Culture, Hierarchy and Difference

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Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation CoreNA4

Semester and Year Offered: Monsoon Semester, 1st Year

Course Coordinator and Team: Rukmini Sen

Email of course coordinator: rukmini[at]aud[dot]ac[dot]in

Pre-requisites: None

Aim: Moving away from the perspectives of Social Stratification and Cultural Sociology, this course tries to take into account the issues of context of hierarchy in culture; but more importantly difference, while talking about plural cultures. India as a society and civilization is extremely diverse, multicultural—but does that mean that there are only horizontal differences between communities and cultures or are there hierarchical gradations/rankings between different religious and linguistic groups, caste identities and sexual identities? One aspect of the course is to theoretically understand the meanings of culture and difference with an underlying discussion on power. The other important aspect of this course is to familiarize ourselves with how the inter-connection between these three terms get operational in our everyday lives. A country which through its Constitution ensures secularism, democracy, equality, non-discrimination and justice how is it that the same society creates many ‘Others’?. This course enables us to observe and analyze these paradoxical realities of a plural, democratic society

Course Outcomes:

Understanding and appreciating the diversity of Indian culture

  1. Engaging with theoretical perspectives on terms culture, difference, power and hierarchy from writings of social anthropologists, political sociologists and historians
  2. Enabling the engagement with the plural nation state
  3. Appreciating the importance of oralities in the construction of history
  4. Inculcating tools to assess the complex questions of identity formations among communities

Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

Unit 1: Culture: Meanings and Methods

How is culture defined? Do sociologists, anthropologists, cultural studies theoreticians define culture similarly? How does one research culture? Are ethnography and content analysis good techniques to study culture? Does one have to belong to the community that one is researching? How is the question of culture connected to location and identity? How is power understood as a discourse and thus connected with culture

Unit 2: Memory, History and Nation

What does the nation want to remember and historically preserve? If independence happened in 1947, partition also happened. In order to document the trauma of the partition, feminists took up a project in the 1990s to document oral narratives of families who moved from one landmass to another, who fell victim to cartographic changes. Thus memory and oral testimonies have an important role to play in reconstructing historical moments of nation

Unit 3: Law as plural, law as universal

Laws are meant to be universal dictums regulating human behavior. Can laws be plural depending upon one’s religious identity, sexual identity? The presence of personal laws in India represents legal pluralism, the reality of family courts in India also establish plural justice dispensing mechanism.

Unit 4: ‘Other’: Representations and Voices

Otherness as a concept has been central to postcolonial thought. There is a creation of the other by the powerful—group, community, nation, state, law. In recent times, the figure of the other, hitherto silent and effaced, have made claims to speak, in fact to speak back in radical ways. Who is the ‘other’ historically and symbolically? How is the ‘other’ known, represented?

Unit 5: Difference as Identity, Difference as Belonging

How the concept of difference conceptualized is and what role has it played in various political and social contexts. What are the interconnections between identity and belonging-ness while conceptualizing difference?

Assessment Details with weights:


  1. Class participation and class activity: 20%--Till half of the semester students are expected to write diary reflections in each class that they attend taking examples from everyday life and engaging with questions of culture, diversity, difference, marginality
  2. Field Visit and Term Paper: 40%--Students are expected to choose any locality in Delhi and understand the cultural significance of it, locate it historically and assess the contemporary changes. While doing this student are expected to interview at least two people who have been part of that locality for long and have seen its culture and landscape changing
  3. Group Presentation and Submission: 40%--Students are expected to chose a film of any Indian language of their choice and explore some of the themes that the course engages with

Reading List:

  • Williams, Raymond Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, (New York: OUP, 1976)
  • Raymond Williams Is Culture Ordinary? Available online
  • Geertz, Clifford Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight, Deadalus, Fall 2005, 134, 4 Page 56
  • Butalia Urvashi (1998) Other Side of Silence: Voices from the partition of India, Penguin Books, New Delhi, pp 1-26, 106-171, 344-371
  • AnasuaBasuRaychaudhury Nostalgia of 'Desh', Memories of Partition Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 39, No. 52 (Dec. 25-31, 2004), pp. 5653-5660
  • Basu, Srimati Playing off Courts: The Negotiation of Divorce and Violence in Plural Legal Settings in Kolkata, available online at
  • Baxi, Pratiksha Justice is a secret, compromise in rape trials Contributions to Indian Sociology, October 2010, Vol. 44, No.3, 207-233
  • Kapur, Ratna (2000) Too Hot to Handle, The Cultural Politics of Fire, Feminist Review No.64, pp 53- 64
  • Mc Duie-Ra, Duncan Northeast Migrants in Delhi: Race, Refuge and Retail (Utrecht: Amsterdam University Press, 2012), available online on
  • Michelle Barrett The Concept of 'Difference' Feminist Review, No. 26 (Summer, 1987), pp. 29-41, available online at
  • SharmilaRege Dalit Women Talk Differently: A Critique of 'Difference' and Towards a Dalit Feminist Standpoint Position Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 33, No. 44 (Oct. 31 - Nov. 6, 1998), pp. WS39-WS46 available online at


  • Amartya Sen The Argumentative Indian Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York (Part IV Reason and Identity)
  • Iris Marion Young Justice and the Politics of Difference, 1990, Princeton University Press
  • Veena Das ‘Anthropology of Pain’ in Critical Events: An Anthropological Perspective of Contemporary India, 1995 Oxford University Press
  • Edward W. Said Invention, Memory, and Place Critical Inquiry, Vol. 26, No. 2 (Winter, 2000), pp. 175-192