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Ghosts of Hierarchies Past: Inequality, Hierarchy, and Blame in Nepal

Ghosts of Hierarchies Past: Inequality, Hierarchy, and Blame in Nepal
19 Russell Street, Room AP246
Time: Sep 19th, 11:00 am End: Sep 19th, 2:00 pm
Interest Categories: South Asian, Religion, Study of (FAS), Political Science, Ethnography, East Asian Studies (FAS), Anthropology (UTSC), Anthropology (UTM), Anthropology (FAS), 2000-
Talk by David Gellner (University of Oxford)

The Department of Anthropology and the Centre for South Asian Studies presents Anthropology Colloquium Series

Ghosts of Hierarchies Past: Inequality, Hierarchy, and Blame in Nepal

The hierarchies of the past are challenged, politically and socially, in two important, contested, and interconnected fields in contemporary Nepal: in caste/ethnic relations and in the construction of national identity. In both areas blame (i.e. accusations of responsibility for harm) and recrimination were very evident during 2015, when the country faced two massive shocks, namely the earthquakes of April-May and the blockade of September-December. And yet there were and have been glimmers of hope too, in some moves by idealistic youth in both fields to take responsibility.

Aspects of Dumont's theory of hierarchy are helpful for understanding this situation, for all that the encompassment of the impure by the pure is deeply and strongly rejected in today's Nepal, as in the rest of South Asia. Dumont can be supplemented by Ambedkar on the graded nature of hierarchy and the importance of contempt in constructing it. As heads of households, members of the elite no longer see themselves as responsible for large numbers of hangers-on, as they would have done only two generations ago. Only political parties, through the mobilization of economic and licencing networks, have the resources to support large-scale hierarchies. The relative equalization of esteem, and the flattening of responsibility, on the part of individuals, combined with the pre-eminence of parties (still dominated by gerontocracies) as mobilizers of hierarchy, deference, and money-this combination of factors may help to explain the corruption, short-termism, and apparent lack of any substantial political vision on the part of Nepal's leaders over the last 25 years.

David Gellner is Professor of Social Anthropology and a Fellow of All Souls. He was Head of the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography from 2009-2012. His doctoral research (1982-4) was on the traditional, Vajrayana Buddhism of the Newars and on Newar social organization, in the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal. He has carried out fieldwork in the Kathmandu Valley on many subsequent occasions, broadening his interests to include politics and ethnicity, healers, mediums, and popular approaches to misfortune, and religious change, in particular the history and effects of the newly introduced Theravada Buddhist movement. In 1991 he did three months' exploratory fieldwork on Buddhist priests in Japan. For eight years he taught at Brunel University, west London, the first British university to introduce a Master's course in medical anthropology. For three years from 2002-5 he held a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship for research into the social history and practice of activism in Nepal (for the academic year 2003-4 he combined this with a Visiting Professorship at the Research Institute for Cultures and Languages of Asia and Africa, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies).

11:00am-1:00pm, followed by lunch 1:00-2:00pm. Please RSVP for lunch.


This event is free and open to all. Registration is required. For further information, please contact the Asian Institute, Rachel Ostep at 416-946-8996.

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