Spirit Possession and Its Provocation of the Modern
Publication Year: 2013
Drawing on spirit possession among women and the rich traditions of subaltern religion in Tamil Nadu, South India, Ram concludes that the basis for constructing an alternative understanding of human agency need not rest on the usual requirements of a fully present consciousness or on the exercise of choice and planning. Instead of relegating possession, ghosts, and demons to the domain of the exotic, Ram uses spirit possession to illuminate ordinary experiences and relationships. In doing so, she uncovers fundamental instabilities that continue to haunt modern formulations of gender, human agency, and political emancipation. Fertile Disorder interrogates the modern assumptions about gender, agency, and subjectivity that underlie the social improvement projects circulating in Tamil Nadu, assumptions that directly shape people’s lives. The book pays particular attention to projects of family planning, development, reform, and emancipation.
Combining ethnography with philosophical argument, Ram fashions alternatives to standard post-modernist and post-structuralist formulations. Grounded in decades of fieldwork, ambitious and wide ranging, her work is conceived as a journey that makes incursions into the unfamiliar, then returns us to the familiar. She argues that magic is not a monopoly of any one culture, historical period, or social formation but inhabits modernity—not only in the places, such as cinema and sound recording, where it is commonly looked for, but in "habit" and in aspects of everyday life that have been largely overlooked and shunned.
Published by: University of Hawai'i Press
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,...
Note on Transliteration
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...
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
Chapter 1. Visible and Invisible Bodies: Rural Women and State Intellectuals
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...
Chapter 2. Minor Practices
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
Chapter 3. Possession and the Bride: Emotions, the Elusive Phantom of Social Theory
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...
Chapter 4. The Abject Body of Infertility
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...
Chapter 5. Learning Possession, Becoming Healer
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...
Chapter 6. Performativity in the Court of the Goddess
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...
Chapter 7. The Nature of the Complaint
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
Chapter 8. Possession and Social Theory
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...
Chapter 9. Possession and Emancipatory Politics
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...
Publication Year: 2013
OCLC Number: 845242935
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Fertile Disorder