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South Asia Center presents: Nicole Wilson

341 Eggers Hall

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South Asia Center presents: Nicole Wilson, Department of Anthropology, Syracuse University “Everyone Knows the Story of the Greedy Dog”: The Middle Class Moral Dilemma in South India In a reactionary essay concerning the recent Indian middle class anti-corruption movement led by Anna Hazare, Arjun Appadurai identifies the formation of two distinct Indian middle class selves as a consequence of modernity and a foundation for angst-ridden social activism in the Indian public sphere. These selves, he argues, are at war - a “modern, abstract and impersonal” identity versus a “self-interested, family-oriented and totally localistic” self – in the lives of many middle class Indians. I argue that at the heart of this formation and confrontation of selves, as well as movements sprung from these clashes, is a communal understanding and employment of a conceived middle class moral compass that embodies particular class and caste-based values and worldviews. In this paper, I identify and explore middle class morality and value systems as they were revealed to me in the south Indian city of Madurai, Tamilnadu. I use ethnographic material collected between 2009 and 2011, as well as examples from Tamil cinema and literature, to illustrate the battle between “modern” and “traditional” selves, commenting on how these confrontations are manifested in the moral codes and daily interactions of middle class Tamils.


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