Age, Gender and Cast for Ethnographic Research in India: The Intersectional Challenges of Language and Meaning across Cultural Frontiers

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 16:30
Oral Presentation
Josiane MARTIN-O'BRIEN, ESCP-Europe, France
This report is from a study of the consequence of advanced management training for Indian, industrial sector engineers. Technical acquisitions aside, the Western model training was taken principally as a new International Managerial Language (IML), effecting changes in perspective and action both at work and at home. In this very large, multi-lingual country, language and meaning are volatile commodities with use varied by context; resulting in serious challenges to assure constant comparative treatment during the four-phase iterative-ethnographic phases of the work. The larger study included 102 interviews; 50 with managers, in their offices, reported here.

The intricacy of power /gender / and caste relations imposes not only for Indians at work and home, but for researchers. There is deep-rooted tradition of respect for mature and experienced individuals, along with devout admiration towards professors –typically of the highest cast level; but, a post-colonial ambivalence for the out of cast white-face, can moderate behavior and communication.

The respondent-managers were mostly elite, highly educated, male engineers; including a few women, treated equally at work. This did not mirror the broader societal-place granted to Indian women, with professional life entwined with family position and Western-individuality unfathomable. Particularly evasive is the caste-issue: kept invisible to Westerners, referred with researchers only ‘on the oblique’, since caste-status treatment is legally prohibited—yet fostered from the bottom-up by affirmative action laws; and all the time constituting the Social-DNA of Indian relations.

To appropriate these dilemmas, a culturalist reading of the identity and relationship issues of India is developed. Calling upon the concepts of fundamental values (Kluckhohn & Strodtberck 1961), communalism (Schwartz 1997), power distance and future orientation (Hofstede 1987), and communication style (Hall 1961). With reference along the way to Suddaby (2006) for methodological inspiration and Bourdieu (2000) who stimulated interpretative treatment of the data.