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SOCIAL THOUGHT & COMMENTARY
Ethnographies of Reading: Beyond Literacy and Books
Matthew Rosen, Ohio University
ABSTRACT—This social thought and commentary makes an argument for ethnographies of reading in an age of widespread literacy and global communication. The choice of method I propose is to start with the concrete practices of everyday readers. To situate this proposal in a specific ethnographic context, I draw on material from my research among a community of readers who spend time in a network of “footpath libraries” (vāchanālaya) in Pune, India. I then step back from ethnographic reporting to consider the topic of reading more broadly as an object of anthropology. I begin by situating the ethnography of reading in a range of everyday sites and historical locations. I next trace a condensed history of reading as a topic in anthropology—from its absence by definition in the foundation of a discipline that would study “the people without writing” to its emergence in the 1990s as a legitimate area of research. The discussion concludes with an analysis of the social reading of a “human-interest story” appearing in a Pune newspaper. My aim here is to show how the ethnography of ordinary reading can yield unexpected insights into to larger issues—in this case, the changing social fabric of a once-provincial city in western India. [Keywords: Ethnography, reading, reception, urban publics, the ordinary, Pune, India]
Fiction and an Indian Polyglot Anthropology
Ravindra K. Jain, Jawaharlal Nehru University
ABSTRACT—Each of the 29 officialy recognized languages of India has its own script as well as oral and written traditions. In the realm of Hindi fiction, a genre called anchalik upanyasa (broadly, regional novels) has grown; it purports to narrate holistically the linguistic and cultural ethos of a region. This piece focuses on one Hindi regional novel, Adha Gaon (Half a Village), which presents the life-world of Shia Muslims in rural Uttar Pradesh in north India; the author, Rahi Masoom Raza, is himself a native of this village. Since there is no extant professional ethnography of the Shia Muslims of rural north India, I use Adha Gaon’s narrative to describe and interpret Indian Muslim ethnicity in this regional setting. My description and analysis proceed by way of contextualization and comparison, two key anthropological methods. [Keywords: Regional novel, Shia Muslim, multiple traditions, Devanagari script, depictions of time, village factionalism, status and prestige, migration to and attitudes toward Pakistan]
Volume 88, #4
Kerry Chance, Azra Hromadzic, Matthew Kohrman, Karen Ringnall, Chris Tan, Greta Uehling and Chigusa Yamaura