Ethnographies of Schooling in Contemporary India


Edited by: Meenakshi Thapan

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    This collection of chapters is born out of an enormous need for good quality sociological studies of schooling in India. As a teacher of sociology in the Delhi School of Economics, where I teach courses such as the sociology of education and the sociology of schooling to MA and MPhil sociology students every year, I am dismayed by the absence of this work in a field that is rich with the promise of diverse material based on the experience of the participants in the process of schooling. To put it in a nutshell: the field of the sociology of education in India lacks ethnographies of the large array of schools that exist in the country and of the experience of children in these schools.

    A project was undertaken at the Department of Sociology with research funding by the University of Delhi from 2007 onwards to study different kinds of schools in Delhi, Ahmedabad and southern India with a twin focus on student culture and the values of citizenship education as they are promoted through schools and negotiated by students. Graduate students of the Department of Sociology were engaged in these projects on a part-time basis and conducted fieldwork in different secondary schools in Delhi. This was done under my guidance and supervision at the Department of Sociology. Professor Murray Milner, University of Virginia, was a visiting fellow at the Department of Sociology for a few months and provided guidance and feedback to the students. I remain indebted to him for the initial idea to begin this project and for his comments on students' work. Subsequently, the authors presented their work at in-house workshops in Delhi University and have been working on their papers which they have now finalised on the basis of detailed commentary and suggestions provided by the editor. These chapters form an important part of this volume. In addition to the chapters, all the authors have written brief accounts of their own school experience which have been included in Chapter 8. This collection of essays (except the editor's contribution) is an effort by next generation scholars who have spent research time on fieldwork in schools and writing even though it is not necessarily their main research interest. I am thankful to them for their contribution and for their continuing friendship and intellectual support.

    Students at the sociology department in the Delhi School of Economics have helped me to think things through better by their earnest quest for understanding and persistent questioning. I thank all of them for enriching my understanding of schools and schooling. I am forever indebted to that doyen of sociology in India, who supervised my own PhD dissertation on the study of a school as a socio-cultural system, Professor T.N. Madan, to whom this book is dedicated. He allowed me to follow my dreams and research questions with complete immersion in a field that was relatively unknown to him. His unobtrusive presence and friendship have been a continuous support in my intellectual life, and I am grateful to him for his comments on a chapter in this volume. I must also thank the anonymous reviewers at SAGE Publications for their thoughtful feedback and Professor Amman Madan and Dr Anuradha Sharma for their insightful comments on some chapters. I spent nine months on a Robert Schuman fellowship at the European University Institute at Florence (2012–2013) where I completed the writing and finalisation of my contributions and this volume as a whole. I thank Professor Philippe Fargues of the Migration Policy Centre for hosting me and providing an excellent environment for intellectual engagement and some quiet time for writing. This situation was sustained by the affectionate care and tender environs for our mother Aruna Thapan provided by Arjun Thapan and Mai Flor in the Philippines. Many thanks to them and to George for being there at all times, ever supportive, providing comfort, warmth and endless sustenance.

    The schools I have inhabited as a researcher are my other ‘life-worlds’ that give me food for thought and life as a sociologist. I thank them all for allowing me entry and tolerating my presence as an ethnographer in their midst. Above all, it is my interaction with students at these schools that has helped me the most to understand what schooling is all about and I am ever grateful to them for allowing me to engage with them and share their lives at school.

    MeenakshiThapan, University of Delhi, August 2013
  • About the Editor and Contributors


    Meenakshi Thapan is Professor of sociology at the Delhi School of Economics and Co-ordinator of the D.S. Kothari Centre for Science, Ethics and Education at the University of Delhi. She was Co-ordinator of the European Study Centre Programme, University of Delhi (January 2010-March 2012) and country partner (India) for the EU FP7 Project on EuroBroadMap. She is Series Editor for the series on Women and Migration in Asia, Volumes 1–5 (SAGE 2005–2008) and editor of Vol. 1: Transnational Migration and the Politics of Identity (SAGE 2005). She has also published Life at School (1991, 2006), Living the Body (SAGE 2009) and edited Embodiment: Essays on Gender and Identity (1997), Anthropological Journeys (1998), Contested Spaces. Citizenship and Belonging in Contemporary Times (2010) and (with Roland Lardinois) Reading Pierre Bourdieu in a Dual Context. Essays from India and France (2006).


    Chandana Anusha is a graduate student in anthropology at Yale University, with an undergraduate degree in the literature in English from Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi University and an MA in sociology at Delhi School of Economics. While she continues to be interested in the intersections of modes of stratification shaping educational opportunities and experiences in schooling, her current research tries to understand how land rights get legally articulated and contested, recently exploring the regional operations of a legislation that guarantees user and ownership rights over forest land. As an MA student, she also studied Filipina immigrant anxieties with reference to the Catholic Church in Milan with a research fellowship from the European Studies Centre Programme at the University of Delhi in 2010.

    Parul Bhandari is a PhD student at the Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge, and a Cambridge Commonwealth Scholar. Her doctoral thesis is on contemporary marriage practices among the urban middle class in India. She read for the MPhil in sociology from the University of Cambridge, and her dissertation was on matrimonial websites in India. She has presented papers from her MPhil and doctoral thesis at various conferences such as at the University of Wisconsin, University of Helsinki, Kyoto University, University of Delhi and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. Her primary research interests are marriage and the family. She has worked on the EuroBroadMap Project EU FP7 and has published an article entitled ‘Understanding Europe Through Indian Textbooks: An Analysis of Representations of Europe in Indian School Textbooks of History, Geography and Social Sciences’ in the proceedings of the EuroBroadMap project conference at the University of Rouen, France, in 2011.

    Maitrayee Deka is a student in the PhD programme at the Department of Sociology, University of Milan, working on informal electronic markets in Delhi. She has completed her MPhil in 2010 from the Department of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics, on corporeal practices and gender in cyberspace. She has worked as a research assistant in the EuroBroadMap project EU FP7, and has published an article ‘Understanding the Limits: The Perceptive, Practical and Imaginative Realm of the Private and the Public Spheres in Context of the Immigrant’ in the Working Paper Series, Migration: Global Reconstructions of Intimate and Public Spheres, 3rd Next-Generation Global Workshop, Kyoto. She has a joint publication (with Meenakshi Thapan) ‘South Asian Migrants in Europe: Heterogeneity, Multiplicity and the Overcoming of Difference’, published under the European Studies Programme Working Paper Series 2010/11, University of Delhi.

    Bhavya Dore has been working as a journalist at the Hindustan Times in Mumbai, covering school and higher education since October 2009. As a daily reporter, she has been reporting on various issues including the Right to Education Act, issues of employability and various educational reforms. She has also written on other issues including books, films and culture. She has completed BA (Hons.) in English literature from St. Stephen's College, MA in sociology from the Delhi School of Economics and MPhil in development studies from the University of Cambridge on a Commonwealth Scholarship. She has previously done freelance work for Outlook Traveller.

    Anannya Gogoi is Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology, Dibrugarh University, Assam, since February 2011. She has completed her graduation from Miranda House, Delhi University, and MA in sociology from the Department of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics. She is currently pursuing a PhD in the Department of Sociology, Dibrugarh University. Her publications include ‘Clean Energy Options and Community Participation’ and research articles in the North Eastern Research Bulletin (volumes XX and XXI). Her areas of research interest are sociology of gender and urban sociology.

    Tanya Matthan is currently a student in the MPhil programme at the Department of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics. Her dissertation examines the socio-natural dynamics of the mining industry, focusing on the shaping of ecologies, labouring bodies and political economies in the course of mineral extraction. She has a BA in Journalism and an MA in sociology, both from the University of Delhi. Her past research includes a joint project on forest councils and common property resources in Uttarakhand. Her areas of interest include political ecology, economic anthropology and the sociology of law.

    Anuradha Sharma teaches sociology at Kamala Nehru College, and has earlier taught at Lakshmibai College, Maitreyi College and Shyama Prasad Mukherjee College, University of Delhi. She has recently been awarded a Phd in sociology by the University of Delhi and has contributed a chapter to a volume on contemporary India titled Samkaleen Bharat: Ek Parichay. She has also contributed a chapter on ‘Quentin Skinner on Reading a Text’ in a book titled Reading Gandhi. She has translated three articles from English to Hindi for the Hindi version of the same book Gandhi Ek Adhyayan.

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