Sara Dickey

Professor of Anthropology, Faculty Liaison for Advising

On leave for 2018-19 academic year

Sara Dickey received her Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of California-San Diego in 1988 and has been on the Bowdoin faculty since that time. She has also been a Visiting Scholar in the University of Pennsylvania South Asia Regional Studies Department and at the Institute for Research on Women at Rutgers University, and has twice served as the Academic Director of the South India Term Abroad (SITA) Program. Her grants include funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Science Foundation, and the American Institute for Indian Studies.

Her research focuses on class identities and relations in urban South India, and on the production, consumption, and circulation of Tamil cinema. Her fieldwork has been carried out in the cities of Madurai and Chennai. Early research examined the meanings that audiences make of Tamil films, and the ties between cinema and politics in South India. That work attuned her to the importance of class in Madurai residents’ everyday life and identities, and her next project focused on the interactive construction of class identities in domestic service relationships. This project expanded into a larger study of the symbolic production and interpretation of class in urban South India, of local/indigenous models of class, and of emerging class identities in a neoliberal economy. Recently she has returned to a study of cinema by focusing on three topics: the contemporary meanings of the film-star politician M.G. Ramachandran (MGR, c.1917-1987); cinema industry members' commentaries on filmmaking, markets, and audiences; and discourses within South Asian cinema scholarship.

Her next project explores the experiences of urban Nadars, who occupy highly disjunctive social positions. It examines Nadars’ negotiation of class honor and caste stigma, with a focus on uravinmurai (local caste associations) and on the worship of ancestral deities. This project opens new territory with the study of an entire community that bears twinned forms of identity and inequality that are ranked extremely differently.

PDF Curriculum Vitae

Selected Recent Publications

Book cover

Living Class in Urban India, New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press; Delhi: Permanent Black (2016)
2018 Honorable Mention for the Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy Book Prize, Association of Asian Studies

Apprehensions: On Gaining Recognition as Middle-Class in Madurai,” Contributions to Indian Sociology (n.s.), 47, 2: 217-243 (2013)

Lakshmi's Husband Preparing Dinner
Lakshmi's Husband Preparing Dinner

The Pleasures and Anxieties of Being in the Middle: Emerging Middle Class Identities in Urban South India,” Modern Asian Studies 46, 3: 559-599 (2012) 

 “Widening the Lens on South Asian Cinemas,” Sara Dickey and Rajinder Dudrah, in Sara Dickey and Rajinder Dudrah, eds., South Asian Cinemas: Widening the Lens, pp. 1-7.  London: Routledge (2011)

“South Asian Cinemas: Widening the Lens,” Sara Dickey and Rajinder Dudrah, South Asian Popular Culture 8, 3: 207-212 (2010)

Anjali's Office, 2009
Anjali's Office, 2009

“Anjali’s Alliance: Class Mobility in Urban India,” in Diane P. Mines and Sarah Lamb, eds., Everyday Life in South Asia, Second Edition, pp. 192-205. Bloomington: Indiana University Press (2010)

“Fantasy, Realism, and other Mixed Delights: What Have Film Analysts Seen in Popular Indian Cinema?” Projections: Journal of Movies and Mind 3, 2: 1-19, 2009

“The Nurturing Hero: Changing Images of MGR,” in Selvaraj Velayutham, ed., Tamil Cinema: The Cultural Politics of India's Other Film Industry. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2008

MGR film poster for Rikshaakkaaran (Rickshaw Driver), 2005
MGR film poster for Rikshaakkaaran (Rickshaw Driver), 2005

“Still ‘One Man in a Thousand’,” in David Blamey and Robert E. D’Souza, eds., Living Pictures: Perspectives on the Film Poster in India. London: Open Editions, 2005

“Opposing Faces: Film Star Fan Clubs and the Construction of Class Identity in South India,” in Christopher Pinney and Rachel Dwyer, eds., Pleasure and the Nation: The History, Politics and Consumption of Popular Culture in India. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2001

Home and Hegemony: Domestic Service and Identity Politics in South and Southeast Asia, Kathleen M. Adams and Sara Dickey, eds. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000

“Mutual Exclusions: Domestic Workers and Employers on Labor, Class and Character in South India,” in Kathleen M. Adams and Sara Dickey, eds., Home and Hegemony: Domestic Service and Identity Politics in South and Southeast Asia, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000

“Permeable Homes: Domestic Service, Household Space and the Vulnerability of Class Boundaries in Urban India,” American Ethnologist 27, 2: 462-489, May 2000 [Reprinted in revised form in Martha Ann Selby and Indira Vishwanathan Peterson, eds., Tamil Geographies, SUNY Press, 2008]