Retro-modern India: Forging the Low-caste Self, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Retro-modern India

Forging the Low-caste Self, 1st Edition

By Manuela Ciotti

Routledge India

312 pages

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Firmly situated within the analytics of the political economy of a north Indian province, this book explores self-fashioning in pursuit of the modern amongst low-caste Chamars. Challenging existing accounts of national modernity in the non-West, the book argues that subaltern classes shape their own ideas about modernity by taking and rejecting from models of other classes within the same national context. While displacing the West — in its colonial and non-colonial manifestations — as the immanent comparative focus, the book puts forward a unique framework for the analysis of subaltern modernity. This builds on the entanglements between two main trajectories, both of which are viewed as the outcome of the generative impetus of modernisation in India: the first consists of the Chamar appropriation of socio-cultural distinctions forged by 19th-century Indian middle classes in their encounter with colonial modernity; the second features the Chamar subversion of high-caste ideals and practices as a result of low-caste politics initiated during the 20th century. The author contends that these conflicting trends give rise to a temporal antinomy within the Chamar politics of self-making, caught up between compulsions of a past modern and of a contemporary one. The eclectic outcome is termed as ‘retro-modernity’. While the book signals a politics of becoming whose dynamics had previously been overlooked by scholars, it simultaneously opens up novel avenues for the understanding of non-elite modern life-forms in postcolonial settings.

The book will interest scholars of anthropology, South Asian studies, development studies, gender studies, political science and postcolonial studies.


"Ciotti convincingly stakes out the theoretical underpinnings of “retro-modernity” and carefully builds her argument in each chapter. As such, Retro-modern India makes an original and important contribution to the field and will certainly provoke and stimulate anyone with an interest in post-colonial modernity from a “subaltern” point of view." - Clarinda Still, Pacific Affairs: Volume 84, No. 4 – December 2011

Table of Contents

Orthography and Transliteration. Glossary of Selected Terms. Foreword. Acknowledgements 1. Chamar Modernity: Progressing into the Past 2. 'Today We Cannot Touch Anything': Reflections on the Crux of Identity and Political Economy 3. Ethnohistories Behind Local and Global Bazaars: Chronicle of a Weaving Community and its Disappearance 4. 'We Used to Live like Animals': A Self- and Community-engineering Process 5. Irrational Modernity? Religious Agency, Science and Spirits 6. Beyond the Vote: Politics as Sociality, Imagination and Identity 7. The Bourgeois Woman and the Half-naked One: Gendering Retro-modernity 8. The Politics of Indian Modernity Bibliography. About the Author. Index

About the Author

Manuela Ciotti is a social anthropologist with a PhD from the London School of Economics. She is currently Research Associate at the Centre for South Asian Studies, University of Edinburgh. She has published several articles in leading journals on topics ranging from education, labour ethnohistory, gender and class transformation, and women’s political activism.

Drawing on research she carried out during the tenure of a Nuffield Foundation New Career Development Fellowship, Ciotti is completing her second monograph entitled Political Agency and Gender in India (forthcoming). An edited volume entitled Femininities and Masculinities in Indian Politics (forthcoming) develops the different aspects of the gender and politics nexus. Ciotti’s focus on South Asian Studies is intertwined with her interests in anthropological epistemologies and the politics of location and representation; converging on these, a monograph provisionally entitled 'Producing Knowledge in Late Modernity: Lessons from India' is under preparation.

About the Series

Exploring the Political in South Asia

Exploring the Political in South Asia is devoted to the publication of research on the political cultures of the region. The books in this Series will present qualitative and quantitative analyses grounded in field research, and will explore the cultures of democracies in their everyday local settings, specifically the workings of modern political institutions, practices of political mobilisation, manoeuvres of high politics, structures of popular beliefs, content of political ideologies and styles of political leadership, amongst others. Through fine-grained descriptions of particular settings in South Asia, the studies presented in this Series will inform, and have implications for, general discussions of democracy and politics elsewhere in the world.

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