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Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Rural change and anthropological knowledge in post-colonial India: A comparative 'restudy' of F.G. Bailey, Adrian C. Mayer and David Pocock

A major grant from the ESRC will allow a team of researchers to explore the changing role of the village in post-colonial India.
A bride is purified with turmeric Jamgod Village Madhya Pradesh 1950s (photograph Adrian C. Mayer)

A bride is purified with turmeric Jamgod Village Madhya Pradesh 1950s (photograph Adrian C. Mayer)

The project is led by Edward Simpson (SOAS) and Patricia Jeffery (University of Edinburgh). The post-doctoral research team includes Tina Otten, Tommaso Sbriccoli and Alice Tilche. 

The aim of the project is to 'restudy' villages studied in the 1950s by F.G. Bailey, Adrian Mayer and David Pocock in Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat respectively. The three went on to have distinguished careers as exponents of the post-colonial sociology of India.

It is uncommon for the work of living anthropologists to be re-examined by others. However, in 2009, Adrian Mayer wrote to SOAS actively encouraging a re-examination of his material. Later, F.G. Bailey was also enthusiastic about the idea. The two have agreed to share their original fieldnotes, discuss their lives and works, and to act as honorary consultants to the project.

Buffalo sacrifice Bisipara Village Orissa 1950s (photograph F.G. Bailey)

Buffalo sacrifice Bisipara Village Orissa 1950s (photograph F.G. Bailey)

When these anthropologists made the long journey to India, the children of the newly-independent country were born into a world where most people had no access to electricity, metalled roads, combustion engines and plastics were rare and there was no refrigeration, television or internet. People could expect to live for an average of forty years. India had yet to go to war with Pakistan, and the IR8 rice seed of the so-called Green Revolution was over a decade away.

India has changed dramatically since then but the village  has become a neglected topic in the study of the country. What happens in villages today? What has happened to caste, gender and political relations over the last sixty years? Is there still such a thing as an agrarian economy? How are new technologies changing rural life ?

Extracts from F.G. Bailey's Orissa fieldnotes 1952

Extracts from F.G. Bailey's Orissa fieldnotes 1952

As far as we know, no comparative restudy has been undertaken of the work of other anthropologists, and, therefore, the project will hopefully open up space for new approaches and ideas in the anthropology of South Asia.

For more information about the project please visit the project webpages or send an email to Edward Simpson.