Communal violence and the civility of indifference
(Ruhr Universität Bochum)
Paper short abstract:
F.G. Bailey’s work analysed through a yearlong restudy conducted between 2012 and 2014
Paper long abstract:
The anthropologist F.G. Bailey wrote three research monographs about Odisha in the 1950s and 60s, which were followed by three further books in the 1990s. These latter works reflect in more abstract terms of the values and philosophy of life in eastern India in the 1950s. One of these monographs is Civility of Indifference. As Bailey was writing the book, there was war in Yugoslavia. He argues that although the people of Kandhamal/Odisha were acutely aware of social difference, and evaluated themselves as distinct 'breeds', they would not have embarked on a similar genocidal project to the one seen in the former Yugoslavia. He bases this conclusion on their practice of handling conflict situations with wit, common sense, and their air of general social indifference (a form of civility). Sixty years after F.G. Bailey conducted the research on which he based these striking judgements, I had the opportunity to visit the same village to conduct ethnographic research. During my time in Odisha, I followed up some of the incidents that had fascinated Bailey, and got to know the people and the descendants of those he had interacted with. However, in recent decades, the village has hosted communal violence of the kind Bailey thought was impossible - most recently in 2008. In this paper, I explore Bailey's hypothesis and ask what became of the civility of indifference in the post-colonial decades.
What to do with 'old' anthropology? Zeitgeist, knowledge and time