Anthropology, Sociology and the Ethnography of British India, c. 1870-1947

Chris Fuller
Date and Time: 
Monday, October 7, 2013 - 3:15pm

Department of Anthropology
Main Quad - Building 50
Room 51A (Colloquium Room)


Bernard Cohn and other scholars have shown that ethnography was a vital part of British colonial knowledge about India, but they have paid relatively little attention to the relationship between colonial ethnography and metropolitan social science. In histories of British social anthropology, India has also been largely ignored. This paper will examine the ethnography written by the administrator-scholars of British India and their theoretical debates about caste and tribe. It will also look at how these debates were connected with late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century anthropology and sociology or, as was the often case with caste, developed independently. Finally, it will consider the colonial ethnography’s legacy in the postcolonial period.


Professor Chris Fuller specialises 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. A book based on this research, Tamil Brahmans: The Making of a Middle-Class Caste, will be published in 2014 by University of Chicago Press. Fuller has also researched and written extensively on popular Hinduism and Hindu nationalism, the caste system, the anthropology of the state and other topics.

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