AN250      Half Unit
The Anthropology of South Asia

This information is for the 2016/17 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Mukulika Banerjee OLD5.09


This course is available on the BA in Anthropology and Law, BA in Social Anthropology and BSc in Social Anthropology. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.

Course content

This course will aim to address issues of citizenship, inequality, political participation and democratic governance in rural and urban India. The course will cover both classic and current literature and weekly sessions will be organised thematically. We will start by looking at Indias place in the world as a democracy and emerging economy and the many paradoxes that the country throws up - alongside some of the highest rates of economic growth, India also has one of the lowest performances on development indicators; despite 40% adult illiteracy, India has among the highest voter turnout rates in the world; despite local institutions having the least power compared to state level or the central government, ordinary people feel most invested in local elections; India remains largely rural yet India will hold the largest urban population in the world in less than ten years and so on. In order to understand these paradoxes, it is essential that issues of caste and class be examined in some detail, through the anthropological literature produced on these topics over the past 60 years or so. The changing caste dynamics will be examined through everyday practices of discrimination, violence and endogamy as well as institutional innovations of affirmative action for jobs and education. Class relations have also dramatically changed with land reforms in rural India as well as a substantial middle class has emerged in urban India. Economic reforms introduced since the 1990s have altered modes of retail and consumption in both urban and rural India creating new inequalities and entrenching old ones. In the political arena, these changing practices and dynamics have led to a democratic upsurge from below, leading to a greater participation in the electoral process by members of the lower castes and classes of India.  All these issues and more will be addressed in this course through the rich corpus of anthropological literature on the subject alongside examples from Indias vibrant media and popular culture.


10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the LT. 1 hour of lectures in the ST.

Film screenings will be scheduled at the start of term. One revision session in ST.

Formative coursework

Anthropology students taking this course will have an opportunity to submit a tutorial essay for this course to their academic advisers. For non-Anthropology students taking this course, a formative essay may be submitted to the course teacher.

Indicative reading

Please read at least TWO of the following background readings before the start of the course and certainly by the end of the second week of the course: Sunil Khilnani, The Idea of India; Ramachandra Guha, India After Gandhi; Katherine Boo, Behind The Beautiful Forevers; Amartya Sen, The Argumentative Indian; Corbridge, S. and Harris, J. 2000, Reinventing India: Liberalization, Hindu Politics and Popular Democracy. London: Polity Press.

Fiction: Vikram Seth, A Suitable Boy; Rohington Mistry, A Fine Balance.


Take home exam (100%) in the ST.

Key facts

Department: Anthropology

Total students 2015/16: Unavailable

Average class size 2015/16: Unavailable

Capped 2015/16: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information