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

Fuller, C. J. and Narasimhan, Haripriya (2010) Traditional vocations and modern professions among Tamil Brahmans in colonial and post-colonial south India. Indian Economic and Social History Review, 47 (4). pp. 473-496. ISSN 0019-4646

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Identification Number: 10.1177/001946461004700403


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.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2010 Indian Economic and Social History Association
Divisions: Anthropology
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races
Date Deposited: 16 Feb 2011 12:19
Last Modified: 16 May 2024 01:06

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