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Ambivalent Encounters

Childhood, Tourism, and Social Change in Banaras, India

Jenny Huberman

Publication Year: 2012

Jenny Huberman provides an ethnographic study of encounters between western tourists and the children who work as unlicensed peddlers and guides along the riverfront city of Banaras, India. She examines how and why these children elicit such powerful reactions from western tourists and locals in their community as well as how the children themselves experience their work and render it meaningful. Ambivalent Encounters brings together scholarship on the anthropology of childhood, tourism, consumption, and exchange to ask why children emerge as objects of the international tourist gaze; what role they play in representing socio-economic change; how children are valued and devalued; why they elicit anxieties, fantasies, and debates; and what these tourist encounters teach us more generally about the nature of human interaction. It examines the role of gender in mediating experiences of social change—girls are praised by locals for participating constructively in the informal tourist economy while boys are accused of deviant behavior. Huberman is interested equally in the children’s and adults’ perspectives; her own experiences as a western visitor and researcher provide an intriguing entry into her interpretations.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Series: Series in Childhood Studies

Title Series Information

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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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pp. ix-xi

The idea for this book initially developed when I was a graduate student and I went to the city of Banaras for nine months to study Hindi at the American Institute of Indian Studies. The language instruction that I received and the camaraderie of my fellow classmates rendered it an invaluable experience. It certainly...

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pp. xiii-xiv

Over the years, many people and institutions have contributed to this book. My greatest debt is to the friends and families in Banaras who shared their lives with me, took care of me, and made doing my fieldwork a real labor of love. Though I cannot name everyone here, and though I have used pseudonyms...

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Note on Translation and Transliteration

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pp. xv

The statements and conversations reported in this book come from tape-recorded interviews, and from informal conversations that I either took part in, or listened to throughout the course of my fieldwork. Sometimes I was able to take notes on conversations immediately after they occurred, but often...

Part I. Introductions

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pp. 1

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1. Children, Tourists, and Locals

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pp. 3-17

Our lives are a stream of encounters with other human beings. Many of these encounters fade into the background of everyday life, demanding little of our attention or concern and bearing little consequence. Others, however, press themselves upon us like an itch that requires constant scratching. We return to...

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2. A Tourist Town

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pp. 18-31

My first visit to Banaras was as a tourist. It was spring of 1995, I was twenty-two years old, and I had recently graduated from college. During my junior year, I had spent a semester abroad in India, and that experience, coupled with the excellent anthropology courses I was exposed to as an undergraduate, had...

Part II. Conceptions of Children

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pp. 33

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3. Girls and Boys on the Ghats

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pp. 35-66

In January of 2000, when I returned to Banaras to officially begin my fieldwork, I discovered a curious absence. Almost all of the girls whom I had met two years before and who worked on the ghat selling diyas (small floating lamps) and postcards were gone. There was a new batch of young girls selling these items...

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4. Innocent Children of Little Adults?

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pp. 67-92

Throughout my fieldwork I was continually intrigued by the responses that Western tourists had to the children on the riverfront. Not only did tourists’ reactions display a surprising emotional intensity but in many cases they were diametrically opposed. Some tourists praised these young workers for their...

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5. The Minds and Hearts of Children

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pp. 93-115

Initially, I assumed that people in Dasashwamedh would have much more measured reactions to the children who worked on the riverfront than Western tourists. Over time, however, I discovered that their responses were also emotionally charged and frequently conflicting. Some locals praised the children...

Part III. Conceptions of Value

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pp. 117

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6. Earning, Spending, Saving

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pp. 119-140

Although the children on the ghats were definitely interested in making as much money as they could from foreign tourists, the pursuit of profit was far from unbridled. As Sangeeta Sahani, an eleven-year-old diya seller, remarked: “You should do only one kind of work, whether it is selling diyas or postcards...

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7. Something Extra

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pp. 141-164

Western tourists in Banaras, as we have seen, often had quite opposite experiences with the children on the riverfront. Many tourists came away feeling indebted to the children and they expressed their gratitude not only by purchasing their goods and services but also by taking the children on special...

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8. Money, Gender, and the (Im)morality of Exchange

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pp. 165-181

People in Dasashwamedh also had opposite reactions to the children on the riverfront. The boys’ behavior evoked fears of dark futures, barren money, and loafer lifestyles. For instance, Anand Sahani, a local silk merchant, explained: “These boys loaf around and have fun, but their futures will be dark. No one...

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9. Conclusion

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pp. 182-188

This book developed from a yearning to understand why the children on the riverfront of Banaras elicited such powerful reactions from Western tourists and locals in their community. It also stemmed from a determination to explore how these young peddlers and guides rendered their work meaningful...


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pp. 189-204


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pp. 205-219


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pp. 221-227

About the Author

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E-ISBN-13: 9780813554082
E-ISBN-10: 081355408X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813554075
Print-ISBN-10: 0813554071

Page Count: 264
Illustrations: 1 map
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Series in Childhood Studies

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Child labor -- India -- Vārānasi.
  • Tourism -- India -- Vārānasi.
  • Tourists -- India -- Vārānasi.
  • Social interaction -- India -- Vārānasi.
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