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Social Theory and the Urban Poor: Notes from Delhi, India

CISA Annual Lecture: Veena Das, Johns Hopkins University

Thursday, May 15, 2008
5:00 PM
Room A2, Haines Hall
Los Angeles, CA 90095

"In this paper I track how the urban poor are brought forth within some selected texts on South Asia. My argument is that much as in colonial and nationalist/reformist prose, the poor here too are seen or heard as they encroach upon the spaces of the rich or the middle classes.  What if theory was attentive instead to the places, in which the poor actually lived, engaged in work, love, play? What spectacles, what quarrels might take place here? I try to walk the reader through such spaces arguing for thinking with all our senses. I visit waste; show how claims are made over “their” commons; and give examples of publics and publicity in locally embedded spaces. I ask what is it to dwell? Keeping the tension between receptivity and separateness alive, I argue, allows us to attend to both, the empirical dispersion of the term “poor “ and to the provocations of a general category of 'the poor'."


Veena Das is Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of Anthropology and Professor of Humanities at the Johns Hopkins University She is author and editor of several books on themes of religion, gender, violence, and social suffering. Her latest book is Life and Words:Violence and the Descent into the Ordinary, California University Press, 2007. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and TWAS (third world Academy of Sciences). she has received many honors including the Andres Retzius Gold Medal in anthropology and an honorary doctorate from the University of Chicago. Currently she is working on problems of urban health and poverty.


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