Why is ‘ethnicity’ such a potent force, whether understood as an analytical construct, a political resource, or an affective anchor for identity? Despite an apparent academic consensus over the last two decades that ethnicity had become a ‘blunt’ intellectual tool (Banks 1996), the concept has received renewed attention across the social sciences in the form of recent publications like James Scott’s Art of Not Being Governed (2009) and John and Jean Comaroff’s Ethnicity, Inc. (2009). My talk draws upon ongoing ethnographic work with ethnic activists and community members in Nepal and India to engage critically with these interventions, and to propose a new way of understanding contemporary ethnic consciousness. I argue that the production of ethnicity may be understood as a ritual process, through which individuals self-consciously frame their own identities in relation to a range of external actors, including the state, development agencies, and the divine world.
A light buffet lunch will be provided. Please contact Dr Anne Alexander to reserve a place.