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AN ETHNOGRAPHIC CASE STUDY OF CONTEMPORARY BENGALI STUDENTS’ ‘ADDA’ (HANG-OUT) IN ONE UNIVERSITY IN KOLKATA: ALTERNATIVE PATHWAYS TO LEARNING, OR A COMPLETE WASTE OF TIME?
Restricted (Penn State Only)
Curriculum and Instruction
Doctor of Philosophy
Date of Defense:
December 20, 2018
Vivian Yenika-Agbaw, Dissertation Advisor
Vivian Yenika-Agbaw, Committee Chair
Esther Susana Prins, Committee Member
Mark Thomas Kissling, Committee Member
Susan G Strauss, Outside Member
Gwendolyn Monica Lloyd, Committee Member
Alternative pathways to learning
Ethnographic Case Study
Culture of Education
South Asian Studies
Sociology of Education
While a lot of Bengali cultural texts and D/discourses name āddā as central to the social-intellectual lives of the Bengali people, when it comes to the lives of the unemployed or under-employed Bengali middle-class youth and students, āddā is often considered a waste of time. This, thus, creates a cultural dissonance for most Bengali middle-class youth and students, who often cannot bring themselves to summarily concur with the prevalent view of youth āddā as a waste of time. It also belies a dominant teleological view of education and the time spent by youth and students in such non-curricular activities as āddā. In this dissertation, through participant-observations, archival documents, and interviews with young people and some concerned adults such as parents of young students, the author investigates and critiques the complex politics of representation of Bengali youth āddā in the adult D/discourses, as well as in the counter-D/discourses of the young people, and examines the nuanced and multi-layered relationships between contemporary youth āddā and the prevalent cultural notions about gender, class, intellectuality and productive use of time in one university in Kolkata in the state of West Bengal in India as an ethnographic case. Focusing particularly on the cultural worth of contemporary Bengali student and youth's āddā vis-à-vis its gender and class dimensions, as well as the popular cultural notions of success, productivity, materialism and creative-intellectuality, the dissertation primarily seeks to understand how a group of contemporary Bengali students and youth, who regularly hang out in one university in Kolkata, negotiate the cultural dissonance regarding the representation of āddā in cultural texts and D/discourses as a valued intellectual practice and an intangible cultural heritage of the Bengali people on one hand, and as a complete waste of time, on the other. The dynamics of young people’s negotiations of the dominant cultural representations of their āddā is approached through an ethnographic analysis of actual āddā practices of the youth, including utilization of time, participation in production of ‘texts’ and (counter) D/discourses, consumption of controlled substances and the use of certain āddā-specific linguistic registers that reveal a terrain of class-inflected gendered demeanors and the masculine underpinnings of the social tensions that structure the spaces of youth āddā today. Through an analysis of consumption of controlled substances, production of texts and D/discourses, and the use certain linguistic registers in the āddās of the students and youth in the university campus and its surroundings, the thesis demonstrates that the discursive cultural dissonance between the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ āddā, tied to gender and class specificities, is both structuring of the students and youth’s understanding of their āddā practices and is informed and influenced by the same. More specifically, the dissertation demonstrates that while the students’ āddā practices often attempt to challenge and subvert the dominant discursive representations of Bengali youth’s āddā, these often also inadvertently provide new fodder to the same D/discourses; and that young people are often simultaneously critical of and also to some extent subscribers of the dominant cultural D/discourses on āddā, including young people’s āddā, although mostly when it pertains to someone else’s āddā and rarely to one’s own. Additionally, the dissertation points out the importance of places like university campuses and some commercialized spaces of convivial sociability like cafés, pubs, bars, lounges and discs for the flourishing of young people’s āddā culture as we know it today and for their roles in pushing the horizon of expectation regarding the contemporary youth āddā culture. The dissertation also iterates the pedagogical possibilities inherent in the youth āddā culture that educators can exploit to their students’ learning benefit in their classrooms and outside. Situated in a premier university campus in the capital city of India’s eastern state of West Bengal – Kolkata (once known both as the intellectual and cultural capital of India) – this case study, thus, attempts to produce a critical ethnography of the intellectual Bengali āddā as it pertains to a group of Bengali, middle-class students and youth, who regularly hang out in the university that has consistently been awarded a status of a Center of Excellence by the University Grants Commission and NAAC for the last 15 years in a row. However, rather than trying to produce a unified picture of the Bengali youth’s āddā culture or of the students’ attempts to negotiate the cultural dissonance regarding āddā as mentioned above, the author takes a non-dialectic approach to propose multiple plausible and powerful perspectives and to explore their productive tensions with one another. It is hoped that the dissertation would encourage further research on āddā and similar youth cultures of the Indian subcontinent that are presently under-researched.
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