Culture, Identity and Society

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Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation ElectiveSUS1SC8154

Semester and Year Offered: Winter 2019

Course Coordinator: Dr. Niharika Banerjea

Email: niharikab[at]aud[dot]ac[dot]in

Pre-requisites: None

Course Description:

This course is designed to introduce students to the concepts of culture and identity within societies. What shapes notions in societies about “culture”? How are individual and collective identities shaped by culture and what do we understand about their interactions in societies? What are the assumptions embedded in these categories of culture and identities about people, communities, and histories? This course engages with sociological and anthropological perspectives to these notions and aims to enable students to question and de-stabilise fixed notions about culture and identity that take shape and get complicated through categories of age, race, ethnicity, gender-sexuality, class, caste, nationality, diaspora, and globalisation. Since youth are often the key sites where anxieties of cultures and

identities play out in societies, this course will engage with youth cultures and identities to unpack how global movements offer new meanings to notions of belonging and difference. Finally, this course provides students with an understanding of “multi-cultural” societies, and also provides a critical study of the politics of such categories, along with problems of cultural appropriation, and uniformity.

The main objective of this course is to enable students to understand and unpack what constitutes culture and identity, through their own reflection on the self as individuals and part of a community, as well as through films, guest lectures and a brief field trip. While students will gain an understanding of how cultures and identities get shaped, this course will also de-stabilise the notion of culture as a fixed category, as students learn about “cultural identities,” youth sub-cultures, and hybrid cultures in context of diaspora formation. Finally, this course will engage with the politics of multiculturalism, and aims to enable students to identify problems with cultural appropriation, homogeneity, and uniformity in the increasingly globalised world.

Expected learning outcomes:

  1. Students will be able to develop and explain linkages between their experiential knowledge of their own cultures and identities that shape their social life and practices, and the scholarly definitions studied in the course.
  2. Students should be able to appreciate the diversities and fluidity of identities and cultures in their societies and the world.
  3. Students will be able to demonstrate their understanding of multi-culturalism and its critiques.
  4. Students will be able to identify and describe youth cultural practices and sub- cultures.
  5. Students should be able to evaluate and discuss the problems of cultural appropriation, homogeneity and uniformity.

Assignments and Grading:

  1. Individual and Group Reflective Exercise 40%
  2. Mid-term exam 30%
  3. Field trip group presentations 30%


Module 1: Unpacking meanings of “culture/s”

This module engages with unpacking meaning about culture(s), and how it is mediated in everyday life. What practices shape groups of society as part of unified cultural groups? Students will begin to appreciate the diverse groups of cultures across India and abroad, and will examine anthropological and empirical work to understand what makes specific groups distinct as cultural groups. Essentially, students will aim to understand what shapes people into particular cultural groups? How does the category of identity also shape cultures of people? Students will reflect on their own identities and cultures to make meaning about these concepts as well as engage with introductory definitions from the literature from cultural studies. Finally, this module will also offer students methodological insights into how sociologists and anthropologists have studied culture(s), and present some of the challenges of these approaches.


  • Williams, R. (1983) . Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (Revised Edition). New York: Oxford University Press. Excerpts from sections on Culture: pp. 49-54.
  • Bennett, T., Grossberg, L.., Morris, M. (2005) (Eds.) New Keywords: A Revised Vocabulary of Culture and Society. Blackwell Publishing. Excerpts of 5 pages.
  • Geertz, C. (1973) Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture. In The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books, pp. 3-33.
  • Pickering, M. (2008) Research Methods for Cultural Studies. Edinburgh University Press. Introduction, Pp 1-15.
  • Menon, N. (2005) How Natural is Normal: Feminism and Compulsory Heterosexuality. In Because I Have a Voice: Queer Politics in India. New Delhi: Yoda Press, pp. 33-39.

Films: Babies by Thomas Balmes

BBC Series Tales from the Jungle: Margaret Mead.

Suggested reading:

Module 2: Cultural identity of youth

Since youth are often the sites on whom battles of culture and identity play out, this module will continue with the theme of engaging with notions of youth and their cultural identities. Studies of young people’s cultural practices as forms of resistance from normative and adult cultures will be explored. This module begins to destablise notions of cultures and identities as fixed, particularly in light of globalisation and diaspora formation. Students will learn and come to recognize categories of cultures in societies as ever-changing and fluid categories that have historical and diasporic routes. Youth sub-cultures and identities will be studied in this module.


  • Corrigan, P. and Frith, S. (1975) The politics of youth culture. In Stuart Hall and T Jefferson(Eds.) Resistance Through Rituals, London: Hutchinson &amp Co., pp. 231-239.
  • Dasgupta, R.K. (2014) Parties, Advocacy and Activism: Interrogating Community and Class in Digital Queer India. In: Pullen C. (eds) Queer Youth and Media Cultures. Palgrave Macmillan, London. pp 265-277.
  • Kehiley, M (2003) Chapter 6: Youth Cultures In Kehiley, M & Swann, J. (eds.) Children’s Cultural Worlds. The Open University. pp 229-270.
  • Hall, S. (1990) Cultural Identity and Diaspora. In Johnathon Rutherford (Ed.) Identity, Community, Culture, Difference London: Lawrence and Wishart, pp. 222-237.
  • Vasan, S. (2017). Identity Formation, Culture and Community: Being Ladakhi Being Indian. Economic and Political Weekly. Vol. 52(14).


  • Jahaji Music directed by Surabhi Sharma
  • Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul by Fatih Akin

Suggested Reading:

  • Gupta, A & Ferguson, J. (1992). Beyond “Culture”: Space, identity, and the politics of difference. Cultural Anthropology, Vol 7 (1), pp. 6-23.

Module 3. The politics of culture and identity

While recognising the fluidity of cultures has been a significant move in liberal notions of societies, and led to movements of multi-culturalism and cosmopolitanism, particularly in the era of globalization, this module unpacks the critiques of multi-cultural politics, which privileges certain hegemonic cultures of the globe over ‘others’. How do some cultures get appropriated and consumed, while other cultures remain dominantly circulated as superior? Why do some identities – whether racial, caste, ethnic, classed, gendered – continue to experience marginalization and exclusion while dominant identities remain privileged? And, through what processes do the politics of culture and identity take shape? This module problematises how cultures and identities are often deployed as fixed categories so as to assert normative positions of power. Students will reflect on how education, and popular culture in particular offer insights into unpacking the problematics of appropriation, homegenisation, and uniformity.


  • Deshpander, S. (2013). Caste and Castelessness: Toward a Biography of the ‘General Category’. Economic and Political Weekly. Vol. 48, No. 15, pp. 32-39.
  • Guru, G. (2011). Liberal Democracy in India and the Dalit Critique. Social Research: An International Quarterly. Vo. 78, N0. 1., pp. 99-122.
  • Kymlicka, W. (1995). Multicultural Citizenship. A liberal Theory of Minority Rights. Clarendon Press. Chapter 2: Politics of Multiculturalism, pp 10-33.
  • Wallerstein, I. (1990) Culture as the ideological battleground of the modern world-system. In M. Featherstone (Ed.) Global Culture: Nationalism, globalization and modernity. A Theory, Culture & Society Special Issue. Sage Publications, pp. 31-56.

Films and video:
Fandry Danger of a Singular Story: Adichie, Chimamanda. Ted Talk

Asafu-Adjaye et. al. 2015. An Eco-Modernist Manifesto. Available at: (last accessed 1/15/2017: 2 pm)