Engaged Anthropology and an Ethnographic Approach to Community Development: A Case Study from Tamil Nadu
Southeast Asian Transformations
In recent years, there has been a marked increase in the literature on engaged or public anthropology. Moreover, definitions of engagement have opened up to include a multiple number of ways and forms that anthropological work can be engage in community development-ranging from direct activism and critical deconstructions of dominant categories, to teaching. The scope of engagement in socio-cultural, economic and political issues dealt with by anthropologists has increased relatively in
... latively in pluralistic societies such as India. The extent of what counts as engaged scholarship, moving towards an epistemic understanding that leads to relationships between subject knowledge and action/application, could be inherently politico-legal most of the time. In India, attention is drawn to such engaged scholarship of cultural anthropologists. They contribute through their ethnographic writings about the communities and their contemporary changing identities. Such alternative realities, open-ended epistemology and theoretical practical interpretation of ethnographies about marginalized communities, social identities and the claims made by those realities were jeopardizing Indian hierarchical society. The communities and their self-organizations protested against the government and sought privileges that could be provided constitutionally. Most of the time, the issue revolved around their claim about the 'community name' and nomenclature. The requests submitted to the authorities were negotiated, contested and ultimately required legal interventions. Since the issue is all about culture and social identity, the court regularly seeks anthropological inputs such as theoretical practices, reflexive discourse and more subtle or virtual form of intervention. This article attempts to shed light on the need for rejuvenating our understanding of the concept engaged or public anthropology, application of the basic ethnographic approach at the empirical level and other related concepts. The analytical interpretations were arrived at by taking the cases brought to the District Vigilance Committee and State Level Scrutiny Committee of Tamil Nadu constituted by the appellant judiciary intervention at the national level.