A socio-cultural anthropologist, I am interested in comparative studies of diverse cultural traditions, social inequalities, and political-national modernity and globalism found among the social elite as well as the Subaltern groups engaged in social identity and justice movements. Starting with contemporary India, my transnational discussions expand, implicitly or explicitly, into discussing the modern “Western, European or American” value systems and social life ways. The goal is to explore and understand those interpenetrating forms and trajectories of cultural-religious-technological-political forces and communication networks that the earlier binary “East-West” cultural/civilizational typologies.
Most of my major research studies are field work based. The first field study, in 1958, was on a lower caste village in central Uttar Pradesh, India, for knowing whether its customary practices of domestic and community ritual purity and pollution promoted or prevented modern public health and personal hygienic behavior. The topic, unusual for the time, was identified from India by corresponding with two very helpful distinguished anthropologists—Raymond Firth (UK) and Benjamin D. Paul (US). This “theoretical-applied” (now a medical anthropological) topic had also related to my postdoctoral research at the University of Chicago (1963-64), including studies in adapting major upper-caste religious structures and domestic social life in Lucknow.
Such studies of the social top (i.e. Kanya-Kubja Brahmans) had prompted me to study next “the lowest” (i.e. Dalits or “Untouchables,” as known earlier). The first topic was studied from the early sixties to mid-seventies, involving several long and short field trips to a large city (Lucknow), a neighboring district town (Rae Bareli), and a cluster of villages. These studies, apropos McKim Marriott’s and/or Louis Dumont’s works, were concerned with the local/regional systems of traditional caste, family, food and kinship systems as much as their adaptations under modern urban caste/class forces (a la Milton Singer’s and M. N. Srinivas’s studies). An offshoot was to study the Indian food systems by themselves, with a philosophical, structural, symbolic and phenomenological focus at one end, and a practical one (hunger-health-nutrition based) at the other. The first installment of these interdependent studies had culminated during 1974-75, a visiting year spent at the Institute for Advanced Studies, Princeton.
Anthropology of food, culture and food problems developed further with me during the next decade, especially as Mary Douglas and I had co-chaired the International Commission on Anthropology of Food and Food Problems (1978-85) to promote the sub-disciplinary topic at transnational and international research institutions, organizations and agencies. In a complementary move, the then Center for Advanced Studies of the University of Virginia had supported for over a decade my interdisciplinary topical initiatives for fostering faculty collaboration across different university departments and schools, yielding lecture series, published “working papers,” and edited volumes and books.
Concurrently was developed a systematic study of India’s Dalits, including a long field trip in 1979-80 and several additional short trips through the eighties. This “switch” in research was personally (for an India-born caste Indian) eye-opening and professionally challenging. Predictably, Dalits were deeply suspicious of an “insider/outsider/émigré” like me. Being an “overcurious” anthropologist did not help either. The greater challenge: what the ordinary Dalit men and women were daily socially-politically up to. How were they, for instance, reconstructing their moral-spiritual autochthonous self-identity, while also gathering, daily bit by bit, a distinctly self-willed political-economic agency and activism in a democratic yet caste-prejudiced India? The mid- eighties writings, particularly The Untouchable as Himself, begun at Wolfson College, University of Oxford, accounted for such imagining. Though the historical accounts of such northern Dalit’s initiatives are still fragmentary, Dalit activism has been nevertheless long in evidence in caste alliance led electoral politics, and in countering upper-caste discrimination and exploitation. Such a Dalit focus also showed some blind spots of the erstwhile Dumont-Marriott style caste sociology, including major ignorance of how distinctly foundational roles the toiling, exploited yet tenacious Dalit women play in Dalit emancipation.
Since mid nineties, if Indian social inequalities, social-religious conflicts, gender violence and human rights issues have increasingly interested me, then I have also undertaken comparative reviews and critical evaluations of the mid twentieth-century anthropologists working on India and South Asia. A collection of my relevant studies were revised and published during 1996-97, while at the Wissenschaftskolleg, Berlin, Germany. During the last decade, with some of M. N. Srinivas’s exemplary writings on disciplinary intellectual history in mind, I have explored the contributions of Indian anthropologists/sociologists D. P. Mukerji, D. N. Majumdar and M. N. Srinivas, on the one hand, and comparatively, on the other, of those of Milton Singer, Louis Dumont, McKim Marriott, and Mary Douglas. I do so to highlight not only how the Anglo-American, the Indian and French anthropological studies have usefully cross-fertilized across the so-called India-West “divide” over the decades, but also to record my learning from and interaction with several of these anthropologists and their works.
Latest thus continues my fascination with the modifying “India-West” or “West-Rest” boundaries and their reimagining under globalizing political, economic and cultural communicational forces. This issue runs through not only all the anthropologists’ works listed above, it has been also a constant concern throughout my half-century long anthropological researches, writings and evaluations. The postcolonial, globalizing India (or the wider non-West) must devise appropriate ways not only to tackle its ever sharper religious differences and related nationalist identity politics, anthropology must also develop better suited approaches, methods and analyses to study thousand faces of modernity—now western, now non-western.
Post-War anthropological theories; ethnography and ethnographic writing; research design and field methods; contemporary Hinduism and Hindutva; senior seminar (social inequalities, postcolonial anthropology); anthropology of birth and death; cultural differences and human rights; social inequality and injustice issues in South Asia; and American dietary and health culture.
Post-War theories in socicultural anthropology; social inequalities and globalization; rationality, morality and anthropological relativism; colonial and postcolonial ethnographies: changing methods, contexts and writings; anthropological studies and anthropologists on (and in) India; contemporary India: caste, religion and cultural politics; Studying Hinduism: Old and New; India Dalits' ethnopoetics of protest and subaltern power; modernization and Islam; social inequalities in India and America; the post-War Indian Diaspora in America; the food ways and dietary cultures in India and America; and medico-legal issues surrounding modern birth and death technologies.
Forthcoming - Postscript: Looking Back to Look Ahead. In Curried Cultures: Globalization, Indian Food and the Urban Middle Class. Tulasi Srinivas and Krishnendu Ray, eds. Berkeley: University of California Press.
2012 - Introduction. In Caste, Hierarchy, and Individualism: Indian Critiques of Louis Dumont’s Contributions. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
2012 - Changing India-West Cultural Dialectics (India and the West, a symposium special number), New Literary History 40(2).
2012 - Postscript: Looking Back to Look Ahead. In Curried Cultures: Globalization, Indian Food and the Urban Middle Class. Tulasi Srinivas and Krishnendu Ray, eds. Berkeley: University of California Press.
2011 - The Unch-nich Challenge in Life: Changing Locations, Forces and Meanings. In Caste in Life: Experiencing Inequalities. D. Shyam Babu and R. S. Khare, eds. Delhi: Pearson Education.
2011 - Caste in Life: Encounters, Meanings and Challenges. (With D. Shyam Babu). New Delhi: Pearson Education.
2009 - Caste, Hierarchy and Individualism: Indian Critiques of Louis Dumont’s Contributions. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
2009 - Afterword. In Caste, Hierarchy, and Individualism: Indian Critiques of Louis Dumont’s Contributions. R. S. Khare, ed. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
2009 - India and the West: Issues in Globalizing History and Culture. New Literary History 40 (2:Spring 2009). (With Ralph Cohen).
2008 - Anthropology, India, and the Academic Self: A Disciplinary Journey Between Two Cultures over Four Decades. India Review 7 (4):349-377.
2006 - Caste, Hierarchy, and Individualism: Indian Critiques of Louis Dumont’s Contributions. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
2005 - Strands in Cultural Imagination: Interpreting Scholarly Itineraries in Indian Anthropology. Eastern Anthropologist 58 (1): 1-25. (D. N. Majumdar Memorial Lecture).
2005 - “Dalits’ Changing Challenges: Progressive Social Discourses and New Communication Strategies. Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies (4): 1-25. New Delhi.
2004 - Anna. In The Hindu World. Sushil Mittal and Gene Thursby, eds. New York: Routledge .
2002 - Two Disengaged Cultures, Two Distant Democracies: Anthropological Notes on Indian and American Political Ethos. In India and the U. S. in a Changing World. Ashok Kapoor, Harold A. Gould, and Arthur G. Rubinoff, eds. Pp. 245-296. London: Sage Publications.
1999 - Perspectives on Islamic Law, Justice and Society. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
1999 - The Issue of ‘Right to Food’ among the Hindus: Notes and Comments. In Tradition, Pluralism and Identity. Veena Das, Dipankar Gupta and Patricia Uberoi, eds. London: Sage Publications.
1998 - Elusive Social Justice, Distant Human Rights: Untouchable Women’s Struggles and Dilemmas in Changing India. In Changing Concepts of Rights and Justice in South Asia. Michael Anderson and Sumit Guha, eds. Delhi: Oxford University Press.
1998 - Cultural Diversity and Social Discontent: Anthropological Studies of Modern India. New Delhi, London, and Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.
1996 - Dava. Daktar and Dua: Anthropology of Practiced Medicine in India.. Social Science and Medicine 43 (5): 837-848.
1994 - On and About Postmodernism: Writing/Rewriting. (Editor, with Introduction) Baltimore: University Press of America.
1993 - The Seen and the Unseen: Hindu Distinctions, Experiences, and Cultural Reasoning. Contributions to Indian Sociology 27(2):191-212.
1992 - The Eternal Food: Gastronomic Ideas and Experiences of Hindus and Buddhists. Albany: State University of New York Press.
1984 - The Untouchable as Himself Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.