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"That used to be a famous village": shedding the past in rural north India

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Peter Phillimore



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC 4.0).


This paper examines the changing reputation of one village inHimachal Pradesh, India, looking back over 30 years. This village has long had a singular identity and local notoriety for its association with jadu (‘witchcraft’). I argue that in this village today the idea of ‘witchcraft’ as a potent malignant force is losing its old persuasiveness, and with this change the village is also shedding its unwanted reputation. Against claims for ‘the modernity of witchcraft’ in various parts of the world, I argue that, in this case at least, witchcraft is construed as distinctly unmodern. The capacity of jadu to cause fear and, equally, its value as an explanatory idiom are, I suggest, being overwhelmed by social changes, the cumulative effect of which has been to reduce the previous insularity of this village and greatly widen the social networks of its members. I pose two main questions. Why should this village have held such a particular reputation? And why should it now be on the wane? Linked to the second question is the relationship between this decline and local understandings of ‘modernity’. In developing my argument around the specificity of an unusual village, I also consider the significance of ‘the village’ as both social entity and, formerly, one cornerstone of the anthropological project. Finally, I reflect on the methodological opportunities of long-term familiarity with a setting, exemplified in the iterative nature of learning ethnographically, as the children known initially in early fieldwork become the adult conversationalists of today, partners in interpreting their own village’s past. In exploring their explanations for the decline in the salience of jadu, the pivotal impact of education and the pressures of ‘time’ created by the ‘speed’ of modernity are both salient.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Phillimore P

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Modern Asian Studies

Year: 2014

Volume: 48

Issue: 1

Pages: 159-187

Print publication date: 01/01/2014

Online publication date: 01/03/2013

Date deposited: 29/07/2014

ISSN (print): 0026-749X

ISSN (electronic): 1469-8099

Publisher: Cambridge University Press


DOI: 10.1017/S0026749X13000115


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