Sara Dickey

Affiliation: Anthropology
Professor of Anthropology Emerita

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.

Curriculum Vitae

Sara Dickey Headshot


  • PhD, Anthropology, University of California, San Diego