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

March 27, 2019, 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm

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

Discussant: David Ludden, Professor of History at New York University

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.


March 27, 2019
4:00 pm - 6:00 pm
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