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Caste, Entrepreneurship and the Illusions of Tradition

Caste, Entrepreneurship and the Illusions of Tradition

Branding the Potters of Kolkata

By Geir Heierstad

This ethnographic study is an empirical exploration of caste through the story of Indian potters who have transformed caste into a marketable brand in the business of selling sculptures. To these contemporary potters, caste is in their blood, caste is about being a creative and independent artist, and caste is about business, as they engage in a competitive market to sell their artworks.

Hardback, 236 Pages

ISBN:9781783085163

January 2017

£70.00, $115.00

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  • About This Book
  • Reviews
  • Author Information
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  • Table of Contents
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About This Book

In Kolkata’s traditional potter quarter of Kumartuli, a modern and a competitive market oriented approach to life is concealed behind tradition. Among the potters inhabiting the dirt-floored workshops of this caste-based neighbourhood, the history of a modern and economicly neoliberal-minded India unfolds. To these contemporary potters, caste is in their blood, caste is about being a creative and independent artist, and caste is about business as they engage in a competitive market to sell their artworks. This ethnographic study presents an analysis of these potters’ lives and the related commodification and instrumentalization of caste. An important insight is that Kumartuli consists of a group of artisans turned artists who do not display passive responses to colonial and capitalist encounters. On the contrary, this monograph unearths an ingenious and business-minded group that engages actively with the modern and economic developments of society at large, and, in the process, redefines the concept of caste identity. This study suggests a new academic direction for the study of modern India, and of caste in particular, through an empirically grounded portrayal of the synthesis of traditional categories and contemporary realities.

Reviews

‘Through a meticulous ethnographic study, this book offers an interesting account of how caste identity and the potters' craft of the Kumars of Kumartuli have survived in a competitive modern world of global capital. As there are not many serious academic studies on artisanal castes of Bengal, this book will be welcomed by scholars.’
Sekhar Bandyopadhyay, Head, School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations, and Director, New Zealand India Research Institute, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

‘This ethnographically based study of the potter caste of Kolkata is a solid account that helps us understand how tradition adapts to globalization. It is also a loving account of Kolkata and its society.’ –Arild Engelsen Ruud, Professor of South Asia Studies, University of Oslo, Norway

Author Information

Geir Heierstad is research director of international studies at the Norwegian Institute of Urban and Regional Research, and former associate professor in South Asia studies at the Department of Cultural Studies and Oriental Languages, University of Oslo, Norway. Heierstad is co-author of Indiske utfordringer (Indian Challenges, 2014), and coeditor of The Politics of Caste in West Bengal (2016), India’s Democracies: Diversity, Co-optation, Resistance (2016) and Demokrati på indisk (Democracy Indian Style, 2010).

Series

Diversity and Plurality in South Asia

Table of Contents

List of Figures; Acknowledgements; Transliteration and Terminology; Prologue: The Durga Puja Business; 1. On Kumars, Modernity, Caste and Commodification; 2. The Civilized Potters and Their Neighbourhood; 3. Birth of Tradition, Coming of Modernity; 4. Ancestral Homes – East versus West; 5. Turmoil and Economics; 6. Accumulated Value: Education and Caste as Assets; 7. Commodification of Caste; References; Index.

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