Kalpana Ram: Being ‘rasikas’: the affective pleasures of music and dance spectatorship and nationhood in Indian middle-class modernity

Kalpana Ram (Macquarie University): "Being ‘rasikas’: the affective pleasures of music and dance spectatorship and nationhood in Indian middle-class modernity"

Seminar presentation organized by the MPI-MMG and the University of Goettingen's Center for Modern Indian Studies

Friday, 11 November, 13.00 - 14.30

Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity
Seminar room, Hermann-Föge-Weg 12


The long-standing dominance of history in the adjudication of debates on postcolonialism and modernity in India has resulted in the relegation of the knowledge claims of ‘classical’ performance traditions and aesthetic concepts to the domain of the essentializing and the untrustworthy. This paper argues that performances of music and dance have preserved an understanding of tradition that is more dynamic and agential than that put forward by nationalist understandings of tradition, and that aesthetic conceptions continue to illuminate the values and efficacy of these practices in engaging the affects of  spectators. The paper explores in particular the subject position of the rasika as offering a distinctive way of inhabiting the present. The class privilege implicit in being able to take up such an invitation is explored in the second part of the paper.


Dr Ram is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia. She has recently published on activism and modernity among Dalit women, as well as on Tamil religious cinema, and the marginalisation of certain forms of ritual dance in the construction of Indian nationalism. Her most recent series of papers in journals such as South Asia, Asian Studies Review, South Asian History and Culture, Journal of Royal Anthropological Society (forthcoming 2011) as well as in several edited collections, all deal in various ways with the politics of knowledge in various domains: in midwifery and childbirth; the instability between scientific and older ethical discourses on what it is to 'know one's body', as enunciated by rural poor women; the politics of class as performed in medical clinics.