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Tropes, Territories and Competing

Over 30 scholars from North America, Europe, South Asia, and Australasia will come together for an interdisciplinary Tamil Studies conference to be held at Trinity College, University of Toronto on May 11-14, 2006. All attendees are required to register for admission.

Anand Pandian

Johal Chair of Indian Studies, Institute of Asian Research
Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology & Sociology
University of British Columbia

Culture, Cultivation, and Civility in the Tamil Country
Saturday, May 13, 2006 | 16:30 - 18:30 EST

This paper concerns the emergence of the agrarian landscape as a paradigmatic space of collective virtue in the political discourse and popular legacies of twentieth-century Tamil Nadu. Prominent ideologues of the early Dravidian movement sought to identify civility or "nakarikam" in southern India with the imagined nature of its dominant peasant communities. By the mid-twentieth century, Tamil literary critics had coined "panpadu" as a Tamil neologism for "culture," identifying the term with a cultivated state of heart, speech, and deed. In the official school textbooks and print media through which the term began to circulate, such cultivatedness was often identified with the conduct and character of the agrarian citizenry. Numerous popular Tamil films from the 1960s onwards have promoted peasant heroes as icons of virtuous conduct, culminating perhaps in the "nativity" genre of contemporary Tamil film that roots Tamil culture in the quotidian trials of rural existence. This paper tracks reverberations of these representations in the ethical life of agrarian cultivators in the Cumbum Valley of southern Tamil Nadu, exploring agricultural practice as a terrain of moral distinction. Tracking discourses of virtue between tea stalls and tilled fields, I seek to account for the conditions under which the cultivator may be taken as a sign of cultivated being in contemporary south India.

Dr. Pandian's research concerns the cultural politics of development, nature, and identity in Tamil Nadu. He is currently completing a book manuscript regarding the social reform of a caste of putative thieves in the Madurai countryside, and beginning work on a second project concerning representations of rural life and landscape in Tamil cinema. Dr. Pandian is a co-editor of Race, Nature, and the Politics of Difference (2003). Other publications include "Securing the Rural Citizen: The Anti-Kallar Movement of 1896" in the Indian Economic and Social History Review (2005); "An Ode to an Engineer" in Waterlines: The Penguin Anthology of River Writing in India (2003); "Predatory Care: The Imperial Hunt in Mughal and British India" in the Journal of Historical Sociology (2001); and "Land Alienation in Tirunelveli District" in the Economic and Political Weekly (1996).