Category Archives: Readings

Book : The Indian Middle Class – OUP 2016


Part of Oxford India Short Introductions

Surinder S. Jodhka & Aseem Prakash

Who exactly are the middle classes in India? What role do they play in contemporary Indian politics and society, and what are their historical and cultural moorings? The authors of this volume argue that the middle class has largely been understood as an ‘income/ economic category’, but the term has a broader social and conceptual history, globally as well as in India. It is this conceptual and social history of the Indian middle class that the book analytically elaborates.

Review Essay : A New History of India’s Railways

By Ian J. Kerr, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada

The publication of Ritika Prasad’s (2015b) Tracks of Change: Railways and Everyday Life in Colonial India marks the maturation of a trend present in the historiography of South Asian railways since the turn of the current millennium. This trend has seen some historians give much more attention to the multidimensional ways in which the railways were central to the making of modern India. Some of the new studies mentioned below are in the form of recently completed PhD theses which, I expect—because they all represent impressive examples of interesting scholarship—to emerge as good books during the next couple of years or so. As an impressive corpus of new research and writing the books, articles and theses that populate this trend deserve to be labelled a new history of India’s railways.

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Book : Engineering War and Peace in Modern Japan, 1868-1964

Naval, aeronautic, and mechanical engineers played a powerful part in the military buildup of Japan in the early and mid-twentieth century. They belonged to a militaristic regime and embraced the importance of their role in it. Takashi Nishiyama examines the impact of war and peace on technological transformation during the twentieth century. He is the first to study the paradoxical and transformative power of Japan’s defeat in World War II through the lens of engineering.

Nishiyama asks: How did authorities select and prepare young men to be engineers? How did Japan develop curricula adequate to the task (and from whom did the country borrow)? Under what conditions? What did the engineers think of the planes they built to support Kamikaze suicide missions? But his study ultimately concerns the remarkable transition these trained engineers made after total defeat in 1945. How could the engineers of war machines so quickly turn to peaceful construction projects such as designing the equipment necessary to manufacture consumer products? Most important, they developed new high-speed rail services, including the Shinkansen Bullet Train. What does this change tell us not only about Japan at war and then in peacetime but also about the malleability of engineering cultures?

Nishiyama aims to counterbalance prevalent Eurocentric/Americentric views in the history of technology.  Engineering War and Peace in Modern Japan, 1868–1964 sets the historical experience of one country’s technological transformation in a larger international framework by studying sources in six different languages: Chinese, English, French, German, Japanese, and Spanish. The result is a fascinating read for those interested in technology, East Asia, and international studies. Nishiyama’s work offers lessons to policymakers interested in how a country can recover successfully after defeat.

Takashi Nishiyama is an assistant professor of history at the State University of New York, Brockport.

Book : The Technological Indian

The Technological Indian

Ross Bassett

“In the late 1800s, Indians seemed to be a people left behind by the Industrial Revolution, dismissed as “not a mechanical race.” Today Indians are among the world’s leaders in engineering and technology. In this international history spanning nearly 150 years, Ross Bassett—drawing on a unique database of every Indian to graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology between its founding and 2000—charts their ascent to the pinnacle of high-tech professions.

As a group of Indians sought a way forward for their country, they saw a future in technology. Bassett examines the tensions and surprising congruences between this technological vision and Mahatma Gandhi’s nonindustrial modernity. India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, sought to use MIT-trained engineers to build an India where the government controlled technology for the benefit of the people. In the private sector, Indian business families sent their sons to MIT, while MIT graduates established India’s information technology industry.

By the 1960s, students from the Indian Institutes of Technology (modeled on MIT) were drawn to the United States for graduate training, and many of them stayed, as prominent industrialists, academics, and entrepreneurs. The MIT-educated Indian engineer became an integral part of a global system of technology-based capitalism and focused less on India and its problems—a technological Indian created at the expense of a technological India.”

Book : Pipe Politics, Contested Waters: Embedded Infrastructures of Millennial Mumbai


Despite Mumbai’s position as India’s financial, economic, and cultural capital, water is chronically unavailable for rich and poor alike. Mumbai’s dry taps are puzzling, given that the city does not lack for either water or financial resources. In Pipe Politics, Contested Waters, Lisa Björkman shows how an elite dream to transform Mumbai into a “world class” business center has wreaked havoc on the city’s water pipes. In rich ethnographic detail, Pipe Politics explores how the everyday work of getting water animates and inhabits a penumbra of infrastructural activity—of business, brokerage, secondary markets, and sociopolitical networks—whose workings are reconfiguring and rescaling political authority in the city. Mumbai’s increasingly illegible and volatile hydrologies, Björkman argues, are lending infrastructures increasing political salience just as actual control over pipes and flows becomes contingent on dispersed and intimate assemblages of knowledge, power, and material authority. These new arenas of contestation reveal the illusory and precarious nature of the project to remake Mumbai in the image of Shanghai or Singapore and gesture instead toward the highly contested futures and democratic possibilities of the actually existing city.

2015 Duke University Press

About the Author

Lisa Björkman is Assistant Professor of Urban and Public Affairs at University of Louisville, and Research Scholar at CETREN (Transregional Research Network), University of Göttingen.

Book: Roads, an anthropology of infrastructure and expertise


Roads, An Anthropology of Infrastructure and Expertise

Penny Harvey, Hannah Knox

Cornell University Press :

Roads matter to people. This claim is central to the work of Penny Harvey and Hannah Knox, who in this book use the example of highway building in South America to explore what large public infrastructural projects can tell us about contemporary state formation, social relations, and emerging political economies.

Roads focuses on two main sites: the interoceanic highway currently under construction between Brazil and Peru, a major public/private collaboration that is being realized within new, internationally ratified regulatory standards; and a recently completed one-hundred-kilometer stretch of highway between Iquitos, the largest city in the Peruvian Amazon, and a small town called Nauta, one of the earliest colonial settlements in the Amazon. The Iquitos-Nauta highway is one of the most expensive roads per kilometer on the planet.

Combining ethnographic and historical research, Harvey and Knox shed light on the work of engineers and scientists, bureaucrats and construction company officials. They describe how local populations anticipated each of the road projects, even getting deeply involved in questions of exact routing as worries arose that the road would benefit some more than others. Connectivity was a key recurring theme as people imagined the prosperity that will come by being connected to other parts of the country and with other parts of the world. Sweeping in scope and conceptually ambitious, Roads tells a story of global flows of money, goods, and people—and of attempts to stabilize inherently unstable physical and social environments.

Book : Tamil Brahmans. The making of a middle-class caste

9780226152745 A cruise along the streets of Chennai—or Silicon Valley—filled with professional young Indian men and women, reveals the new face of India. In the twenty-first century, Indians have acquired a new kind of global visibility, one of rapid economic advancement and, in the information technology industry, spectacular prowess. In this book, C. J. Fuller and Haripriya Narasimhan examine one particularly striking group who have taken part in this development: Tamil Brahmans—a formerly traditional, rural, high-caste elite who have transformed themselves into a new middle-class caste in India, the United States, and elsewhere.Fuller and Narasimhan offer one of the most comprehensive looks at Tamil Brahmans around the world to date. They examine Brahman migration from rural to urban areas, more recent transnational migration, and how the Brahman way of life has translated to both Indian cities and American suburbs. They look at modern education and the new employment opportunities afforded by engineering and IT. They examine how Sanskritic Hinduism and traditional music and dance have shaped Tamil Brahmans’ particular middle-class sensibilities and how middle-class status is related to the changing position of women. Above all, they explore the complex relationship between class and caste systems and the ways in which hierarchy has persisted in modernized India.

Book : Waste management in India and Brazil

1430404312La ruée vers l’ordure. Conflits dans les mines urbaines de déchets

Jérémie Cavé

“Qu’est-ce qu’un déchet aujourd’hui dans une ville ordinaire de pays émergent, ce que les habitants jettent ou bien ce que personne ne récupère ? Cet ouvrage se focalise sur les conflits d’appropriation auxquels les déchets donnent lieu à Vitória (Brésil) et à Coimbatore (Inde). En déployant une écologie politique, l’auteur dévoile un renversement en cours : les déchets sont de plus en plus perçus comme des ressources potentielles et les villes comme de véritables « mines urbaines ».”

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Book : Imperial Technoscience by Amit Prasad


The origin of modern science is often located in Europe and the West. This Euro/West-centrism relegates emergent practices elsewhere to the periphery, undergirding analyses of contemporary transnational science and technology with traditional but now untenable hierarchical categories. In this book, Amit Prasad examines features of transnationality in science and technology through a study of MRI research and development in the United States, Britain, and India. In an analysis that is both theoretically nuanced and empirically robust, Prasad unravels the entangled genealogies of MRI research, practice, and culture in these three countries.
Prasad follows sociotechnical trails in relation to five aspects of MRI research: invention, industrial development, market, history, and culture. He first examines the well-known dispute between American scientists Paul Lauterbur and Raymond Damadian over the invention of MRI, then describes the post-invention emergence of the technology, as the center of MRI research shifted from Britain to the U.S; the marketing of the MRI and the transformation of MRI research into a corporate-powered “Big Science”; and MRI research in India, beginning with work in India’s nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) laboratories in the 1940s. Finally, he explores the different dominant technocultures in each of the three countries, analyzing scientific cultures as shifting products of transnational histories rather than static products of national scientific identities and cultures. Prasad’s analysis offers not only an innovative contribution to current debates within science and technology studies but also an original postcolonial perspective on the history of cutting-edge medical technology.

Publication : Looking through glass walls: Women engineers in Portugal

Looking through glass walls: Women engineers in Portugal

Women Studies International ForumVolume 45, July–August 2014, Pages 27–33

by Luisa Saavedra, Alexandra M. Araujo, Joao Manuel de Olivera and Christine Stephen

Women face significant barriers adjusting to the professional culture of engineers, which is strongly connected to hegemonic masculinity. This study aims to investigate how Portuguese female engineers negotiate their identities and subjective positions in a relational environment marked by this dominant form of masculinity. Drawing on the analyses of interviews with 39 female engineers, we focused on the ways women position themselves in this professional culture and cope with the gender regimes they experience in this environment. Using a Foucauldian Discourse Analysis, we identified an essentialist and dichotomous discourse about what it is to be a man or a woman in engineering and the following four themes: disguising differences with similarities, assuming differences by valuing femininity, assuming differences and inequalities, and maintaining limits and respect. The participants in this study seemed to be stuck in a prison with transparent and unbreakable glass walls, which risks their personal and relational well-being.

Book : The Colonial Machine: French Science and Overseas Expansion in the Old Regime

colonial machineThe rise of modern science and European colonial and imperial expansion are indisputably two defining elements of modern world history. James E. McClellan III and François Regourd explore these two world-historical forces and their interactions in this comprehensive and in-depth history of the French case in the Old Regime presented here for the first time. The case is key because no other state matched Old-Regime France as a center for organized science and because contemporary France closely rivaled Britain as a colonial power, as well as leading all other nations in commodity production and participating in the slave trade.
Based on extensive archival research and vast primary and secondary literatures and sharply reframing the historiography of the field, this landmark volume traces the development and significance for early-modern history of the Colonial Machine of Old-Regime France, an unparalleled agglomeration of institutions geared to the success of the French colonial enterprise, including the Royal Navy, the Académie Royale des Sciences, the Jardin du Roi, and a host of related specialist institutions working together at home and overseas. Mainly supported by the French state, the Colonial Machine reveals itself through its actions from the time of Colbert and Louis XIV as it grappled with fundamental problems facing contemporary European colonialism: cartography and navigation; medical care of sailors, colonists, and slaves; and applied botany and commodity production.
Historians of globalization and European overseas expansion, of Old-Regime France, and of science in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries will henceforth take this stimulating volume as a necessary starting point for further reflection and research

Book : Technology and Rural Change in Eastern India 1830-1980

The book discusses how Western technology, primarily the means of transport and manufacture, changed the Indian village. Technology reached India through colonialism, as also through corporate bodies and private enterprise. The study is based on British Bengal, which correspondis to present-day West Bengal and Bangladesh. British Bengal also included Bihar, Orissa, and Assam for intermediary periods-these areas have also been frequently referred to by way of illustration.

With Calcutta as the hub, eastern India was the gateway of technology transmission to India. Underneath the relatively known areas of technology build-up, there was an inner layer of its transmission from the colonial metropolis to the interior, which is much less known. This book, a social history of technology in the main, analyses the context and results of technology induction to the village, such as the railways redrawing the morphology of rural settlement, the new tools-led empowerment of artisans, or their dispossession due to mechanization.

While technology improved the quality of life in the West, it largely failed to mitigate poverty in rural India. The book addresses why it failed to accelerate development in India. Based on local level sources, the work blends hard data with folk usage, oral tradition, songs, sayings, and vernacular literature, thereby infusing into the text both a life and a historical insight most often ignored.

Online publication : the ICT sector in India

Roland Lardinois, en collaboration avec P. Vignesh Illavarasam, Le secteur des technologies de l’information et de la communication en Inde, Les études de l’emploi cadre, n°2014-07, Février 2014, Association pour l’emploi des cadres, Paris, 142 pages.

Le travail d’investigation réalisé a utilisé toutes les méthodes classiques : recherches et veilles documentaires, entretiens qualitatifs, enquête quantitative. Il éclaire sur une société et une économie où les transformations sont profondes. Ceci a pour premier effet de faire de l’Inde étudiée, un monde plus proche, mais néanmoins spécifique, tant par rapport aux pays développés que par rapport aux autres pays émergents. Toutes les données accumulées proposent une nouvelle lecture de la réalité indienne. Elles donnent à voir les conditions d’émergence d’une classe moyenne éduquée et urbaine dans un pays où la grande majorité des emplois relèvent du secteur primaire (agriculture) et dont la population vit massivement en milieu rural. Elles montrent aussi l’impact des choix politiques, publics et privés, privilégiant le développement du secteur des services IT. Continue reading

New Issue Feb 2014 Seminar Magazine : State of Science

    Posed by Dhruv Raina, Zakir Husain Centre for Educational Studies, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi

    Benjamin Zachariah, Karl Jaspers Centre for Advanced Transcultural Studies, University of Heidlherg

    Shiju Sam Varughese
    Centre for Studies in Science, Technology and Innovation Policy, School of Social Sciences, Central University of Gujarat, Gandhinagar Continue reading