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Title: Identity and quality of life among Badagas in South India with reference to rural-to-urban migration and new media
Author: Davey, Gareth
ISNI:       0000 0004 6347 5361
Awarding Body: University of Kent
Current Institution: University of Kent
Date of Award: 2017
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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. To set the scene of the thesis, the first chapter introduces the Nilgiri and its peoples and their general depiction in the literature, and teases out some of the themes and styles which characterise writings. It also endeavours to identify what is already known about Badagas, and gaps in knowledge, to make a case for the empirical research in subsequent chapters. Chapter one highlights the numerous markers which have been used to differentiate Badagas based on the assumption in the literature that they are a distinct social group sharing a common history and culture. It also reveals the limitations of their portrayal based on the style and trends of social science in the first and latter halves of the twentieth century which reify a simple Badaga identity, an artefact which has since become a staple of the literature. Building on this introduction, chapter two reviews in further detail the diverse ways identity has been deployed in social science generally and the Nilgiri specifically, and the varied, loose, and contradictory ways the identities of Badagas have been documented. Similarly, chapter two also explores the varied meanings of quality of life and previous studies concerning Badagas. The chapter shows the majority of writings align with classical essentialist conceptualisations of fixity and rigidity, and 'the Badagas' as a category of difference has been framed in terms of homogeneity as a bounded group, isolation in a unique region, and speculations of identity change which mirror old-fashioned views of bounded undifferentiated cultures coming into contact, namely a minority group adopting the culture of the majority, as if change among Badagas is a product of the colonial experience. Similarly, regarding their quality of life, the majority of writings are concerned with imperial history and Western culture to speak for Badagas, which positions the changed way of life in the Nilgiri after the arrival of the British as important and superior to the past. Collectively, chapters one and two show previous representation of Badagas, although a rigorous and meticulous attempt at documenting their rich culture and history, is unsatisfactory in both theoretical and practical terms when it comes to understanding identity and life quality, a failure to offer terms with which to understand their complexity and diversity. 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. Grounded on this methodology, chapters four and five empirically investigate the identities and life quality of Badagas in two connected locations in a multi-site approach, the first online with Internet forum users, and the second in the real world with rural-to-urban migrants in Bangalore. Specifically, chapter four examines online portrayals and understandings of identity and life among Badagas in a virtual forum community, an online website with discussions in the form of posted messages, and the nature of the new type of community. It begins with a discussion of the paucity of media and visual studies of the Nilgiri and its peoples, the need for further research, and the role of media as a prime information source and facilitator of cultural change. Next is an analysis of the content of the virtual forum, a source of information about the goings-on of Badagas including their past and current circumstances which contain new material hitherto undocumented in the literature. As the first study of new media usage among Badagas, it shows they now have an online presence, a new type of Badaga social collective connected by online social interaction and notions of culture. Regarding identity, a strong sense of being Badaga was revealed in forum dialogues, as the study analysed how forum members articulated and expressed different understandings of their caste, reasserted perceptions of distinctiveness, and deployed identity strategically in activism when they constructed images of Badagas as victims of marginalization. While the findings seem to support, at least from the perspective of forum members, the reification of an overarching Badaga identity as something tangible, the forum discussions also revealed their abstractness and diversity, a heterogeneity of Badaga identities, particularly in lively debates and discussions in which images were contested, defended, and negotiated. Regarding quality of life, a negative depiction was a salient theme in forum discussions which centred on the demise and low profitability of agriculture, and there were also concerns about education and healthcare provision.
Supervisor: Waldstein, Anna Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available