Cover

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pp. 1-5

Contents

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pp. v-7

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Acknowledgments

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pp. vii-xi

I savor the moment when I can thank all the people who have contributed their enthusiasm, suggestions, warmth, and institutional support to this project over the years. In one case, all these qualities coincided with the pleasures of sharing, for a brief time, fieldwork. I begin by thanking Stella. I lived with Stella,...

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Note on Transliteration

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pp. xiii-15

have used the Tamil Lexicon as the basis for transliterating Tamil words into English orthography with appropriate diacritical marks. There is a strong demarcation between spoken and written Tamil, or “low” and “high” Tamil. There are also marked political and practical distinctions between the more...

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Introduction

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pp. 1-10

This book is my sustained response to a puzzlement that has refused to leave me since I began ethnographic research in the early 1980s. Far from losing force, an enigma has remained disturbingly alive. Thinking about it has, in successive stages, slowly shaped my responses to wider issues. Yet...

Part I: State Intellectuals and Minor Practices

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pp. 11-27

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Chapter 1. Visible and Invisible Bodies: Rural Women and State Intellectuals

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pp. 13-41

Since my earliest fieldwork in coastal villages of Kanyakumari in the 1980s (Ram 1991b), I have found myself in the thick of all manner of programs and interventions in the lives of villagers, undertaken by professionals of various kinds. Such a sense of being surrounded by programs was no doubt...

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Chapter 2. Minor Practices

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pp. 42-69

Living in and moving around Tamil villages affords the middle-class intellectual an opportunity to become aware of phenomena that fall outside the range of what she knows or even quite recognizes. Anthropology has simply systematized and elaborated the kind of reflexivity by which that intellectual...

Part II: Gender, Agency, Justice

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pp. 71-87

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Chapter 3. Possession and the Bride: Emotions, the Elusive Phantom of Social Theory

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pp. 73-105

I met Vijaya in 1983.1 She was then a young bride. She and her husband, James, lived in a somewhat makeshift fashion with her married sister and the sister’s household in the coastal village of Katalkarai Ūr in Kanyakumari District, Tamil Nadu. Villagers who knew of my interest in possession referred...

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Chapter 4. The Abject Body of Infertility

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pp. 106-131

The material in this chapter is based primarily on my relationship with a woman called Santi, who had experienced possession episodes ever since moving to her affinal village as a young bride. I first became acquainted with her in the early 1980s during my initial period of fieldwork in a coastal fishing...

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Chapter 5. Learning Possession, Becoming Healer

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pp. 132-156

In this chapter I explore a category of women mediums who “heal” while possessed.1 Such healers, called spirit mediums in the anthropological literature, have been widely noted in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka (Trawick Egnor 1982; Hancock 1999; Kapadia 1995; Obeyesekere 1981; Kapferer 1991).2 In...

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Chapter 6. Performativity in the Court of the Goddess

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pp. 157-193

Spirit mediums are typically incorporated in anthropological discourse into the general category of “healers.” However, anthropology must also contend with the currents of meaning that are set in motion when the term “healing” is invoked and that carry it swiftly away from the world of rural...

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Chapter 7. The Nature of the Complaint

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pp. 194-221

Mediums such as Mary and Mutamma are both agents and instruments in the conduct of a Court of Divine Law. The people who attend them are petitioners. But what is the nature of the complaint? I take the term “complaint” from Wilce’s (1998) fine ethnography of “troubles talk” among rural Bangladeshi...

Part III: Revisiting the Projects of Modernity

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pp. 223-239

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Chapter 8. Possession and Social Theory

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pp. 225-251

This book has proceeded as an instance of a classic anthropological gamble. The gamble takes something like the following form: if we unsettle certain underpinnings of a variety of Western scholarly traditions by moving the grounds of investigation to another place, might not that process also shed...

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Chapter 9. Possession and Emancipatory Politics

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pp. 252-276

In this book I have deliberately refrained from urging readers to view the agency of possession and mediumship as “resistance” to power or as “empowerment,” let alone as a radical liberation from caste, class, and gender relations of power. The reasons for this deliberate restraint can now be...

Notes

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pp. 277-284

Bibliography

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pp. 285-303

Index

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pp. 305-317