Accepted Paper:

North India 1950s-2000s: two (conceptual) villages, its (Chamar) inhabitants and the question of 'the new'  

Author:

Manuela Ciotti (University of Vienna)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing on the comparison between Cohn’s work on a Chamar community in a northern India village in the 1950s (An anthropologist among the historians and other essays) and my work on the same community in a nearby village (Retro-modern India), this paper investigates the occurrence of ‘the new’.

Paper long abstract:

Drawing on the comparison between Bernard Cohn's work on a Chamar community in a northern India village in the 1950s (An anthropologist among the historians and other essays, 1987) and my work on the same community in a nearby village (Retro-modern India. Forging the low-caste self, 2010), this paper investigates the occurrence of 'the new'. The paper takes cue from Cohn's observation of a typological discrepancy in family models between Chamars and upper-caste Thakurs - showing an absence of synchrony between such models. This discrepancy, Cohn remarked, was also found in many aspects of social life - testifying to a distinctive social reproduction pattern among Chamars. Half a century later, I recorded comparable discrepancies among this community - signalling the presence of repetitions.

By taking the villages under analysis as 'conceptual spaces', it is argued that repetitions turn into new social practices when their enactment is engendered by new compulsions. Against this backdrop, the paper asks how the 'new' is actually detected: it is suggested that this is the result of empirical observation but, equally importantly, also of shifts in analytical paradigms (i.e. from modernization and Sanskritisation to modernity). The new might also emerge when both empirical observation and analysis shift the focus from collective to individual agency. By disentangling the question of the emergence of the new vis-à-vis ethnography/theory, the paper also wishes to examine how the multiple shifts outlined above have contributed to, complicated, or essentialised knowledge production on Chamar communities and the wider constituency of which they are part.

Panel P08
Dalit communities in India and diaspora: agency and activism, research and representation