of the subjects of colonization shows, how it was in fact tightly bound with the discourse of modernity itself and how it stepped across the imaginary boundaries of the religious and affected every single sphere of life. “The Africans became drawn into conversations whose terms (central concepts and arguments) were set by Europeans” (Lambek 2002:493), they were forced to learn the language of the powerful, which led to inevitable alternation of their cultural identity, but which also, on the other hand, created a substantial space for resistance. In their article, which is our point of departure in this brief chapter, Jean and John Comaroff (1992[1989]) look closer at the case of the Tswana people of South Africa and analyze the impact of the Christian missionary activity, i.e. of the colonization of consciousness and the struggle over power and meaning. As in other places, colonizers tried to “gain control over both the material and semantic practices” – and one could argue that primarily and foremost over the semantic practices as they are constitutive of the material ones – “through which their would-be subjects produce and reproduce the very basis of their existence” (Comaroff & Comaroff 1992[1989]: 494). The aim of the colonization was to convert and to reform the Tswana, i.e. to convince them of the ideological content of Christianity by use of powerful symbolism and religious narrative and to impose the hegemonic practices not only in the realm of religion of the colonizing culture on the colonized. The response and consequently also resistance of Tswana to this double project was the strongest especially on the discursive and conceptual level. “The Tswana response to the mission encounter was an effort to fashion an awareness of, and gain conceptual mastery over a changing world” (Comaroff & Comaroff 1992[1989]:508). Since colonizing process is not a simple dialectic of domination and resistance, this effort (typical not only for the Tswana) can lead to different results, such as emergence of new techniques of empowerment, sources of new knowledge, movements such as cargo cults, etc. (cf. Turner 2002[1969]: 369). The response to the colonial encounter may be, and often was, expressed in religious terms, since religion disposes of powerful symbols that have not only the potential to legitimate the given power structure but also to express and gain support to resist it; these symbols are also to a large extent dynamic, able to serve the actual needs. One more feature is crucial here, typically to be able to resist and be at least to some extent effective in ones resistance, one has to adopt the language of the powerful and dominant and express the resistance in terms of the Other. The dominant and the dominated thus necessarily have to share, if not the entire, so at least a great part of the identical conceptual universe and the struggle is no longer a struggle between two radically opposed conceptual systems, but a struggle over meaning and definition of particular segments of reality, often expressed in religious terms and metaphors. The example of the encounter between Christian missionaries and the Tswana nicely shows how religion is embedded in particular history and discourse of power and knowledge and how for meaningful it must be reproduced together with a definite social organization and material structure[4], it can not be truly distinguished as a realm of its own. The power of the colonizers was thus not only manifested through religious expressions, but the religion itself was the power, since because of its nature it had the potential to change substantially the social structure, organization, identity and consciousness of the colonized.

Hindu Religious Nationalism: A Love Affair between Power and Religion[5]

Our first example was concerned mainly with the relation between the religious expressions and the dominance and power of the colonizers; our second example will on the other hand focus more on the religious expressions manifesting resistance particularly to modernity and the notion of secular nationalism. Religion, on the global scale, gained recently a renewed potential as a cultural medium of protest; it has turned into a mean how to express political opposition and challenge, as in the case of India, even the legitimacy of the secular state (cf. Billings & Scott 1994:181-8). Similarly to our first case, the Indian nationalisms and Hindu nationalism in particular, were and are being formed in resistance to colonization but are also inevitably deeply affected by it. As we have already noted religious identities are historically produced, by particular social forces, i.e. by power (cf. Asad 1993[1982] and 2001); the formation of religious communities is affected by the state formation and by state practices (we can recall f. ex. the census practices and by its means imposed societal divisions during the colonial era, which largely affected the self-perceptions of the colonial subjects and led to the creation of strict border lines between diverse communities and became a base of identity and communalistic politics). But now let us turn our attention to a brief sketch of the Hindu nationalist movement itself. The primary objective of the Hindu nationalist movement is the unification of all Hindus into a single community that would serve as a foundation of a strong Hindu rashtra and that would ensure social cohesion in India. The Indian state, civil society and social formations should be according to this ideology “reorganized in a holistic and organic way along exclusively ‘Hindu’ precepts” (Bhatt; Mukta 2000:408). Hindutva thus aims at assimilation, dissolution of all religious pluralism and constitution of India as a religiously homogenous Hindu nation. This means for the Hindu nationalist movement overcoming of all the innumerable divisions of the Indian society (caste divisions which remain the strongest, family, gender, territory, rural-urban divisions etc.) and integrating all the marginal groups, such as untouchables and other backward classes, into the body of the Hindu society and simultaneously reinforcing and strengthening the division between non-Hindus, especially Muslims, and Hindus themselves; the definition of Hinduism – “the game of defining religion in this context is a highly political one” (Asad 2001:210). Severe boundaries are drawn between Hindus and Muslims, who are being constructed as the Other, as invaders, foreign transplants and as a great threat[6]. Muslims and secularism thus become the two main enemies and nationalism based on shared religious identity is the way how to express the opposition to both of these and how to gain power and support, for “since ritual creates domination, powerful groups and movements try to seize control over it and use it for their purposes” (van der Veer 1994:83). But the ideological background, symbolism and metaphors employed by Hindu nationalists and the arena where Hindu nationalists operate is much broader and can not be reduced to either the religious or the political field, though the religious metaphors have a certain privilege. The Hindu nationalism emerges in the sphere of the public and attacks directly and in different ways the representation and recognition of individuals and the creation and institutionalization of diverse communities.


As we have seen from our examples, power and resistance are inseparable, they are two sides of the same coin; they can be powerfully manifested under specific historical and social conditions through the religious expressions and symbolism. These three notions can thus become so tightly bound that it is almost impossible to distinguish where the one begins and ends and which one causes the other. They are under certain circumstances mutually dependent on each other for their own existence.


Asad, Talal. 1993[1982]. The Construction of Religion as an Anthropological Category. In: Lambek (ed.). Pp: 114-132.

Asad, Talal. 2001. Reading a Modern Classic: W.C.Smith’s “The Meaning and End of Religion”. History of Religions. 40(3):205-222.

Barbalet, J.M. 1985. Power and Resistance. The British Journal of Sociology. 36(4):531-548

Billings, Dwight B. & Scott, Shaunna L. 1994. Religion and Political Legitimation. Annual Review of Sociology. 20:173-202.

Brown, Michael. 1996. On Resisting Resistance. American Anthropologist. 98(4):729-735.

Comaroff, Jean & Comaroff, John. 1992[1989]. The Colonization of Consciousness. In: Lambek (ed.). Pp: 493-510.

Bhatt, Chetan & Mukta, Parita. 2000. Hindutva in the West: mapping the antinomies of diaspora nationalism. Ethnic and Racial Studies. 23(3):407-441.

Douglas, Mary. 1999. Land Animals, Pure and Impure. In: Michael Lambek (ed.). 2002. A Reader in the Anthropology of Religion. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. Pp: 194-209.

Durkheim, Emile. 1995[1912]. The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. In: Lambek (ed.). Pp: 34-49.

Eriksen, T.H. 1991. Ethnicity versus Nationalism. Journal of Peace Research. Vol. 28. No. 3. pp. 263-278.

Friedland, Roger. 2001. Religious Nationalism and the Problem of Collective Representation. Annual Review of Sociology. 27:125-152.

Geertz, Clifford. 1973[1966]. Religion as a Cultural System. In: Lambek (ed.). Pp: 61-82.

Giddens, Anthony. 1976. New Rules of Sociological Method. London: Hutchinson.

Lambek, Michael.(ed.). 2002. A Reader in the Anthropology of Religion. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Lienhardt, Godfrey. 1961. The Control of Experience: Symbolic Action. In: Lambek (ed.). Pp: 330-339.

Tarrow, Sidney. 2006. Power in Movement. Social Movements and Contentious Politics. Cambridge University Press.

Turner, Victor. 1969. Liminality and Communitas. In: Lambek (ed.). Pp: 358-374.

van der Veer, Peter. 1994. Religious Nationalism: Hindus and Muslims in India. University of California Press.

Weber, Max. 1958[1904-5]. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. In: Lambek (ed.). Pp: 50-60.

[1] As Sahlins has rightly pointed out, power has become an ”intellectual black hole into which all kinds of cultural contents get sucked” (Sahlins 1993:15, cit. In: Brown 1996:133-4).

[2] ”Power refers to the transformative capacity of human action” (Giddens 1976: 110; emphasis in original).

[3] Simply put, there is no such distinctively religious realm of things separated from the cultural and social filling as Clifford Geertz would like to imagine (Geertz 1973[1966].).

[4] Here we can recall Webers famous study of the protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism (Weber 2002 [1958]:50-60).

[5] This chapter is partially based on my previously written essay on Hindu nationalism (“nr.451”. 2007. A Glimpse on the Hindu Nationalist Ideology & Religiopolitics. Unpublished manuscript).

[6] ”For people draw social lines, or oppose the attempt to do so, in particular contexts and for particular purposes.” (Asad 2001:210-1).

©Tessa Valo, 2007

Introduction: Caste Politics

Though the idea that caste is a part of a natural and moral order of things, that it is a hereditary quality which once for all defines ones position and occupational affiliation and which is associated with a particular law of conduct is rejected both by intellectuals and political leaders, caste is in Indian post independence politics continually used and abused in different ways. On one hand there is a struggle for equality but on the other hand group and caste identities are sharpened and boundaries between groups reinforced. As paradoxical as it may seem, this contradiction is already present in the Indian constitution, which on one hand calls for equality of opportunity and status for all citizens irrespective of caste, sex, religion etc. and on the other hand has a full package of reservations prepared for scheduled castes and tribes, OBCs etc. There is thus an inevitable tension emerging between two basic notions – the notion of individual and the notion of group rights. This tension runs through the whole Indian politics like a red thread, which can be observed in different states in diverse variations according to the composition of society and other important traits, but the principle remains basically the same. “Caste as […] a lived-in social reality is very much alive” (Weiner 2001:195), not only because of its long historical continuity, but precisely also because it is generously nurtured by the political processes and political mobilization which appeals to caste membership. Caste is used “as an instrument for social change. Caste is not disappearing, nor is ‘casteism’ – the political use of caste – for what is emerging in India is a social and political system which institutionalizes and transforms but does not abolish caste” (Weiner 2001:196). The Indian political parties are well aware that to build the electoral support and vote banks it is necessary to appeal to particular castes, tribes and religious communities. The caste rhetoric emerged especially in the context of mobilization of the lower castes especially by the India National Congress, which introduced the system of affirmative action – reservations – for scheduled castes and tribes. The caste thus became especially salient in mobilizing and organizing lower castes – with a long history of social, political and economical discrimination – in their struggle for equality, same opportunities and incorporation into the political system and processes of decision making. “Caste, once an instrument for the maintenance of hierarchy, is, paradoxically, seen as a vehicle for egalitarianism between castes, though not within them.” (Weiner 2001:209). But which type of identity is politically salient of course varies – in a land as great, as stratified, and as pluralistic and heterogeneous as India – over time and territory. While caste identities and Hindu nationalism are now particularly salient in the north of India, regional and linguistic identities are strong in Assam and the states of northeast, class identity and membership serves as a basis for mobilization and political action in Kerala and West Bengal. “Caste has become more salient as a political identity and as an institutionalized element of civil society” (Weiner 2001:220). Not only is caste institutionalized in politics through the system of reservations, which guarantee seats in government, access to educational institutions and employment in the administrative (which is a way how to get into position of political power) for selected – large – segments of society, but caste-based organizations are also emerging within the framework of the civil society. The particular group rights remain a source of conflict between those who support them and those who oppose them – while the forward castes oriented more towards the equality of opportunity than equality of outcome together with Hindu nationalist, who perceive the reservations as creating fission and conflicts within the Indian society which they are trying to unite under the ideology of Hindutva (and thus weakening it in the face of the threat of the Muslim Other), oppose the system of reservations, lower and middle classes mainly support the system of reservations and perceive it as a matter of social justice for victims of the Brahmin dominated caste system. But we must note that the system of reservations has helped mainly those forward within lower castes and was practically incapable of substantially changing the position of the backward in the lower castes. As Weiner notes, “material benefits to the lower castes have largely gone to their more advanced members, some castes (Yadavs, for example) have befitted substantially, others hardly at all, there are growing class divisions within each of the lower castes as the more successful individuals obtain positions in government while others receive few if any benefits” (Weiner 2001: 223). We must also make the point, though we do not have the place to elaborate on it here, that caste was and is linked in diverse ways to the former monarchical structures that are reflected in the patron-client relationships that substantially affect the Indian political scenes (Price 1989) and that questions of honor – again interlinked with the idea of caste in diverse ways – are another essential part of the Indian politics (Price1996 & undated manuscript). After this short introduction we will have a brief look at three examples of the role and meanings of caste in the Indian politics in three states – in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

The Dravidian Movement in Tamil Nadu

The case of Tamil Nadu serves as a good example for conceptualizing caste in a different way than it is traditionally understood, i.e. as a peculiar social institution and a distinguishing feature of the Indian society. This idea is in this context rejected as an orientalist construction and different ways of explanation are sought – the focus is instead on the idea of kingship, which is understood as a more significant influence forming social and political relations (Price 1989; Inden 1986). David Mosse, who did fieldwork among untouchables in Tamil Nadu, thus observes – contrary to the orientalist presupposition – that untouchables understood their own position and status not as a result of some inherent, inborn lowness, but as a result of specific historical conditions (Price 1989:569). The model implicit in the intercaste relations in Tamil Nadu is thus one of kingship – where the status of the overlord is bound to his practical capacity to command the labor of others (the possibility to claim kingly status is thus potentially open to all castemen who have acquired land) and where untouchables serve “as feudal retainers, and symbols of public honor and prestige for their high-caste overlords” (Mosse, cit. in Price 1989:569). Tamil Nadu was one of the first states to witness mobilization of low castes and substantial changes which both reached its peak between 1949 and 1967, when the political party Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) which administered the movement won control of the government of Madras. Tamil nationalists (and the DMK speakers) constructed a new conception of Tamil nationalist cosmology which included the notion of honor which was related to the belief that all castes are equal and rejected the idea of ones superiority as based on ones caste status (Price 1996). The Tamil nationalism was thus focused on two main themes – equality and the special nature of Tamils as a people. Another important focus of the Tamil nationalist movement was the emphasis put on education as a mean of promotion of equality – open to all. On the other hand though the Dravidian movement was ideologically committed to the abolition of the caste system, in practice it used caste as a means of political mobilization and thus increasing rather than decreasing its (not only political) significance (Weiner 2001). But it must be admitted that a certain “transition had taken place in people’s conceptions from focus on a hierarchical nature of caste structures to a view of castes as embodying different substances” (Price 1996:366). Though human beings are considered as primarily equal, this fact does not deny the importance of ones rank or prestige, on the other hand, though “the DMK was against caste order […] other orders were suggested in the vision” (Price 1996:373), these developed around a specific notion of dignity, that could be potentially achieved by anyone regardless of caste (though before it was related to ones wealth, authority, caste membership etc.). “The focus on personal status and authority in a domain that one finds in this area is a function of the political particularism of social segmentation, the many informal units (including caste) within which much activity takes place. […] these small-scale sociopolitical units (segments) reproduce themselves partly through the utilization of ideologies which focus on the maintenance of relations of respect/honor for the person or persons who administer the affairs of the unit and manage both its infernal disputes and relationships with the world outside” (Price 1996:378).

The Case of Karnataka and Devaraj Urs

What distinguishes Karnataka from other Indian states is a comparatively higher social cohesion of its society and the fact that though we can find there a significant Muslim minority, clashes between Hindus and Muslims have been very rare. The social changes in the pre-Independence period were rather mild and Karnataka stepped into the post-Independence period without almost any change in patterns of land control and local power. At the local level the most villages have been dominated by two powerful minorities – the vokkaligas and the lingayats – who were mainly peasant proprietors whose wealth came mainly from crop cultivation. These two caste-based segments of society control a great portion of land around the villages; they serve as patrons and money-lenders for their clients and have a relatively high position in the caste system and they also dominate politics at the state level and other supra-levels (Manor 1989). “‘Politics’ still means power relations among persons and groups within the village or circle of villages” (Manor 1989:332). Though the dominance in Karnataka is less oppressive than in other parts of India, “Karnataka’s poorer villagers do perceive inequalities and exploitation are to a large extent products of class differences, but they tend to express this in the language heavily laced with caste clichés” (Manor 1989: 333). Caste is thus a crucial element in the system of dominance that can be observed in Karnataka and is continually reinforced by the present economic inequalities – caste and class differences thus interplay at various levels. A slight change in this trend came with the Chief Minister Devaraj Urs who brought more people from disadvantaged groups into the Congress party (during the elections of 1972) and thus disrupted the control of the dominant groups over the society and control of state politics. He also developed a series of development projects for disadvantaged groups – especially children; and provided houses to the poor. But “his programmes penetrated downward to the grassroots only imperfectly, intermittently and unevenly […]. The result of all this therefore fell short of major social change” (Manor 1989:350). An important point that should be mentioned here about Devaraj Urs is that he adapted the Congress machine politics to modestly progressive purposes (Manor 1989:352). Urs also tried to stimulate caste sentiments in order to develop new political base, he tried to revive old forgotten identities or create them anew and appeal to them. Thus he established diverse caste and group associations, he thus strengthened what he considered as well-rooted divisions in the concrete realities of village life and did not expect them to change in a short time and so he tried to get use of the rising political awareness of the depressed and weak castes. But lingayats and vokkaligas still enjoy and maintain the traditional dominance over the village. “They remain dominant at the local level and there is precious little evidence to suggest that any serious challenge is likely to arise soon to their position, or to the relative cohesion of rural society in Karnataka which is bound up with that system of dominance” (Manor 1989: 357).

Andhra Pradesh and the NTR Phenomenon

Though the trajectories and the situation of the state of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka appear to be similar, there are significant differences. There is a higher level of social tension in Andhra Pradesh. This fact made it much more difficult to create broad coalitions of support among diverse social groups (Manor 2004:274) and the politics itself – especially in the era of N. T. Rama Rao (NTR) and his party Telugu Desam (TDP) – did not appeal to and represent (and did not even have the potential to do so) concrete social groups. NTR as a popular (and populist leader) dominated the government and its “ministers and legislators had few opportunities to channel goods and services to the social groups from which they came and which the TDP needed to cultivate. An interesting example of the caste politics in Andhra Pradesh also in relation to the NTR is the case of Guntur. There exists an enduring conflict between Reddis and Kammas. “The Kammas dominate the district in social and economic spheres” (Kohli 1988:1003). The emergence of NTR (himself being Kamma chief minister; 1983) in this district is conceived as a defeat of Reddis and the emergence of “Kamma raj”. The political structure in Andhra Pradesh thus enabled these caste divisions to be expressed through different parties – the two competing castes allied with two rival parties. NTR thus hardened the caste cleavage already existing.

As we have seen, caste interplays with politics in numerous ways. And though we have not elaborated the examples in detail, we have given an idea of how caste and caste sentiments can be used for political purposes, generating or partially solving conflicts, creating more tensions or on the other hand also tempering them. None of the examples can be generalized and none of them can be considered as representative, but they all shed at least a bit of light on the highly complex position of caste in Indian politics.


Gould, Harold A. 2003. Political Self-Destruction in Karnataka, 1999. In: Roy, R. & Wallace, P. (eds.). India’s 1999 Elections and 20th Century Politics. SAGE Publications. Pp. 94-116.

Kohli, Atul. 1988. The NTR Phenomenon in Andhra Pradesh. Political Change in South Indian State. Asian Survey. 28(10):991-1017.

Manor, James. 1989. Karnataka: Caste, Class, Dominance and Politics in a Cohesive Society. In: Framkel, F.R. & Rao, M.S.A. (eds.). Dominance and State Power in Modern India. Decline of a Social Order. Oxford University Press. Pp. 322-361.

Manor, James. 2004. Explaining Political Trajectories in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. In: Jenkins, R. (ed.). Regional Reflections. Comparing Politics Across India’s States. Oxford University press. Pp. 255-284.

Mooij, Jos. 2003. Policy Processes in Andhra Pradesh. In: Smart Governance? Politics in the Policy Process in Andhra Pradesh, India. Overseas Development Institute. Pp. 10-20.

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Critical Comments on Arjun Appadurai

©Tessa Valo, 2007

Antimotto: “Within the boundaries of the tribe the writ of the same culture runs from the end to end” (Malinowski 1944, quoted in Buzard 2003:63)

The relationship between the notion of globalization and social scientists has in the recent decades admonished of about that of a magnet and iron nails; the massive explosion of globalization studies does not evade anthropology as a discipline, on the contrary, it strikes right into its heart and provokes burning discussions aiming at rethinking of its traditional categories and proposing of new theoretical and conceptual tools with greater heuristic potential as well as rethinking of its methodology and its place in the world of transnational flows. Particularly, the characteristic features of globalization[1] stimulated anthropologist’s new interest in the cultural dimension of globalization and incited the re-examination of the concept of culture and the way globalization is “creating new cultural configurations through which people are living out new subjectivities and social relations” (Moore 1999:11). As well as the theorization of the consequences of the weakening and changing position of the nation-state within the world system (cf. Chatterjee 1998, Appadurai 2005). These and related questions stimulated also Arjun Appadurai to take part in the course of this kind of anthropological inquiry and to develop new theoretical tools as well as to rethink traditional anthropological notions through the prism of a transnational, or rather postnational approach (Appadurai 2005:9). But before discussing further Appadurai’s theoretical perspective and the questions it poses for the anthropological practice, let me first present some of my brief notes on globalization that will later inform the background of the argument.

Global? Local?

There are several points we should take notice of when discussing globalization, firstly, not everybody is a migrant, a refugee[2], a member of a diaspora, an expatriate, a cosmopolitan academic, a businessman or whatever the good old examples of the grand narrative of globalization consist of; the vast majority of the world’s population is bound to the local community – though of course it can be said that, what is imagined as global, has impact on and redefines that what is imagined as local – but it remains a social fact that the “global interconnectedness is extremely uneven” (Fuller & Assayag 2005:1). Secondly, I argue that to speak of global and local sensu stricto does not make a good sense; there exists no either-global-or-local but always both-and; global and local (if we are still forced to think in these categories) are mutually affected, constituted, reinforced and influenced and thus come into being only through a dialectic relationship; anything which can be imagined as global is necessarily in a certain sense localized. In another words, what is traditionally associated with the notion of the global (i.e. statehood, monetary economies, citizenship, modern mass media, migration etc.) is always actually realized at the local level and is “embedded in the locally constituted life-worlds and power relations” for “whether it is ideas or substances that flow, or both, they have origins and destinations, and the flows are instigated by people” (Eriksen 2003:4). Or to put it differently, “denotations may be global. But connotation is always local: meaning is never inherent in a sign, it is always filtered through a culturally endowed eye or ear” (Comaroff 1996:17). And it is the understanding of the meaning, of those culturally endowed eyes and ears through which people perceive the world, interpret their and others actions within it and make sense of themselves, what is ab initio the main concern of anthropology.

Conceptualizing the Postnational

Arjun Appadurai, joining the discussion on what Harvey (2001) coined with the term ‘space-time compression’ and what others formulated in the language of transnational flows, diasporas, or globalization, developed concepts that would enable an anthropological approach to the issues of modernity, globalization, public culture and consumption. In the next section we are going to review several of the underlying premises of Appadurai’s approach that is aiming at the redefinition of the field of anthropological inquiry and research in relation to the above mentioned debates that play also an enormous role in lives of the people we study. Later we will build further on this part when discussing the production of locality and neighborhood and their heuristic potential for the current anthropological research.

There are two crucial notions upon which Appadurai’s theorizing is premised and which are always, in one form or another, present. It is media and migration[3] – viewing them as interconnected, Appadurai explores their “joint effect on the work of the imagination as a constitutive feature of modern subjectivity” (Appadurai 2005:3; emphasis in original) and tries to develop a “general theory of global cultural processes” (Ibid.:46). The work of the imagination is viewed as a “space of contestation in which individuals and groups seek to annex the global into their own practices of the modern” (Ibid.: 4). As an anthropologist he sets out to investigate the cultural dimension of globalization and fully acknowledging the fact that “the transnational flow of universalizing signs demands their domestication, that they be made meaningful and salient to homespun realities” (Comaroff 1996:174), he focuses on the production of locality and neighborhood in a globalizing world, viewing the locality as an “inherently fragile social achievement […] ephemeral unless hard and regular work is undertaken to produce and maintain its materiality” (Appadurai2005:179;180). Now let us turn our attention for a little while to the notion of cultural which Appadurai proposes instead of using the concept of culture.

Appadurai resists, and has several good reasons to do so, the noun form of culture, and proposes instead its adjectival form, i.e. cultural. The noun form of culture necessarily implies a certain reification and substantiation, making culture a part of the same discursive realm as race and implying the idea of certain social groups as cultures (cf. Ibid.:12-14). The cultural on the other hand “moves one into a realm of differences, contrasts and comparisons that is more helpful” (Ibid.:12) and thus presents a more suitable heuristic device which can be used when talking about difference (Ibid.:13). One is at this point tempted to say – so far so good. After a promising start Appadurai proceeds and suggests “that we regard as cultural only those differences that either express, or set the groundwork for, the mobilization of group identities” (Ibid.:13), even though aware of certain problems this view presents, he goes on further moving to “the idea of culture as involving the naturalized organization of certain differences in the interests of group identity”, i.e. towards the “instrumental conception of ethnicity” or else “culture as group identity based on difference” (Ibid.:14-15; emphasis mine). And proceeding further to the discussion of culturalism, which he understands as a “conscious mobilization of cultural differences in the service of a larger national or transnational politics” (Ibid.:15) he implicitly crowns the shift from understanding culture or let us say cultural as a category of analysis (and a heuristic device) to understanding culture in terms of a category of practice[4]. Understanding culture in terms of differences that have been mobilized to articulate group identity[5] seems as nothing more than replicating the culture as a category of practice i.e. the way culture is used (and misused) in the culturalistic discourses and identity politics[6]. Such a notion of culture should be in my view rather the object of our inquiry and analysis than the means of understanding it. This excursus in Appadurai’s notion of cultural had one particular objective, and that is to turn our attention to its certain inner dissonance and to bear it in our minds; since if we are to think further about the cultural dimension of the production of locality and neighborhood we are as anthropologists obliged to rethink this particular notion of cultural, which I view as unsatisfactory for any project trying to unravel the cultural dimension of globalization[7].

The perspective premised on the ideas of motion and mediation – global processes of migration and communication – necessarily leads to the conceptualization of identities as deterritorialized, to the idea of culturally hybridized world and to thinking “beyond nation” (Ibid.:158-177), and rather in terms of translocalities – no wonder then that “the nation-state, as a complex modern political form” is for Appadurai “on its last legs” (Ibid.:19). Appadurai is thus concerned with “what locality might mean in a situation where the nation-state faces particular sorts of transnational destabilization” (Ibid.:178). Let us thus first have a closer look on the condition of the nation-state in the globalized world.

The emergence of global economy is continually diminishing the importance of and destroying anything that might be perceived as national economy (cf. Comaroff 1996); the processes of migration and the presence of alien population within the nation-state together with various transnational and subnational movements present a threat to its categories and legitimacy based on one-territory-one-people principle and moreover the global mass mediation enabling people to imagine a spectrum of possible realities and opportunities (and motivating them to action) makes it more and more difficult for the nation-state to virtually police its borders and produce reliable citizens. But the fact that globalization threatens to disintegrate the nation-state at least to a certain degree, does not mean that the nation-state is not responding to this threat. On the contrary, for the first, we can observe national governments making great “efforts to (re)assert their sovereignty and control” (Comaroff 1996:173) – just think of the recent discussions about European identity, which more than often end up with the search for and reassertion of the national and debates on the national cultural heritage; and for the second, an emergence of the identity politics, politics of difference, new patriotisms and ethnonationalisms (cf. Comaroff 1996; Appadurai 2005) in which the “ideas of culturally and ethnically distinct places become perhaps ever more salient” (Gupta & Ferguson 2006:611, cf. Olwig 2002). These processes, which can be understood as two sides of the same coin, present a special challenge for anthropology and its practice. What is needed is a framework connecting the large-scale and small-scale processes and conceptualizing their dialectical relationship. Arjun Appadurai presents in the “Production of Locality” such a framework, which enables the anthropologists to build further on, or eventually rethink the previous research.

The Production of Locality and Neighborhood

Appadurai, not taking locality as something already present and given or simply as a site of social action, focuses on the locality as something that has to be produced. He shows us how rituals and other social actions can be reinterpreted and rethought as localizing practices which aim at the production and reproduction of locality and of ‘reliably local subjects’, i.e. “actors who properly belong to a situated community of kin, neighbors, friends and enemies” (Appadurai 2005:179). In other words, he demonstrates how former anthropological research can be understood in terms of socialization of space and time, as analysis of the social techniques of the production of the ‘natives’ and production of particular localities and neighborhoods, documenting “the myriad ways in which small-scale societies do not and cannot take locality as given” (Ibid.:180). Locality is for Appadurai “primarily relational and contextual” (Ibid.:178) and can be conceived of as a certain phenomenological quality, as an aspect of social life, not as an easy achievement, on the contrary, as something that has to be continually reproduced, build anew and “maintained carefully against various kinds of odds” (Ibid.:179). Neighborhoods on the other hand “refer to the actually existing social forms in which locality, as a dimension or value, is variably realized. Neighborhoods, in this usage, are situated communities characterized by their actuality, whether spatial or virtual, and their potential for social reproduction” (Ibid.:179). Neighborhoods can thus be seen as referring to the micro-structures of everyday life and to the particular Lebenswelts, to the everyday processes on the micro-scale, i.e. to the complex structure of local conditions, daily interactions and social relationships, the structures of feeling, myths and rituals, representations and other aspects of social life that play an important role in the organization of life of a community. The concept of neighborhood in other words emphasizes the importance of situatedness[8] in contemporary globalized world (be it a physical or virtual one). Local knowledge is thus about “producing reliably local subjects as well as about producing reliably local neighborhoods within which such subjects can be recognized and organized” (Ibid.:181). Moreover Appadurai understands the relationship between the production of local subjects and neighborhoods as historical and dialectical in its nature.

But the relationship between locality and the neighborhood is much more complex and intricate since locality can not be separated from the actual setting, i.e. the neighborhood – it is the neighborhood which has the potential for social reproduction and it is the social action of the local (and situated) subjects that in a sense produces the locality. Here Appadurai approaches the crucial notion of context. Neighborhood is necessarily grounded in diverse historical trajectories and forces and is unthinkable without its contextual dimension. “Neighborhoods are what they are because they are opposed to […] already produced neighborhoods” (Ibid.:183). Neighborhoods are thus contexts for social action, but they also require contexts, i.e. other neighborhoods or ethnoscapes. Neighborhood thus provides a setting, a meaningful frame for human action; “a neighborhood is a multiplex interpretative site” (Ibid.:184). The context-generative dimension of neighborhood serves to Appadurai as a springboard for theorizing the relationship between the local and the global realities and providing a framework well-suited for bridging the large-scale and small-scale processes, since “the way in which neighborhoods are produced and reproduced requires the continuous construction, both practical and discursive, of an ethnoscape (necessarily nonlocal) against which local practices and projects are imagined to take place” (Ibid.:184). The context of the production of locality in a world marked by migration and mass mediation has itself markedly changed and this fact has crucial consequences for the role and practice of anthropology. And thus, before we proceed to a further and more critically oriented discussion of the concepts of locality and neighborhood in relation to the anthropological fieldwork and research, let us first sketch in general terms the challenges anthropologists face in the changed world.

Anthropology in the Changing World

The anthropological field, the defining element of anthropology as a discipline, which has normalized and bounded its practice, has markedly changed in the last decades. “The field sites in which contemporary anthropologists work are shaped by the geopolitics of the postcolonial, imperial world” (Gupta & Ferguson 1997:10). The current world of postcolonialism, multiculturalism and transnational flows thus not only changed the conditions of cross-cultural encounters but also affected the “ethnological imagination’s understanding of mediation in a culturally pluralized world” (Kurasawa 2004:170). The old traditional categories presupposing the isomorphic relationship between territory, culture, nation-state and society together with “our spatially centered, conventionally derived constructs will not do any more” (Comaroff 1996:170). The changing socio-cultural reality thus calls for new linguistic tropes, analytical perspectives and changed methodological approaches. The above mentioned necessarily leads us to the problem of place in anthropology and its ethnographies, i.e. to the problem of how fieldwork locations “often come to be identified with the groups that inhabit them” (Appadurai 1988:16). The idea that culture is naturally a property of spatially localized people as well as the idea that to study it we just have to ‘go there’ can not serve us any longer and has been also criticized numerous times (see e.g. Appadurai 1988, 2006, Clifford 1986, Gupta & Ferguson 1997, 2006). To put it differently, “cultures are becoming both deterritorialized and reterritorialized: they are no longer predicated on particular spatial co-ordinates” (Moore 1999:11). This rejection of the traditional categories and concepts that no longer make good sense in the perspective of the changed socio-cultural situation leads us to the questioning of the traditional conception of field and fieldwork, i.e. of the defining element of anthropology itself. To put it differently, in the current world marked by migration and mass mediation “the ‘ethno’ in ethnography takes on a slippery, nonlocalized quality, to which the descriptive practices of anthropology have to respond” (Appadurai 1991:191, quoted in Gupta & Ferguson 1997:3). Or else, Gupta & Ferguson ask: “what are we to do with a discipline that loudly rejects received ideas of ‘the local,’ even while ever more firmly insisting on a method that takes it for granted?” (Gupta & Ferguson 1997:4) and we might add – in which the imagination of cultural areas is still implicitly present, structuring the ways we conceive of people and groups of people we study. The rejection of the world composed of territorially bounded cultures and peoples thus challenges the idea of moving in and out of the field (cf. Gupta & Ferguson 1997). The field is now virtually everywhere and we can no longer escape it and pretend that we are ‘out of the field’. This situation results in rethinking of the field and fieldwork in terms of notions related to that of multi-sited ethnography (Marcus 2006) and multi-local field studies (Hannerz 2002) which “pay attention to the interlocking of multiple social-political sites and locations” (Gupta & Ferguson 1997:37). It is no longer possible to get a complete picture of some kinds of activities from a local viewpoint (if it ever was), the ‘local’ is produced by distant influences, it can be in a sense produced ‘elsewhere’, and to understand the local we have to broaden our horizons and open up for new places, sites and connections and even nonlocal (in a geographical sense) definitions of the field. The field can consist of several localities, which through their networks and certain interdependence form one coherent field (cf. Hannerz 2002). The field is thus not disappearing or is not in a crisis, it just has to adapt itself to new conditions; the field as a local or multi-local site has to be related dialectically to the larger spatial arenas. The field that crosses several localities and works at several sites is especially well-suited for certain problem areas connected with the effects of migration, globalization and mass mediation, such as “tracking movements and migrants transnationally in diaspora and exile, or the history of the circulation of objects and techniques, or studying the relationships of dispersed communities and networks that define well-designated macro-processes in the global flow of capital and expertise” (Marcus 2006:618). But multi-sited, multi-local or translocal must not necessarily mean that the anthropologist works (physically) in several localities, it is the connection of the global meanings and their appropriation in the production of concrete localities and the focus on the connections between localities and the production of meanings what makes the given perspective translocal.

The Production of Locality and Neighborhood: Critical Comments

Appadurai poses the question of what happens to the production of locality in contemporary world and of what might “locality mean in a world where spatial localization, quotidian interaction, and social scale are not always isomorphic” (Appadurai 2005:179), in the era of the weakening of the nation-state etc. He relates these questions to the problem of nationalism and identity politics, or new patriotisms. This line of thinking seems especially interesting. But there are several problems I would like to discuss before returning to this point. For the first, there is a certain problem I have with the concept of neighborhood. When thinking about its possible applications I feel more than confused about the difference the concept of neighborhood makes – in a certain sense – in relation to that of say ‘culture’, and I deal in fact with the same kind of problem Appadurai himself had with the concept of ‘culture’, namely that of substantiation and that of drawing boundaries. If neighborhoods are referring to ‘situated communities characterized by their actuality’, then I have to ask: how are we to delineate them or else where are the boundaries that neighborhoods and localities so sorely try to guard (- supposing that they could be in the end certainly defined as fluid, fuzzy or blended, in the popular diction of last decades)? How are we to define community (- a question mysteriously missing in Appadurai’s theorizing)? Does the existence of a particular neighborhood depend on the perception of particular actors within or outside it? Is it thus as relational and contextual as locality (possibly not as a substantive social form…)? How large can a neighborhood be (a question related closely related to that of a community, not knowing what a community stands for, how can I guess what everything can be meant with a neighborhood)? Are all answers to these questions context-dependent (if it is so – dependent on which or whose context)? And if we are to accept the game of the neighborhoods, then we have to ask the question: who? – i.e. for whom is this or that neighborhood a meaningful context, and moreover who is producing the concrete neighborhood? Though Appadurai states that “the production of a neighborhood is inherently colonizing, in the sense that it involves the assertion of socially (often ritually) organized power over places that are viewed as potentially chaotic or rebellious”[9] and that the “production of a neighborhood is inherently an exercise of power over some sort of hostile or recalcitrant environment, which may take the form of another neighborhood” (Ibid.:184), I feel the question of power as seriously undertheorized, we must ask more explicitly who creates neighborhoods, what is needed for a neighborhood to be produced, for whom are they a meaningful context and who participates on the context-generative aspect of neighborhoods and we have to go even further. Because these and related questions concerning the power to define and produce neighborhood or a locality are of special importance in relation to the emergent identity politics and ethnonationalisms.

As we have seen, the concept of neighborhood raises in my view more questions than it solves, therefore I am going to focus rather on the idea of production of locality, which is in my eyes a much more potent notion. But here arises a problem – as presented by Appadurai, locality can not be separated from the concept of neighborhood. Therefore I suggest replacing the concept of neighborhood with a network approach, i.e. with the concept of networks[10]. Through the application of the network approach the abyss between the virtual and ‘real’ neighborhoods would disappear as well as the problem posed by the definition of community and the problem of boundaries. The notion of networks is also well-suited to grasping the character of the contemporary world, since inherent to this notion is the idea of process, and on the other hand more stable networks can be conceptualized in terms of structure. The network approach also has the potential to bridge small-scale and large-scale processes and map with more precision the connections and interconnections that are of relevance for the concrete research problem. The idea of the production of locality, that I view as highly theoretically potent, could be connected with the network approach, this would lead in my perspective to a more theoretical precission which I am sometimes missing in Appadurai’s writing[11] and would be also more productive at the practical level of anthropological research, since the concept of neighborhood seems to me too confused for me to be able to apply it analytically in a particular case study. On the other hand the application of the notion of the production of locality particularly in relation to the politics of identity could raise new questions and motivate new perspectives on how particular localities are discursively produced, from what kind of material, what is made important, what is deleted, how the locality is in the discursive practices of identity politicians inscribed on the bodies of the subjects that are being in a certain sense localized, no less in relation to the global surroundings. These could be used e.g. in multi-sited studies on the workings of identity politics in diasporas and ‘at home’.

Appadurai’s work thus brings us in the realm of many fruitful ideas and makes us definitely think about the changed situation of the contemporary world and motivates us to a much deeper recognition of the certain undeniable facts of globalization and their incorporation in our thinking, practice and theorizing; on the other hand we must avoid taking the presented notions uncritically and overenthusiastically. As we have seen, certain concepts viewed from a different perspective raise more questions than they are able to solve.


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[1] The symptoms of the changed character of the current world can be, borrowing from Comaroff (1996:167) summarized as follows – “(1) accelerated process of globalization accompanied by a dramatic growth of transnational institutions, movements and diasporas; (2) the weakening of the nation-state; (3) the rise of a (re)new(ed) politics of identity couched less in the language of nineteenth-century European modernity than in the rhetoric of alternative modernities; (4) a crisis of representation in human sciences”. For more on crisis of representation in human sciences see Marcus & Fischer 1999:7-17.

[2] But there is no doubt that refugee – representing the avant-garde of his people (Arendt in Agamben 2003:19) – can be conceptualized as a category or example par excellence through which the crisis of nation-state and related processes can be perceived; but we must be aware of that such an analysis leads more to a prognosis than to a diagnosis, opening up possible scenarios of the imagined postnational future. “[A refugee] is a limit concept that provokes the radical crisis of the principles of the nation-state and at the same time creates space for the recovery of categories […] it is the only category in which we can today anticipate the forms and delimitations of the future political community” (Agamben 2003:25;20, translation mine). The migrant then plays in Appadurai’s perspective a resembling role, contesting the nation-state and its categories.

[3] A similar line of thinking where the demographic and phenomenological impact of migrants and minorities in general within West is conceived of as presenting a challenge for conceptualizing of the transnational character of contemporary culture is present in Jameson (1991).

[4] Here I am borrowing the distinction between categories of practice and categories of analysis from Brubaker, and following his dictum which states that „we should avoid reproducing or reinforcing such reification by adopting categories of practice as categories of analysis“ (Brubaker & Cooper 2000:10).

[5] And taking group identity, and especially the concept of identity, and thus the objective existence of different group identities, for granted, does not help us to get out from the essentialist trap. One way out would be to get use of the concept of identification (cf. Brubaker & Cooper 2000; Eriksen 2003b:135-151).

[6] Here we could note, together with Unni Wikan, that ‘culture’ in culturalistic and similar discourses “has become a new concept of race in that it functions in a reductionist manner to make ‘them’ lesser human beings than ‘us’. Whereas ‘we’ regard ourselves as thinking, reasoning, acting human beings with the ability to reflect and respond to changing circumstances, ‘they’ are portrayed as caught in the web of culture and propelled to do as culture bids” (Wikan 1999: 58). I have discussed this topic closer elsewhere (“cand.nr.321” 2007).

[7] My aim here is not to present an alternative, but to point out to something I perceive as a problem when using Appadurai’s theoretical devices.

[8] For more on site, situation and situatedness see the interview with A. A. (Baldauf, & Hoeller 1999).

[9] Here we could again return to the above posed question, namely – what is the meaning of the ‘situated community with the potential of reproduction’. In perspective of what was said above is neighborhood a sort of structure-imposing entity? Is a situated community a structured functioning neighborhood in opposition to place viewed ad chaotic and rebellious? Etc.

[10] The ideas on network analysis come mainly from: Coleman 1990; Lin 2001; Scott 2000; Emirbayer 1997; Emirbayer & Goodwin 1994; Barnes 1954; Wasserman & Faust; Granovetter 1973; Somers 1994; Wellman 1988; White 1992.

[11] Generally I view Appadurai’s writing as probably too much implicitly biased through the experience with Indian diaspora, the model he proposes suits in a sense perfectly for this case but I am not convinced that it holds the test of other cases; for similar observation see Tsing 2002:468-9.

Mirza Ghalib

(Selected poetry)

Although love’s pangs may fatal be,

There can for man be no way out;

Without love too this heart would grieve

For want of things to grieve about.

(transl. H.C. Saraswat)

Love is a strange captivity;

The lover, though fettered, cannot rest.

And so it comes about that I

am restless though in chains I be,

as one who walks on fire.

Each link of the chain that binds my feet

Is a fiery ring of shimmering flame.

(transl. J. L. Kaul)

I am but a frail dew-drop

Clinging to a castaway thorn in a desert land.

I tremble when I see the sun

Seeking me out at dawn:

Not that I die, but that the mighty sun

Must take all this trouble to kill such as me.

(transl. J.L. Kaul)

Sing my heart

Even to chords of pain

For one day soon your harp of life

Will never sing again.

(transl. Zaitun Umer)

All that can be seen

Is nothing but a dream:

And even when we think,

Ourselves awake,

We have only wakened

In a dream!

(transl. Hashim Ameer Ali)

A chaos of desires and thoughts,

Man is not as simple as he seems.

Even when alone he is not alone:

With crowds tumultuous his breast teems.

(transl. J. L. Kaul)

From: Whispers of the Angel (Nawa-e Sarosh), Ghalib Academy1969.