SOAS University of London

South Asia Section, School of Languages, Cultures & Linguistics

South Asian Lives

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2020/2021
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2, Year 3 or Year 4
Taught in:
Term 2

A module on biography and autobiography that explores the various ways in which life histories are constructed and related. Students will be introduced to selected theoretical works on hagiography, (auto)biography and subaltern studies. They will then study a selection of biographical and autobiographical texts from India and Nepal that were either written in or translated into English.

This module is available as an open option

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

This module is designed to deepen the understanding of South Asia through introducing individual life stories in a variety of literary forms.

  • A critical understanding of texts and the ability to situate source material in social, political and cultural contexts,
  • An advanced understanding of ways in which people’s life histories can be utilised by others for political purpose or to influence public opinion.
  • An understanding of issues related to life cycle and ageing.
  • An advanced knowledge of key literary genre related to the telling of individual lives.
  • The ability to develop research, verbal and written expression as part of transferable skills across academic disciplines


Total of 10 weeks teaching with 2 hours classroom contact per week

Scope and syllabus

  • Theory and introduction
  • Hagiography
  • Political biography
  • Gendered lives
  • Subaltern lives
  • Elite Lives
  • Literary lives
  • Activist lives


Method of assessment

  • Writng a profile (600 words) to be submitted on day 5, week 5, term 2 (20%)
  • Writing a life history (1500 words) to be submitted on day 5, week 11, term 2 (40%)
  • One essay (1500 words) to be submitted on day 5, week 1, term 3 (40%)

Suggested reading


  •  Arnold, David and Stuart Blackburn (eds) 2004. Telling Lives in India: Biography, autobiography and life history.  Delhi: Permanent Black. 


  • Crapanzano, Vincent 1984.  ‘Life Histories’ American Anthropologist 86: 953-60.
  • Hoskins, Janet 1998 Biographical Objects: How Things Tell the Stories of People’s Lives. Routledge
  • Mattingly, Cheryl 1998.  Healing Dramas and Clinical Plots: the narrative structure of experience.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

[A subaltern studies reading on life histories]

  • Nayar, Pramod K. 2012. The Poetics of Postcolonial Atrocity: Dalit Life Writing, Testimonio, and Human Rights. In Ariel: A Review of International English Literature pp 237-264.
  • Okely, Judith and Helen Callaway 1992. Anthropology and Autobiography. Psychology Press. Chapter 1 Anthropology and autobiography Participatory experience and embodied knowledge.
  • Poletti, Anna and Julie Rake eds. 2013 Identity Technologies: Constructing the self Online. Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography. University of Wisconsin Press.
  • Smith, Sidonie and Julia Watson 2010.  Reading Autobiography: a guide for interpreting life narratives.  University of Minnesota Press.
  • Srivastava, Neelam 2017 A Multiple Addressivity: Indian Subaltern Autobiographies and the Role of Translation. Indian Literature and the World pp1005-134. Heidelberg: Springer.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules