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Traditional vocations and modern professions among Tamil Brahmans in colonial and post-colonial south India

By C. J. Fuller and Haripriya Narasimhan


Since the nineteenth century, Tamil Brahmans have been very well represented in the educated professions, especially law and administration, medicine, engineering and nowadays, information technology. This is partly a continuation of the Brahmans’ role as literate service people, owing to their traditions of education, learning and literacy, but the range of professions shows that any direct continuity is more apparent than real. Genealogical data are particularly used as evidence about changing patterns of employment, education and migration. Caste traditionalism was not a determining constraint, for Tamil Brahmans were predominant in medicine and engineering as well as law and administration in the colonial period, even though medicine is ritually polluting and engineering resembles low-status artisans’ work. Crucially though, as modern, English-language, credential-based professions that are wellpaid and prestigious, law, medicine and engineering were and are all deemed eminently suitable for Tamil Brahmans, who typically regard their professional success as a sign of their caste superiority in the modern world. In reality, though, it is mainly a product of how their old social and cultural capital and their economic capital in land were transformed as they seized new educational and employment opportunities by flexibly deploying their traditional, inherited skills and advantages

Topics: GN Anthropology, HT Communities. Classes. Races
Publisher: Sage Publications
Year: 2010
DOI identifier: 10.1177/001946461004700403
OAI identifier:
Provided by: LSE Research Online

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