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Identity and quality of life among Badagas in South India with reference to rural-to-urban migration and new media

Davey, Gareth (2017) Identity and quality of life among Badagas in South India with reference to rural-to-urban migration and new media. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (KAR id:61850)

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The thesis is about the experiences of Badagas living in contemporary India as they navigate a society in flux, the extent to which change permeates and influences understandings of self and life. Badagas, like others in India, have been experiencing profound changes as new ideas, products, and ways of living have become widespread. An increasing number of people are migrating to cities in search of education and employment, and technologies such as new media now influence communication and interaction. To understand these new circumstances, the primary concern of the thesis is an investigation of the identities and life quality of Badagas in South India with reference to rural-to-urban migration and new media, an important case study of the impact of India's social and economic transformation on its people, and a timely update of the antiquated picture of Badagas in the literature. At an empirical level, the thesis unpacks how Badagas understand themselves and their lives in today's India. However, it is also about changing the ways they have been understood and represented in the literature. At a theoretical level, therefore, the thesis deconstructs and redefines the meaning of 'Badaga' portrayed in the academic literature, and rebalances inequalities of representation. The thesis, then, is an empirical and theoretical investigation of the meaning of being Badaga, a critical appraisal of previous writings combined with empirical research to advance new ideas.

The methodology of the monograph, outlined in chapter three, provides a contemporary social constructionist approach to iron out the epistemological problems discussed above. It begins with an overview of the multi-site approach of the research, designed to overcome the limitations of previous studies which regard Badagas and the Nilgiri as local and bounded in an isolated region, essentially the removal of geographical barriers to appreciate Badagas as dynamic and mobile and to capture new forms of identities in flux in multiple situations, namely rural-to-urban migration and new media, that transcend bounded spaces. The next section of the chapter introduces the thesis's theoretical orientation, symbolic interactionism, employed to examine the shared subjective experiences, meanings, and lived experiences of Badagas in contemporary India with emphasis on agency, social process, and subjective experience, a deliberate move away from previous macro-level deterministic and functionalist trends in the literature. The remaining sections of chapter three describe the operationalization of identity in the thesis, data collection from forum posts and face-to-face interviews, data analysis involving coding and thematic analysis, and ethical considerations. The thesis's methodology, then, is an interpretative group of complementary methods-multisite ethnography, symbolic interactionism, thematic analysis, and reflexivity-focused on analytically disclosing the subjective knowledge and meaning-making of Badagas, and thus providing greater flexibility in understanding their identities and quality of life.

Next, chapter five is about rural-to-urban migration. It begins with a brief review of the literature about migration and the Nilgiri and Badagas, and then analyses empirical evidence using interviews with rural-to-urban migrants in Bangalore to understand more about their experiences of leaving their villages in the Nilgiri and living in the city, personal meanings of being Badaga. A key finding was changing notions of what it meant to be a member of their caste as they engaged the city, as being Badaga was malleable and in a state of flux. It revealed a new identity and collective, City Badaga, characterized by shared experiences of living in the city as Badagas, a phenomenon unique to their caste and not reported in the literature on migration in other parts of India or elsewhere. The study also uncovered the ways by which Badagas constructed distinctions between themselves and others, the specific processes and contextual determinants of identity construction and change. A negative depiction of life in the Nilgiri continued to be a salient theme, although the migrants painted a picture of contentment with life in Bangalore, particularly with employment, income, convenient-living, and access to education, grounded on notions of social mobility and personal growth. There was no evidence of any interference with their social and economic activities in the city or limits to their opportunities. In summary, the findings from the two studies show Badagas do not conform to the model of a closed and bounded tribal society in the Nilgiri with customary cultural prescriptions, the simplified view in the literature which ignores the complex lived realities of people with a Badaga heritage who have diverse experiences shaped by a range of circumstances. Instead, the findings reveal complicated, flexible, and pluralistic notions of identities and living circumstances which are thoroughly in flux and negotiated and contested across multiple spaces, characterised by openness and variation. Also, whereas the literature emphasised objective aspects of life quality, notably economy and standard of living, the thesis reveals subjective quality of life?their own perspectives of life and circumstances, and attention to subjective processes and meanings?an approach hitherto neglected in the literature.

The ?nal chapter concludes the thesis with a summary of the key findings followed by a consideration of their limitations as well as directions for future research. It discusses further the alternative conceptualisation of Badagas in the thesis as dynamic, fluid, and multi-site, much messier than conveyed in the literature. Also, as the thesis is about the lives of Badagas, it shows the research in Bangalore and the Internet forum revealed a rich array of information, a timely update as previous in-depth research was completed in the 1990s. The approach of the research means that the changes taking place in India and among Badagas are considered a cultural and personal process involving people and their understandings envisaged within their local settings and resources, and not simply about social and economic standards as often assumed in writings. There is no doubt Badagas are living in truly momentous times. Migration to urban areas and overseas, and the dramatic rise of technologies such as new media, grounded on broader transformation of Indian society, have shaped multifaceted changes in people's lives. The evolving local and global realities of the twenty-first century elicit fundamental changes in the meaning and expression of being Badaga, not only ways of living and social mobility but alternative notions of becoming and self-understanding.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Waldstein, Anna
Uncontrolled keywords: Badagas Nilgiri
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Anthropology and Conservation
Depositing User: Users 1 not found.
Date Deposited: 25 May 2017 17:00 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Feb 2021 13:45 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
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