CASTE IN THE SAME MOLD AGAIN: ARTISANS AND THE INDIGNITIES OF INHERITANCE IN SRI LANKA
Douglas, Aimee C.
In a context of transforming expectations regarding the who, how, and what of heritage stewardship around the world, this dissertation examines caste’s revitalization through boundary work carried out by a variety of actors and across a range of practical and discursive moments. Through a wide selection of ethnographic vignettes, it analyzes such boundary work around caste from multiple vantage points to illustrate how this category of identification is reproduced in tension with and in the service of neoliberal processes that have shaped Sri Lanka’s “traditional craft industries” since the 1977 implementation of an “open economy policy.” Grounded in two years of ethnographic fieldwork in the country’s central province, the dissertation offers anthropological insight into what happens at the level of everyday experience when the logics of neoliberal economics and democratic egalitarianism become entangled with nationalist investments in heritage on the one hand, and the apparent specters of pre-modern preoccupations with hierarchy and honor on the other. In this majority Buddhist island country, caste among the Sinhalese has long been popularly rejected as an anachronistic and lamentable artifact of pre-colonial society, its public discussion generally avoided to an extreme. Focusing on two industries regarded as exemplary of Sri Lanka’s traditional handicrafts, Dumbara rata weaving and the hana industry, I document the complex ways in which some of the country’s most historically marginalized peoples, individuals at the lowest rungs of what is often figured as a Sinhala caste hierarchy, face the consequences of caste’s quiet but indisputable reproduction in their daily lives. Challenging a persistent sense in scholarship on the country that caste is somehow destined to disappear, the dissertation’s primary aim is to demonstrate not just that caste as a category of identification is alive and well, but also how this is so. As significantly, it is to illustrate beyond any doubt that its reproduction is the shared responsibility of actors across the strata of class, gender, age and caste.
Cultural anthropology; South Asian studies
Munasinghe, Viranjini P.
Fiskesjo, Nils Magnus G; Blackburn, Anne M.; Smith, Adam Thomas
Ph. D., Anthropology
Doctor of Philosophy
dissertation or thesis