Chris Fuller: “H. H. Risley and the Bhadralok: Anthropology and the State in colonial Bengal, 1871-1911”

Speakers: Chris Fuller, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at London School of Economics

Paper Abstract: H. H. Risley, author of The Tribes and Castes of Bengal (1891) and The People of India (1908), and the 1901 census commissioner, was the pre-eminent anthropologist of British India, as well as a high-ranking Indian Civil Service officer. Risley has been discussed and usually criticized by all modern scholars of colonial anthropology in India. But modern scholars, who have paid less attention to Risley’s colleagues or to any of them as individuals, have tended to misrepresent colonial anthropology as a body of knowledge having a uniform relationship with an agentless colonial state. In reality, there were important differences in how the connection between anthropology and the state developed in different men’s careers in different provinces. In Risley’s case, the single most significant factor was the set of predispositions or attitude of mind he had towards the high-caste Hindu, English-educated, urban middle class that formed the core of the Bengali bhadralok in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

About Prof. Chris Fuller

Prof. Fuller specializes in India. His first fieldwork (1971-2) was in Kerala in southwest India among the Nayars and the Syrian Christians, and his work particularly focused on kinship among the Nayars, famous for their matriliny. In 1976, Fuller started field research in the great temple of Madurai in Tamilnadu, southeast India, which is dedicated to the Hindu goddess Minakshi. During the next twenty-five years, he periodically visited the temple to study the priests, whose lives changed radically during that time, although he also did extensive research on the temple’s highly elaborate ritual cycle. From 2003-5, with other colleagues in LSE, Fuller worked on a major research project, sponsored by ESRC, on regionalism, nationalism and globalisation in India, and his research has focused on middle-class company managers and software professionals in the city of Chennai (Madras). From 2005-8, with Haripriya Narasimhan, he carried out an ESRC-sponsored research project on a group of Tamil Brahmans, focusing on this traditional elite’s modern transformation into a migratory, urbanised, trans-national community. Their book based on this research, Tamil Brahmans: The Making of a Middle-Class Caste, is published by the University of Chicago Press and Social Science Press (New Delhi). Fuller has also researched and written extensively on popular Hinduism and Hindu nationalism, the caste system, the anthropology of the state and other topics. His current research is on the history of the anthropology of India.

Sunil Amrith and Francis Bradley on “Mobility and Territoriality Around the Indian Ocean, 1750-1950”

An Event Co-Sponsored with Center for Global Asia

Speakers: Sunil Amrith and Francis Bradley

Topic: Mobility and Territoriality Around the Indian Ocean, 1750-1950

Schedule:

4:00- 5:15. Francis Bradley, Pratt Institute

Title: Mecca to Southeast Asia: The Patani Islamic Knowledge Networks

Abstract: In the nineteenth century, Mecca became far more accessible to Muslims around the globe. A contingent of exiles from Patani, a Malay kingdom that once comprised territory on both sides of the current Malay-Thai border and that had been conquered by Siam in the 1780s, came to play a leading role in the dissemination of religious texts throughout Southeast Asia. This paper focuses on the influential Patani shaykh Daud b. ‘Abd Allah al-Fatani (1769-1847), author of over 40 works, whose circle of students returned and founded the pondok system of education in Malaya with his texts as the core books and spread the texts into other connected areas in Southeast and South Asia, the Middle East, and southern Africa.

5:15-5:30. Break

5:30-6:45.Sunil Amrith, Harvard University

Title: “Space, Inequality, and the Bay of Bengal’s First Migration Crisis”

Abstract: This presentation will examine why modern citizenship in South and Southeast Asia was built upon the disavowal of migration. This history has enduring consequences in the region today: witness the protracted and violent conflicts that have consumed Sri Lanka and Burma since the 1980s, to all of which the issue of citizenship has been central, or the enduring marginalization and discrimination faced by minorities in Malaysia. This is the central paradox Sunil hopes to explore: it was precisely because a world of circulating migrant labor seemed so starkly an illustration of the inequalities and the violence of colonial capitalism, by the 1930s, that so many postcolonial states stepped in to regulate or even to prevent it; yet, in doing so, new laws had a devastating effect on the lives of millions of people who had built their lives upon mobility. While focusing on the political history of struggles over migration in the 1930s and 1940s, he hopes to bring in the spatial and even ecological dimension of this, arguing (from my new book, Unruly Waters), that one corollary to the sense of enclosure that set in across the Indian Ocean, was a newfound struggle to control natural resources, and water above all.

Readings on file here.