Competing Narratives of Modernity and Muslim Middle Class in India

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 4:15 PM
Room: 419
Oral Presentation
Stefanie STRULIK , Social Anthropology, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland

Competing Narratives of Modernity and Muslim Middle Class in India

The last decade has seen an increased interest the “phenomenal rise of the Indian middle class”. With economic liberalization since the 1990s, the entering of multinationals into the Indian market and the simultaneous process of a rapidly growing transnational media and consumption culture “new economies of desire” have developed. Boundaries between ‘traditional India’ and the ‘modern West’ have been broken down and a new national self-image as a modern global player has emerged. Public Indian discourses typically make a correlation between the growing middle class and the national pride of modern India. While increasing consumer choices, and western connoted values are important symbolic markers of middle class membership, the latter is linked to an expressive and confident affirmation of “Indianness” which is primarily oriented around a Hindu India. Taking the hype over the growing Indian middle class as a point of departure, the paper will questions this tacit equation of the middle class and Hindu Indian modernity and draws attention to the Muslim middle class. It delineates how narrative and performative aspects of middleclassness are tied to a new economic nationalism and discourses on Indian modernity. A focus on the multipolar transnational references in knowledge production offers the possibility of acknowledging the entangledness of competing narratives of modernity and middleclassness in India and within Muslim middle class in Lucknow (the capital of the Northindian State Uttar Pradesh) in particular. Apart from discussing the perspective on middle class as agent of change, the paper thus addresses the fragmented character of the Indian middle class and questions the equation of Modern India = Hindu India, i.e. questions the homogeneous character of the Indian middle class.