The Anthropology of South Asia

The Anthropology of South Asia


Convenor: Professor David Gellner 

Anthropology of South Asia

Anthropology as a discipline has a problematic history due to its long-standing romance with primitivism and alterity as well as its close imbrication with colonialism. Nowhere is this better reflected than in the concepts and tropes that define the standardised Anthropology of South Asia. This course constitutes an attempt to decolonise and subvert such a study of this region. It does so by critically questioning the canonical literature and discarding the normative frames through which South Asia has historically been studied and taught. We will retain a reliance on the ethnographic method as a primary tool to understand South Asia, but will expand the usual ‘canonical’ reading list and reformulate some of its themes. The 8 weeks will cover the following topics: Animals; Bureaucracy; Space; Film and Media; Law; Nation-Making/Partition; Kinship; Democracy and Populism. Gender, Religion, and Caste will be integrated into every lecture rather than featuring as stand-alone separate sessions. Similarly, the nation-states comprising contemporary South Asia will be included in each lecture session to the extent possible. Academic books will be read alongside fiction, art, blog posts, and films.

Take a look at…

C.J. Fuller.  2004, 2nd ed. The Camphor Flame: Popular Society and Hinduism in India.  Princeton: Princeton University Press.

K. Boo. 2012.  Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Slum.  New York: Random House.

M.N. Srinivas.  1976. The Remembered Village.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.

S. Jodhka.  2012. Caste.  New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

S. Lamb and D. Mines.  2012, 2nd ed.  Everyday Life in South Asia.  Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.


The image above shows a poster from the Incredible India campaign that has been launched by the Indian Ministry of Tourism in order to rebrand and market India as a novel tourist destination. Heavily reliant upon self-exoticisation, many of these posters draw upon the very same categories and visual tropes through which anthropological knowledge of South Asia has traditionally been constructed.