A Companion to the Anthropology of India

The Blackwell Companions to Anthropology offer a series of comprehensive syntheses of the traditional subdisciplines, primary subjects, and geographic areas of inquiry for the field. Taken together, the series represents both a contemporary survey of anthropology and a cutting edge guide to the emerging research and intellectual trends in the field as a whole.

1. A Companion to Linguistic Anthropology edited by Alessandro Duranti

2. A Companion to the Anthropology of Politics edited by David Nugent and Joan Vincent

3. A Companion to the Anthropology of American Indians edited by Thomas Biolsi

4. A Companion to Psychological Anthropology edited by Conerly Casey and Robert B. Edgerton

5. A Companion to the Anthropology of Japan edited by Jennifer Robertson

6. A Companion to Latin American Anthropology edited by Deborah Poole

7. A Companion to Biological Anthropology edited by Clark Larsen (hardback only)

8. A Companion to the Anthropology of India edited by Isabelle Clark-Decès

Forthcoming in 2011

A Companion to Medical Anthropology edited by Merrill Singer and Pamela I. Erickson

A Companion to Cognitive Anthropology edited by David B, Kronenfeld, Giovanni Bennardo, Victor de Munck, and Michael D. Fischer

A Companion to the Anthropology of Education edited by Bradley A. U. Levinson and Mica Pollack

A Companion to Cultural Resource Management edited by Thomas King

A Companion to Forensic Anthropology edited by Dennis Dirkmaat

A Companion to the Anthropology of Europe edited by Ullrich Kockel, Máiréad Nic Craith, and Jonas Frykman

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Notes on Contributors

Joseph S. Alter has conducted academic research in India since 1981. He teaches anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh and has published a number of books, including The Wrestler’s Body, Knowing Dil Das, Gandhi’s Body, and Yoga in Modern India. Beyond the study of yoga in contemporary practice his interests include the cultural history of Nature Cure as a system of medicine and the natural history of animals in the human imagination.

Nikhil Anand is a doctoral candidate in Anthropology at Stanford University. His research focuses on the political ecology of urban infrastructures, and the social and material relations that they entail. Nikhil has previously published articles on a range of urban/environmental issues in journals that include Economic and Political Weekly and Conservation and Society. Engaged in a variety of pedagogic and activist projects in Mumbai since 1999, he directed a collaborative documentary film project, Ek Dozen Paani, in 2008. Nikhil has a Masters degree in Environmental Science from Yale University, and is a Research Associate at Partners for Urban Knowledge, Action and Research.

Tarini Bedi is the Associate Director of the South Asia Language and Area Center and the Committee on Southern Asian Studies at the University of Chicago. She has a PhD in Cultural Anthropology and an MA in Political Science and is interested in questions of gender and urban patronage, urban labor, performative politics and popular culture. She is currently working on two book-length projects, one on Shiv Sena women and the other on Muslim taxi-drivers and urban change in the city of Mumbai.

Daniela Berti is a social anthropologist, Research Fellow at CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique), Paris. She is a member of the Center for Himalayan Studies, Paris, and carries out her fieldwork in North India. Her main works focus on ritual interactions, on politico-ritual roles and practices formerly associated with kingship, on Hindutva’s entrenchment in local society, and on ethnography of Indian law courts. She is currently coordinating with Gilles Tarabout the Joint Programme on Justice and Governance in India and South Asia ().

Shaila Bhatti is currently an ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council) postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Anthropology at University College London. Over the last decade she has conducted ethnographic research on museums in India and Pakistan, with doctoral research focusing on the Lahore Museum in Pakistan. Her research and publications explore the history of the museum as well as its contemporary significance as moments of cultural and visual encounters for society in the subcontinent in terms of collections, curatorial activities, exhibition practices, and visitor interpretation. Her interests extend beyond museum anthropology to include the material and visual culture of South Asia and understanding local notions of cultural heritage, history, and identity.

Pallabi Chakravorty teaches in the Department of Music and Dance at Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania. She is a visual anthropologist, Kathak dancer, and the founder and artistic director of Courtyard Dancers (a contemporary Indian dance ensemble based in Philadelphia). Her books include Bells of Change: Kathak Dance, Women and Modernity in India (2008), Dance Matters: Performing India (2009; coeditor and contributor), and Performing Ecstasy: Poetics and Politics of Religion in India (2009; coeditor and contributor).

Isabelle Clark-Decès is Director of the Program in South Asian Studies and Professor of Anthropology at Princeton University. She has been conducting research in Tamil Nadu since 1990, first working on rituals such as exorcism and funeral. Since 2008 she has been studying changes in close-kin marriages in Madurai. Her books include Religion against the Self, No One Cries for the Dead, The Encounter Never Ends.

Leo Coleman is Assistant Professor of Global Studies of Science, Technology, and Culture in the Department of Comparative Studies at The Ohio State University. He has published articles on urban publics in Delhi, and is working on a book about electricity and the state in twentieth-century India.

Robert Deliège is Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Louvain-la-Neuve (Belgium) and at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (Paris). He has published a number of books, including History of Anthropology (2006), translated in several languages, The Untouchables of India (2001), The World of Untouchables (1997), and Lévi-Strauss Today (2004). He is currently working on the cultural changes in the 1960s.

C. J. Fuller is Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics. Between 1976 and 2002, Fuller carried out research among the priests of the great temple of Madurai in Tamil Nadu. Since 2003, with Haripriya Narasimhan, he has been studying the middle class in Chennai (Madras) and the Tamil Brahmans. His books include The Camphor Flame: Popular Hinduism and Indian Society, The Renewal of the Priesthood: Modernity and Traditionalism in a South Indian Temple, and (coedited with Jackie Assayag) Globalizing India: Perspectives from Below.

Ajay Gandhi expects his PhD to be conferred in the Fall 2010 semester from the Anthropology Department of Yale University. His research interests in South Asia encompass labor, urban life, and popular culture. He is a research fellow at the International Institute for Asian Studies in Amsterdam.

Parvis Ghassem-Fachandi is an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at Rutgers University. He received a Magister in Ethnologie in 1998 at the Freie Universität Berlin, and a PhD from Cornell University in 2006. He taught at Princeton University in 2006 and held a postdoctoral fellowship at the Center for Religion and Media at New York University in 2007. He has conducted ethnographic field research in Gibraltar, the United States, and India on topics including ritual, religion, violence, nationalism, identification, abjection, and affect. He is the editor of Violence: Ethnographic Encounters (2009), and author of Muslimische Heilige in Gujarat: Sufismus, Synkretismus, und Praxis im westlichen Indien (2008), as well as the forthcoming Pratikriya (Reaction): Nationalism, Nonviolence, and Pogrom in Gujarat.

Christophe Z. Guilmoto is a demographer at the French Research Institute for Development (IRD/CEPED) and has worked on various aspects of social and demographic change in India. He has recently published books with his colleagues on gender discrimination in Asia, fertility decline in South India, and international migration. His current research focuses on the process of demographic masculinization at work in several Asian countries.

John Harriss, a sometime member of the Department of Anthropology at the London School of Economics, is now Director of the School for International Studies at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver. He has carried out ethnographic research in India, mostly in Tamil Nadu, since his first studies there of “agrarian change” in the early 1970s. He is the author, most recently, of Power Matters: Essays on Institutions, Politics and Society in India (2006).

Zoé E. Headley is an associate researcher at the Centre d’Études de l’Inde et de l’Asie du Sud (CNRS, Paris). After studying Anthropology at the School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London), she received her PhD from the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (Paris) in 2007 and held a postdoctoral fellowship at the Südasien-Institut (Heidelberg University) in 2007 and 2008. The research she conducts in central Tamil Nadu has focused on issues such as social morphology and the contemporary articulations of caste identity, interpersonal conflict and the competing forums of dispute settlement, legal, illegal, occult and divine. She is currently the coordinator of the pilot project Rescuing Tamil Customary Law (Endangered Archives Programme, French Institute of Pondicherry).

Jenny Huberman teaches anthropology at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Her research intersects with the study of childhood, tourism, and consumption. She has conducted fieldwork in North India and is currently working on a book manuscript entitled Ambivalent Encounters: Children, Tourists and Locals along the Riverfront of Banaras.

Beatrice Jauregui is Research Fellow, Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge. She completed her PhD in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. Her dissertation, entitled “Shadows of the State, Subalterns of the State: Police and ‘Law and Order’ in Postcolonial India,” is an ethnographic and historical examination of the everyday police practices in northern India.

Craig Jeffrey teaches geography at the University of Oxford, where he is Fellow at St John’s College. He has conducted academic research on youth, politics, and education in India since 1996. He is author of three recent books: Timepass: Youth, Class, and the Politics of Waiting in India (2010), Degrees without Freedom: Education, Masculinities and Unemployment in North India (2008, with Patricia Jeffery and Roger Jeffery), and Telling Young Lives: Portraits in Global Youth (2008, with Jane Dyson).

Sarah Lamb is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at Brandeis University. She is the author of White Saris and Sweet Mangoes: Aging, Gender and Body in North India and Aging and the Indian Diaspora: Cosmopolitan Families in India and Abroad, and coeditor of Everyday Life in South Asia. She has been conducting research in India, especially in the northeastern state West Bengal, for more than 20 years.

Emma Mawdsley is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Geography, University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of Newnham College. She has worked on environmental politics in India since 1992, moving from rural areas to a more recent interest in urban issues and in the specific topic of “bourgeois” environmentalisms. She also works on South–South development cooperation, and global development politics more broadly.

Meredith Lindsay McGuire is a PhD candidate in Anthropology at the University of Chicago. She is interested in issues of consumerism, globalization, public culture, and space and landscape. Her dissertation research, currently ongoing, concerns the production and embodiment of the new middle class in New Delhi.

Mira Mohsini received her PhD from the School of Oriental and African Studies in 2010. Her research focuses on urban-based Muslim artisans in India and examines processes of both marginalization and subject formation among this understudied group. In addition to understanding the current predicament of urban artisans, she is also interested in the historical formation and organization of urban craft production in northern India.

Christopher Pinney is Professor of Anthropology and Visual Culture at University College London. His books include Photos of the Gods (2004) and The Coming of Photography in India (2008). Current projects include Lessons from Hell, a study of popular Hindu punishment imagery.

Sarah Pinto teaches anthropology at Tufts University. She has conducted research in India on reproduction, traditional midwives, uncertified medical practitioners, pharmaceutical practice, trance healing, and women’s psychiatric care, and is the author of Where There Is No Midwife: Birth and Loss in Rural India, and coeditor of Postcolonial Disorders.

Mathew N. Schmalz is Director of the College Honors Program and Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Massachusetts. His publications include works on Hinduism, Global Catholicism, and New Religions. With Peter Gottschalk of Wesleyan University, he is a creator of Arampur: A Virtual Indian Village on the World Wide Web () and editor of Engaging South Asian Religions: Boundaries, Appropriations and Resistances.

Alpa Shah teaches anthropology at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her research focuses on efforts to address socioeconomic inequality. She is the author of In the Shadows of the State: Indigenous Politics, Environmentalism and Insurgency in Jharkhand, India, and her new research explores India’s Maoist revolution.

Ornit Shani is a lecturer at the Department of Asian Studies at the University of Haifa, where she is the director of the India Programme. She is the author of Communalism, Caste and Hindu Nationalism: The Violence in Gujarat. She is currently working on a research project on citizenship and democracy in India.

Yaffa Truelove is a PhD student in the Department of Geography at the University of Cambridge. She has been researching and working in India since 2002. Her current research interests focus on the politics of water and inequality in urban India.

Cecilia Van Hollen is Director of the South Asia Center and Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the Maxwell School for Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University. Her research has focused on reproductive health policies and practices in South India. Her first book, Birth on the Threshold: Childbirth and Modernity in South India (2003), received the Association for Asian Studies 2005 A. K. Coomaraswamy Book Prize for the best book in South Asia Studies. Since 2003 she has been involved in an ethnographic research project on the intersections of HIV/AIDS and reproductive health in India.

Philippa Williams is a postdoctoral fellow in the Centre of South Asian Studies at the University of Cambridge. Her recently completed PhD on everyday urban politics in north India explored Muslim identity and agency in the context of intercommunity relations in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. Philippa’s current work critically examines everyday lived experiences of citizenship and justice by India’s marginalized populations, and processes and scales of “everyday peace” in South Asia.


I owe many grateful thanks to people whose care and attention made this work possible. Rosalie Robertson gave me the chance to edit this volume on India anthropology for Blackwell’s Companion series. Julia Kirk organized the timely production of the manuscript and Ann Bone meticulously copy-edited it from beginning to end. Chris Fuller encouraged this work from the start and made substantial comments on two versions of the introduction, while I also thank Craig Jeffrey and Emma Mawdsley for their commentaries on the second draft. These three scholars led me to correct some errors of fact and of understanding. Those that remain are of course my responsibility alone. I owe many, many thanks to the 29 contributors from around the world for writing remarkable chapters on the current expressions of “modernity.” All helped me sharpen my ideas about the false distinction between local and global anthropology through many stimulating emails. A faculty research grant from Princeton University allowed me to recruit the help of Erin Fitz-Henry with the final stages of the book. A former graduate student in the Department of Anthropology at Princeton University, Erin tirelessly brought her probing questions and sharp editorial skills to all the chapters. On behalf of the contributors I would like to thank her for her patience and dedication to this project.



Isabelle Clark-Decès

Christophe Z. Guilmoto

Robert Deliège

Craig Jeffrey

C. J. Fuller

Zoé E. Headley

Meredith Lindsay McGuire

Pallabi Chakravorty

Joseph S. Alter

Jenny Huberman

Mira Mohsini

Ajay Gandhi

Shaila Bhatti and Christopher Pinney

Philippa Williams

Parvis Ghassem-Fachandi

Mathew N. Schmalz

Ornit Shani

Tarini Bedi

Alpa Shah

Daniela Berti

Beatrice Jauregui

John Harriss

Yaffa Truelove and Emma Mawdsley

Nikhil Anand

Leo Coleman

Cecilia Van Hollen

Sarah Pinto

Sarah Lamb

Isabelle Clark-Decès