NIAS Student Presentation: ‘Giving Back’: Diaspora Philanthropy and the Transnationalisation of Caste in Guntur (India) by Sanam Roohi, Lecture Hall, 1400 hrs

Final Colloquium

Title: ‘Giving Back’: Diaspora Philanthropy and the Transnationalisation of Caste in Guntur (India)

Candidate: Ms. Sanam Roohi

Advisor: Prof. Carol Upadhya

Co-Advisor: Prof.Willem van Schendel

Date: Monday, 29 August, 2016

Time:  2:00 pm

Venue: Lecture Hall, NIAS


Abstract: This thesis is an anthropological study of a group of highly educated international migrants belonging to the agrarian landowning elite of Coastal Andhra Pradesh, who have settled in the USA and other western countries. This affluent regional diaspora has engaged extensively in philanthropic projects for social development (especially in education, health and rural development) in their home region. Based on 15 months of field research carried out in Andhra and the US, the thesis examines discursive and processual aspects of these diasporic philanthropic practices to offer insights into the shaping of a transnational community that remains culturally and materially rooted in Andhra and in regional social formations of caste, class and kinship.

Members of this transnationalised community fashion themselves as responsible ‘global citizens’ of India, who are obligated to ‘give back’ some of the wealth that they have acquired through professional education and international migration to help ‘develop’ their home region. Drawing on literature on migration and transnationalism and on historical and anthropological studies of caste, exchange and reciprocity, the thesis attempts to understand the mechanisms and motivations behind diaspora philanthropy in Coastal Andhra, and to explicate its role in the reconstitution of caste within a transnational social field.

The thesis traces how transnational philanthropy became institutionalised within diasporic associations and as well as within the local state in Guntur district. It explores how the state has harnessed migrant resources for local development projects, and conversely how these transnational actors have interfaced with state agencies in the pursuit of their own agendas, thereby entangling diaspora philanthropy with local caste-inflected politics. Yet, the institutionalisation of philanthropy in this case is shown to be a mutation of earlier forms of giving with colonial roots, in which caste became a principle axis of community formation and assertion, and patronage within the caste a key modality of building caste solidarity. With the global dispersal of this regionally dominant group and the accumulation of economic and cultural capital through migration, this older caste habitus has been reproduced but also altered in particular ways. Transnational giving has become an act of obligation and reciprocity within a caste-based community that has become transnational. These transnational practices are also enmeshed in a neoliberal economy and governance practices, thereby reconstituting older structures and forms of dominance in Coastal Andhra within the contemporary globalising political-economic formation.

All are invited to attend

Monday, August 29, 2016