Meritocracy and Democracy: the Social Life of Caste in India

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Thursday, January 14th, 2021

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Thursday, January 14, 20214:00PM - 6:00PMOnline Event, Online Event
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Description

How does the utopian democratic ideal of meritocracy reproduce historical inequality? My larger project pursues this question through a historical anthropology of engineering education in India. It looks at the operations of caste, the social institution most emblematic of ascriptive hierarchy, within the modern field of engineering education. At the heart of the study are the Indian Institutes of Technology, or IITs, a set of highly coveted engineering colleges that are equally representative of Indian meritocracy and, until recently, of caste exclusivity. In this talk, I hope to show that the politics of meritocracy at the IITs illuminates the social life of caste in contemporary India. Rather than the progressive erasure of ascribed identities in favor of putatively universal ones, what we are witnessing is the rearticulation of caste as an explicit basis for merit and the generation of newly consolidated forms of upper casteness.
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Ajantha Subramanian is Professor of Anthropology and South Asian Studies at Harvard University. Her first book, Shorelines: Space and Rights in South India (Stanford University Press, 2009; Yoda Press, 2013), chronicles the struggles for resource rights by Catholic fishers on India’s southwestern coast, with a focus on how they have used spatial imaginaries and practices to constitute themselves as political subjects. Her second book, The Caste of Merit: Engineering Education in India (Harvard University Press, 2019), analyzes meritocracy as a terrain of caste struggle in India and its implications for democratic transformation.

Chinnaiah Jangam is an Associate Professor in the Department of History. He holds M.A. in History from the University of Hyderabad; an M. Phil. In Modern Indian History from Jawaharlal Nehru University, and a Ph. D. from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He was awarded the Felix Fellowship and Harry Frank Guggenheim Dissertation Fellowship for Doctoral Studies. Jangam was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the International Center for Advanced Studies, New York University (2005-6), New York.  His research focus is on the social and intellectual history of Dalits in modern South Asia. His first book, Dalits and the Making of Modern India, was published by Oxford University Press in 2017.

Chinnaiah Jangam is an Associate Professor in the Department of History. He holds M.A. in History from the University of Hyderabad; an M. Phil. In Modern Indian History from Jawaharlal Nehru University, and a Ph. D. from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He was awarded the Felix Fellowship and Harry Frank Guggenheim Dissertation Fellowship for Doctoral Studies. Jangam was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the International Center for Advanced Studies, New York University (2005-6), New York.  His research focus is on the social and intellectual history of Dalits in modern South Asia. His first book, Dalits and the Making of Modern India, was published by Oxford University Press in 2017.


Speakers

Ajantha Subramanian
Speaker
Professor of Anthropology and South Asian Studies, Harvard University

Chinnaiah Jangam
Discussant
Associate Professor, Department of History, Carleton University

Bhavani Raman
Moderator
Associate Professor, Department of Historical and Cultural Studies, University of Toronto Scarborough


Main Sponsor

Asian Institute

Sponsors

Centre for South Asian Studies

Co-Sponsors

Department of Anthropology

Tamil Worlds Initiative, University of Toronto Scarborough


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