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Books > History > Sociology And Anthropology > Middle–Class Moralities (Everyday Struggle Over Belonging and Prestige in India
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Middle–Class Moralities (Everyday Struggle Over Belonging and Prestige in India
Middle–Class Moralities (Everyday Struggle Over Belonging and Prestige in India
Description
From Back of the Book

New middle – classes present themselves as the epitome of modernity and progress. Both in their role as social models and culture – brokers, they seem to promote a heightened consciousness of cultural difference and nationalism. Middle – Class Moralities examines how the new middle classes of India create identities, practices and politics of the everyday in a dialogue that involves other social categories and an imaginary West. Drawing upon ethnographic and interview material, this book studies family relations, leisure, food, housing and religious practices of these emerging and enterprising social classes.

Defining the middle classes is a political and embodied process that people negotiate by making instrumental use of (or domesticating) the idea of the West. A closer and analytical look at the consumption – driven, status obsessed middle classes reveals their deeper struggles that seek to engage such cultural concepts as dharma. Purity and auspiciousness.

The field work for this study was conducted mainly in the city of Hyderabad among its upwardly mobile people who have identified themselves as “Hindus”. The Indian situation, argues the author, is comparable to that of the urban middle classes elsewhere, especially those of the traditionally hierarchical Asian societies. The dilemmas of these classes in a fast – globalising India have seldom been given the detailed attention offered in these pages.

From the Jacket

Minna Saavala is an Adjunct Professor in the University of Helsinki, Finland, and currently engaged in research on transcultural communication for the University of Tampere. She is a social anthropologist who has researched social change in India, reproductive health issues, family relations, as well as migration and transnationalism. Her publications include fertility and familial power relations: Procreation in South India (Curzon 2001) and research articles, among others, in Contributions to Indian Sociology, Social Anthropology, Ethnos and Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies.

Introduction

Present – day social research depicts the world largely as a confluence of flows: media and migration, capital and goods, people and images cross boundaries and create new constellations. Middle classes in the Third World appear as the epitome of globally changing realities, living in the vanguard of cultural anthropology – are mesmerized by the role played by the emerging social category of ‘new middle classes’ in developing new consumer societies. For an anthropologist, the interest in studying new consumer societies. For an anthropologist, the interest in studying new middle classes lies in the search for perspectives on some fundamental questions: how are economy and culture interrelated? Does cultural specificity survive global capitalism? If so, in what form? If the world is to be understood as a network or as a confluence of flows, what principles govern the formation and experience of such networks and flows?

This book is about the ways contemporary Indian new middle classes create a meaningful social existence, and more generally, about the similarities and differences of the middle – class phenomenon in traditionally hierarchical Asian create social value, how they struggle to strengthen their ambiguous position ‘in – between’, and how they create a feeling of moral value in their everyday realities. In what ways do middle – class families arrange their kin relations, create mass mediated consumer culture, develop religious practices and protect young women’s propriety in the context of a consumer – oriented lifestyle? How do they understand themselves as moral actors? How do new middle classes in India, and in Asia beyond, juxtapose themselves to the idea of the ‘West’?

The Indian new middle classes are here explored from a comparative and social – anthropological point of view. That is to say that in this book middle – class life is perceived as largely manifesting itself through everyday, lived interaction. The text is addressed to any informed reader, not only to specialists and professional researchers; it is meant to be as revealing to the educated Indian reader as to an outsider who would like to understand life in contemporary urban middle – class India, without extensive prior knowledge of Indian society or sociocultural anthropological debates over, say, kinship relations or globalisation.

The Indian new middle classes have been thoroughly analysed from a political and symbolic – political perspective by Leela Fernandes (2006), and as a sociological stratum by, for example, D.L. Sheth (1999). They have also been extensively examined from the perspective of media an their representations (see Breckenridge 1996; Favero 2005; Mankekar 1999; Thapan 2001 Varma 1994; in Nepal Liechty 2003), in an approach akin to cultural studies. The perspective that has thus far been less well developed in the Indian context is the one deriving from the social rootedness of everyday reality: how do people who consider themselves middle – class organize morally normative social relations? How do their self – understanding and identiy representations link with their self – understanding and identity representations link with their social practice? What are the actualities of these people, beyond imagination or representation? Kathinkaa Froystad (2006), Ruchira Ganguly Scrase (2003) and Margit van Wessel (2001, 2004) are among the notable exceptions in this regard. Their research, however, concentrates on the northern and eastern cultural spheres in India unlike the principal focus of this monograph which is directed towards the southern cultural sphere with its specific kin relations and socio – political context, thereby complementing the understanding of the Indian new middle classes provided by these exemplary earlier studies in other part of the country. The works of Dickey (2000) and Hancock (1999) are among the very few anthropological studies that touch upon some aspects of middle – class life in southern India.

The reason why such accounts of the social realities of the Indian new middle classes have thus far been rare is partly based on the difficulty of studying this group. People who consider themselves middle class are in the throes of constant, even fierce struggle over prestige and propriety, and are very reluctant to give any outsider access behind the scenes of their life project. The need to keep up appearances is pronounced and interviews and surveys are not very fruitful means of deconstructing commonplace cultural narratives and repetitions of the self – evident. This book intends to aid in filling this void by basing its argument on empirical, ethnographic material, thereby problematising the difference between representations and social experience.

The epistemological approach represented here is that of critical realism (for example, Danermark et al. 2001; Sayer 2000), taking the standpoint that social reality at least partly exists independently of the observer, and thus the examination and interpretation of constructed representations alone does not suffice for understanding social processes. Causal social relationships exist and are only occasionally actualized. The ‘critical’ in critical realism in turn refers to awareness of the insufficiency of our knowledge of any social reality; reality is not immanently there to be examined, but we have to be constantly aware and critical of social inquiry, of the relationship between the ‘word and the world’. Thus social scientists have to be critical of their own positionality as the medium of social explanation and understanding. I take a different point of view on social life than constructionist – oriented researchers, whose main interest lies in narratives, representations and performance (e.g., Liechty 2003). I consider it essential to contextualize discourse within social action.

The study of new middle classes in Asian societies has gained ground since the 1960s, when the transformative role of the new middle classes in Japan became the topic of Ezra Vogel’s towering empirical studies (Vogel 1991 [1963]). The part played by the everyday praxis of middle classed in other parts of Asia has attracted similar attention since the 1990s (for example. Chua 2000a; Favero 2005; Robison and Goodman 1996; Liechty 2003; Osella and Osella 2000; Pinches 1999; Sen and Stivens 1998; Van Wessel 2001, 2004; Lett 1998; Kahn 1994; Sloane 1999). However, thus far we lack a synthesising analysis of the ways socio – cultural processes among Asian middle classes, including India, are interrelated, and to what extent they are culture – specific. Thus in this monograph the Indian new middle – class reality is juxtaposed with available research on middle classes in other Asian societies, especially those with traditionally hierarchical social structures.

Even when we are studying a class of people who live their lives in media and migratory flows and are subject to global influences, it is important to attend to lived experience an social reality. People everywhere live localized lives even if they are parts of global networks. While people’s lives are globally interconnected, they also inhabit material living quarters and house, with neighbours, relatives and particular social networks. This down – to – earth connectedness is the foundation of the everyday even if the surface is characterised by transnational linkages, migration, media, and mass consumption with wider. Global trajectories. The global and transnational influences are, in the last stance, interpreted and assigned meaning within face – to – face interaction. Social and cultural worlds that may be constituted from diverse materials of various origins are always expressed through meaningful relationships that are accessible through ethnographic methods (Eriksen 2003). While the general trend in anthropology during the last decades has been to stress holistic. Particularistic analyses of cultural worlds and to avoid structural models and generalizations based on comparisons, here the attempt is to move beyond he simplistic re – statement of cultural heterogeneity: to draw up connecting lines between the Indian and wider Asian new middle – class formation. Ethnography, base on extended participant observation by a cultural stranger, provides the tools for assessing the viability of macro – level theoretical statements.

Contents

Acknowledgements ix
Introduction 1
1. Paradoxes of Control: Reproduction, morality and marriage 29
2. Middle – Class Forms of Relatedness 61
3.Imagined Worlds: People and images on the move 90
4. Making a Difference, Claiming Belonging: Morality and the middle – class urge to consume 117
5. Religious Zeal: Creating a middle- class Hindu identity 149
6. Domesticating Earthly Success 177
Conclusion: Middle – class moralities and global contexts 200
Glossary 208
References 210
Index 223

Middle–Class Moralities (Everyday Struggle Over Belonging and Prestige in India

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From Back of the Book

New middle – classes present themselves as the epitome of modernity and progress. Both in their role as social models and culture – brokers, they seem to promote a heightened consciousness of cultural difference and nationalism. Middle – Class Moralities examines how the new middle classes of India create identities, practices and politics of the everyday in a dialogue that involves other social categories and an imaginary West. Drawing upon ethnographic and interview material, this book studies family relations, leisure, food, housing and religious practices of these emerging and enterprising social classes.

Defining the middle classes is a political and embodied process that people negotiate by making instrumental use of (or domesticating) the idea of the West. A closer and analytical look at the consumption – driven, status obsessed middle classes reveals their deeper struggles that seek to engage such cultural concepts as dharma. Purity and auspiciousness.

The field work for this study was conducted mainly in the city of Hyderabad among its upwardly mobile people who have identified themselves as “Hindus”. The Indian situation, argues the author, is comparable to that of the urban middle classes elsewhere, especially those of the traditionally hierarchical Asian societies. The dilemmas of these classes in a fast – globalising India have seldom been given the detailed attention offered in these pages.

From the Jacket

Minna Saavala is an Adjunct Professor in the University of Helsinki, Finland, and currently engaged in research on transcultural communication for the University of Tampere. She is a social anthropologist who has researched social change in India, reproductive health issues, family relations, as well as migration and transnationalism. Her publications include fertility and familial power relations: Procreation in South India (Curzon 2001) and research articles, among others, in Contributions to Indian Sociology, Social Anthropology, Ethnos and Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies.

Introduction

Present – day social research depicts the world largely as a confluence of flows: media and migration, capital and goods, people and images cross boundaries and create new constellations. Middle classes in the Third World appear as the epitome of globally changing realities, living in the vanguard of cultural anthropology – are mesmerized by the role played by the emerging social category of ‘new middle classes’ in developing new consumer societies. For an anthropologist, the interest in studying new consumer societies. For an anthropologist, the interest in studying new middle classes lies in the search for perspectives on some fundamental questions: how are economy and culture interrelated? Does cultural specificity survive global capitalism? If so, in what form? If the world is to be understood as a network or as a confluence of flows, what principles govern the formation and experience of such networks and flows?

This book is about the ways contemporary Indian new middle classes create a meaningful social existence, and more generally, about the similarities and differences of the middle – class phenomenon in traditionally hierarchical Asian create social value, how they struggle to strengthen their ambiguous position ‘in – between’, and how they create a feeling of moral value in their everyday realities. In what ways do middle – class families arrange their kin relations, create mass mediated consumer culture, develop religious practices and protect young women’s propriety in the context of a consumer – oriented lifestyle? How do they understand themselves as moral actors? How do new middle classes in India, and in Asia beyond, juxtapose themselves to the idea of the ‘West’?

The Indian new middle classes are here explored from a comparative and social – anthropological point of view. That is to say that in this book middle – class life is perceived as largely manifesting itself through everyday, lived interaction. The text is addressed to any informed reader, not only to specialists and professional researchers; it is meant to be as revealing to the educated Indian reader as to an outsider who would like to understand life in contemporary urban middle – class India, without extensive prior knowledge of Indian society or sociocultural anthropological debates over, say, kinship relations or globalisation.

The Indian new middle classes have been thoroughly analysed from a political and symbolic – political perspective by Leela Fernandes (2006), and as a sociological stratum by, for example, D.L. Sheth (1999). They have also been extensively examined from the perspective of media an their representations (see Breckenridge 1996; Favero 2005; Mankekar 1999; Thapan 2001 Varma 1994; in Nepal Liechty 2003), in an approach akin to cultural studies. The perspective that has thus far been less well developed in the Indian context is the one deriving from the social rootedness of everyday reality: how do people who consider themselves middle – class organize morally normative social relations? How do their self – understanding and identiy representations link with their self – understanding and identity representations link with their social practice? What are the actualities of these people, beyond imagination or representation? Kathinkaa Froystad (2006), Ruchira Ganguly Scrase (2003) and Margit van Wessel (2001, 2004) are among the notable exceptions in this regard. Their research, however, concentrates on the northern and eastern cultural spheres in India unlike the principal focus of this monograph which is directed towards the southern cultural sphere with its specific kin relations and socio – political context, thereby complementing the understanding of the Indian new middle classes provided by these exemplary earlier studies in other part of the country. The works of Dickey (2000) and Hancock (1999) are among the very few anthropological studies that touch upon some aspects of middle – class life in southern India.

The reason why such accounts of the social realities of the Indian new middle classes have thus far been rare is partly based on the difficulty of studying this group. People who consider themselves middle class are in the throes of constant, even fierce struggle over prestige and propriety, and are very reluctant to give any outsider access behind the scenes of their life project. The need to keep up appearances is pronounced and interviews and surveys are not very fruitful means of deconstructing commonplace cultural narratives and repetitions of the self – evident. This book intends to aid in filling this void by basing its argument on empirical, ethnographic material, thereby problematising the difference between representations and social experience.

The epistemological approach represented here is that of critical realism (for example, Danermark et al. 2001; Sayer 2000), taking the standpoint that social reality at least partly exists independently of the observer, and thus the examination and interpretation of constructed representations alone does not suffice for understanding social processes. Causal social relationships exist and are only occasionally actualized. The ‘critical’ in critical realism in turn refers to awareness of the insufficiency of our knowledge of any social reality; reality is not immanently there to be examined, but we have to be constantly aware and critical of social inquiry, of the relationship between the ‘word and the world’. Thus social scientists have to be critical of their own positionality as the medium of social explanation and understanding. I take a different point of view on social life than constructionist – oriented researchers, whose main interest lies in narratives, representations and performance (e.g., Liechty 2003). I consider it essential to contextualize discourse within social action.

The study of new middle classes in Asian societies has gained ground since the 1960s, when the transformative role of the new middle classes in Japan became the topic of Ezra Vogel’s towering empirical studies (Vogel 1991 [1963]). The part played by the everyday praxis of middle classed in other parts of Asia has attracted similar attention since the 1990s (for example. Chua 2000a; Favero 2005; Robison and Goodman 1996; Liechty 2003; Osella and Osella 2000; Pinches 1999; Sen and Stivens 1998; Van Wessel 2001, 2004; Lett 1998; Kahn 1994; Sloane 1999). However, thus far we lack a synthesising analysis of the ways socio – cultural processes among Asian middle classes, including India, are interrelated, and to what extent they are culture – specific. Thus in this monograph the Indian new middle – class reality is juxtaposed with available research on middle classes in other Asian societies, especially those with traditionally hierarchical social structures.

Even when we are studying a class of people who live their lives in media and migratory flows and are subject to global influences, it is important to attend to lived experience an social reality. People everywhere live localized lives even if they are parts of global networks. While people’s lives are globally interconnected, they also inhabit material living quarters and house, with neighbours, relatives and particular social networks. This down – to – earth connectedness is the foundation of the everyday even if the surface is characterised by transnational linkages, migration, media, and mass consumption with wider. Global trajectories. The global and transnational influences are, in the last stance, interpreted and assigned meaning within face – to – face interaction. Social and cultural worlds that may be constituted from diverse materials of various origins are always expressed through meaningful relationships that are accessible through ethnographic methods (Eriksen 2003). While the general trend in anthropology during the last decades has been to stress holistic. Particularistic analyses of cultural worlds and to avoid structural models and generalizations based on comparisons, here the attempt is to move beyond he simplistic re – statement of cultural heterogeneity: to draw up connecting lines between the Indian and wider Asian new middle – class formation. Ethnography, base on extended participant observation by a cultural stranger, provides the tools for assessing the viability of macro – level theoretical statements.

Contents

Acknowledgements ix
Introduction 1
1. Paradoxes of Control: Reproduction, morality and marriage 29
2. Middle – Class Forms of Relatedness 61
3.Imagined Worlds: People and images on the move 90
4. Making a Difference, Claiming Belonging: Morality and the middle – class urge to consume 117
5. Religious Zeal: Creating a middle- class Hindu identity 149
6. Domesticating Earthly Success 177
Conclusion: Middle – class moralities and global contexts 200
Glossary 208
References 210
Index 223
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