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Social Mobility in Kerala

Social Mobility in Kerala

Modernity and Identity in Conflict

by Filippo Osella and Caroline Osella

Series: Anthropology, Culture and Society

An ethnographic study of the Izhavas in Kerala, India, highlighting the complexities and contradictions of modern identity.
The Izhavas are an ex-untouchable community in the southern Indian state of Kerala. Politically and economically weak, stigmatised as 'toddy tappers' and 'devil dancers', and considered unapproachable by clean caste Hindus, a century ago Izhavas were associated with other manual-labouring untouchable castes. In recent decades they have sought to improve their position by accumulating economic, symbolic and cultural capital through employment, religion, politics, migration, marriage, education and have tried to assert their right to mobility, often in the face of opposition from their high status Christian and Nayar neighbours.

This study examines how Izhavas, through repudiation of their nineteenth-century identity and search for mobility, have come into complex relationships with modernity, colonialism and globalisation. Filippo Osella and Caroline Osella highlight the complexities and contradictions of modern identity, both locally and globally. The authors' approach builds upon and goes beyond a south Asian focus, showing how the Izhavas represent the rise of formerly stigmatised groups who remain at the same time trapped by stereotype and material disadvantage. Absolute mobility, they argue, has not led to relative mobility within a society which remains stratified and prone to new forms of social exclusion.

Filippo Osella is the Professor Of Anthropology And South Asian Studies at the University of Sussex. He is the author of Social Mobility in Kerala (Pluto Press, 2000) and the editor of Religion and the morality of the market (CUP, 2017).

Caroline Osella is a Reader in Anthropology with a specialism in South Asia. She teaches at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. She is the author of Social Mobility in Kerala (Pluto Press, 2000).

'Essential reading for Indianists and those engaged in the comparative study of modernity, be they anthropologists, historians, or sociologists' - Ethnos 'This comprehensive ethnographic study by two social anthropologists of a community in the southern Indian state of Kerala provides a deep understanding of Keralite society, setting it within a complex analytical framework that goes far beyond most previous literature on the area.' - International Review of Social History
1. Introduction
2. Working for Progress
3. Marriage and Mobility
4. Consumption: Promises of Escape
5. Religion as a Tool for Mobility
6. Mobility and Power
7. Micropolitics, or the Political in the Personal
8. Conclusions
Published by Pluto Press in Dec 2000
Paperback ISBN: 9780745316932

336 pages

135mm x 215mm