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Probing Culture(s)

Malvika Maheshwari

Edited by Christine Brosius and Karin M. Polit
Routledge, New Delhi, 2011, pp. 308, 795.00


The recent exhibitions in Delhi and Mumbai of the works of painters Amrit and Rabindra, popularly known as the Singh Twins, drew in many accolades especially for 'taking Indian miniatures to a completely new level' because of their 'reflec-tions on contemporary life.' Raised and educa-ted in Britain, the sisters have often expressed their strong resistance to follow 'only' the western greats like Matisse, Picasso and Gaugin: 'We said that Gauguin and others had been influenced by India and other foreign works, and that we were being denied our own way of expressing ourselves. (...) There was pressure to confirm to Western ideas, but we were challenging accepted notions of heritage and identity.' With the heightened advent of globalization, these challenges, claims, and resistances over issues of heritage and identity are oft heard from various sections of the society. The book Ritual, Heritage and Identity: The Politics of Culture and Performance in a Globali-zed World problematizes these commonplace, all-pervasive, yet complex, layered, often personally and politically volatile set of idioms. The work in its present form took shape out of a workshop where a group of scholars, across disciplines of social sciences, met at the University of Heidelberg in June 2007 to deep-en the understanding of concepts of 'cultural heritage, identity and nation in a globalized world' by exploring the 'relevance of ritual and ritual theory.' The book does so essentially by focusing on the various 'agents' of culture, especially those associated with its revitalization and conservation of 'ritualized traditions.' The work makes for a substantial reading and reflects the editors' labours, patience and engagement with the subject. Along with providing a rather normative outline to deliberate over the relationship between culture and identity, it sets out to propose 'new theoretical and methodological approaches towards the discussion of ritual and heritage.'  The book begins with an understanding that culture and rituals mutually frame each other. While 'culture', as a means of distinguishing social agents, groups and individuals, attains an increased significance in a 'globalized world', the editors write that it is in fact, 'rituals, ritualized performances and other ritually informed performative events' that constitute cultural identity and heritage. Rituals and its like are also, cultural property, what people can 'own' and that can be 'traded as a form of capital in the Bourdieuian sense.' More substantially, most chapters in this book on the 'politics of culture' deliberate ...

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