Degrees Without Freedom?: Education, Masculinities, and Unemployment in North India

Degrees Without Freedom?: Education, Masculinities, and Unemployment in North India

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Degrees Without Freedom?: Education, Masculinities, and Unemployment in North India by Craig Jeffrey, Patricia Jeffery, Roger Jeffery

Degrees Without Freedom? re-evaluates debates on education, modernity, and social change in contemporary development studies and anthropology. Education is widely imputed with the capacity to transform the prospects of the poor. But in the context of widespread unemployment in rural north India, it is better understood as a contradictory resource, providing marginalized youth with certain freedoms but also drawing them more tightly into systems of inequality. The book advances this argument through detailed case studies of educated but unemployed or underemployed young men in rural western Uttar Pradesh. This book draws on fourteen months' ethnographic research with young men from middle caste Hindu, Muslim, and ex-Untouchable backgrounds. In addition to offering a new perspective on how education affects the rural poor in South Asia, Degrees Without Freedom? includes in-depth reflection on the politics of modernity, changing rural masculinities, and caste and communal politics.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780804757430
Publisher: Stanford University Press
Publication date: 11/29/2007
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.58(d)

About the Author

Craig Jeffrey is Assistant Professor of Geography and International Studies at the University of Washington, Seattle. Patricia Jeffery is Professor of Sociology at the University of Edinburgh. Roger Jeffery is Professor of the Sociology of South Asia at the University of Edinburgh.

Read an Excerpt

Degrees Without Freedom?

Education, Masculinities, and Unemployment in North India


Copyright © 2008 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8047-5743-0

Chapter One



In March 2001, when we were walking around Nangal, a village in western Uttar Pradesh (UP), India, we met a man named Chandbir. In his mid twenties in 2001, Chandbir came from a family belonging to the middle-ranking Jat caste and owning 4 acres of land. He possessed a high school pass but failed three times to obtain a position in the army. Some of Chandbir's friends teased him by promoting him within the army hierarchy every time he failed the examination, and they called him 'Captain Chandbir' in 2001.

Chandbir was keen to talk, and he led us over to a rope bed in his family's courtyard. We asked him how he regarded education in the light of his failure to obtain a salaried job. Perched on the edge of the rope bed, Chandbir leaned forward eagerly, and told us:

Education provides great benefit. Education allows one to obtain good employment, and, if you don't obtain a service job, you should still certainly study. An educated person can do any work or business. An educated person can also run a shop. In addition, education provides manners. An educated person can talk to anyone. Wherever you go, education provides confidence. Education is very important.... When I work in the field in the sun, my mind starts to whirl. I've realized that to get out of the dust and soil [dhul mitti] of the village people need to study. It's only by studying that they will escape.

There are many Chandbirs in Nangal. Growing enthusiasm for education is a marked feature of contemporary India. During fourteen months' ethnographic field research in north India in 2000–2002, we heard many parents and young people telling us that prolonged education (parhai) is central to children's futures. Like Chandbir, parents and young people discussed the benefits of education with reference to a range of skills and knowledge offered by schooling. They imagined education to provide a good job, manners and an escape from the 'dust and soil' of the village.

The physical landscape of Nangal village, Bijnor District, also testified to the importance of education in western UP. Driving into the village from the direction of the district town, Bijnor, one first encountered a large private secondary school: several whitewashed buildings clustered around an area of scuffed ground that served as a children's playground. Advertisements for private tutors, coaching institutes and textbooks surrounded the school compound. In the early mornings and late afternoons, children crowded this area dressed in colorful uniforms and clutching bulging school bags. Education also marked the landscape of Qaziwala, a Muslim-dominated village closer to Bijnor town. At the junction between the main road and the track to Qaziwala is a large madrasah, an Islamic educational institution, which in 2001 catered for over 1,200 pupils. Around 7 am, and again at about noon, children poured in and out of the madrasah. At the same times, buses, cycle rickshaws and three-wheeled motorized vehicles plied the main road carrying richer children south-east to private schools in Bijnor and poorer children north-west to a government-aided secondary school.

Between September 2000 and April 2002, we lived in a middle class colony, Awas Vikas, built mainly in the mid-1990s on the edge of Bijnor. The landscape surrounding our home was also replete with signs of a growing enthusiasm for formal education. A large advertising hoarding opposite the entrance to the colony proclaimed that 'Modern Era Public School,' a new English-Medium school in Bijnor, provides "every facility for the best education in India." From 5 am every morning, teenaged children streamed into Awas Vikas on bicycles and scooters to start private tutorials before school. By 7 am, cycle rickshaws, typically carrying ten to fifteen carefully groomed schoolchildren, set off toward the numerous primary schools scattered around the town. Between Bijnor and Delhi, signs for educational institutions offering opulent and successful futures lined the road: schools promising children "the mind of an Athenian and the body of a Spartan," institutions dedicated to "giving your kids a head start in life" and multiple nurseries tailored to "the exceptionally gifted child."

We encountered similar narratives of education as social opportunity in the seminar rooms of Delhi. Scholars often referred to mainstream schooling as a basis for individual 'empowerment' and a wellspring for social and political transformation. Development workers in organizations such as the UK's Department for International Development (DFID) and the World Bank spoke in similar terms.

Such perceptions are part of general understandings of the significance of education in contemporary India. Indeed, more than half of President Abdul Kalam's address to the nation on 14 August 2004 was devoted to emphasizing the importance of the education system "in creating an enlightened, dynamic and prosperous society" and transforming "a human being into a wholesome whole, a noble soul and an asset to the universe." From the sugar cane fields of rural Bijnor district, through the offices of provincial western UP and onwards along the road to Delhi, development planners, businesspeople and parents depicted education as a tool for personal and collective development.

The idea of education as a central 'social good' has a long history in UP (see Kumar 1994). It occupied a prominent place in the imagination of the founders of post-colonial India (Kumar 1994). Nor is it surprising that we encountered, in the seminar rooms of Delhi, development workers and scholars speaking in rich tones of the benefits of education. Not only do these development workers and scholars have a powerful professional stake in education, as teachers or people engaged in introducing educational initiatives, but they have also gained personally from sustained formal schooling and university degrees, as, indeed, we have ourselves.

At a theoretical level, the narratives and landscapes we encountered in north India remind us of Drèze and Sen's (1995) insistence on education as 'social opportunity.' In his work, Development as Freedom, Sen (1999) writes of education as a key tool of individual and social transformation intimately connected to people's ability to obtain a range of 'substantive freedoms,' such as employment, political participation and dignity.

This book highlights the potential for education to transform people's lives. But we also show how power and culture mediate people's access to the freedoms that education provides. Rather than assuming that people from marginalized groups always benefit from schooling, we highlight the struggles faced by marginalized educated men to acquire work, political leverage and respect. The idea for this book first came from a conversation with a young man called Girish. At least twice a week, Girish would come round to our house in Awas Vikas on his moped. Girish was the son of a Brahmin doctor who had moved from Nangal to a colony on the edge of Bijnor. Holding a BA degree, Girish sold pharmaceuticals for a private company but harbored dreams of capturing a government job. In these respects, he was quite similar to many richer young men in Nangal and Qaziwala. Sitting down during our conversations, Girish exuded a restless energy, his legs swaying from side to side as he spoke. On one occasion, Girish felt moved to comment on our project on schooling and inequality in western UP by noting that "education is nothing, what matters here now is source and force." 'Source' referred to social contacts and 'force' connoted physical might or the combination of money and muscle. A few days later, and preoccupied with the same thought, Girish told us, "What I meant to say is that it is money and jugar that matter here." In his Hindi/English dictionary, McGregor (1993: 376) translates jugar as 'provisioning' but in western UP it commonly refers to the capacity to improvise shrewdly with available resources. While we were living in Bijnor, Girish went for an interview for a position in the railway service. Reflecting the massive disparity between the demand for government jobs and supply of such positions, over a thousand people appeared for the handful of posts on offer. Each of these thousand people had the requisite educational qualifications. Girish remembered that "those with jugar got the jobs."

What we now remember about that meeting with Girish, and what became increasingly clear to us as our research progressed, was the active and energetic manner in which young men in north India have responded to educated underemployment and the varied ways in which they discussed education. But the broader point we take from Girish is that education rarely acts as some irresistible force propelling young people toward secure employment and respectable futures. Rather, educated young people—in India as in many areas of the world—emerge from school or university into highly competitive fields of social struggle in which the utility and meaning of 'education' and 'modernity' emerge as problematic, and in which source, force and the need to improvise become paramount concerns.

This chapter seeks to provide a conceptual framework for understanding young people's efforts to negotiate educated un/under-employment. We wish to locate the struggles of young men such as Girish with reference to key scholarly debates on education, youth cultures and social inequality. The next section of this chapter introduces Drèze and Sen's theory of education as social opportunity. We then consider how a focus on youth cultures, the cultural politics of modernity and masculinity might offer additional insights into young men's practices. Finally, we outline our methodology and the argument and structure of the book.

Sen, Education and Freedom

In collaborative research with Jean Drèze (Drèze and Sen 1995), Sen offers a counterpoint to mainstream development's preoccupation with questions of economic growth and governance. Instead, Drèze and Sen propose that international development organizations and national governments in poor countries should pay much greater attention to improving education and health care. The authors advance their argument with reference to how the widespread provision of basic education may improve a country's economic growth, using China as a key example, and by presenting a set of propositions about education's connection to individual and collective well-being.

Drèze and Sen argue that elementary education (Classes 1 to 8) is valuable to the freedom of a person in five distinct ways. First, education has an intrinsic importance in that being educated has a value in itself. Second, education plays 'instrumental personal roles': "Education [is] important for getting a job and more generally for making use of economic opportunities. The resulting expansion in incomes and economic means can, in turn, add to a person's freedom to achieve functionings that he or she values" (Drèze and Sen 1995: 14). Third, Drèze and Sen identify 'instrumental social roles' whereby education facilitates public discussion of social needs and encourages subordinate groups to make informed collective demands. Fourth, they refer to 'instrumental process roles,' understood as benefits aside from the explicitly educational function of schools, such as promoting social interaction and broadening young people's horizons. Finally, education is perceived to play empowerment and distributive roles: "Greater literacy and educational achievements of disadvantaged groups can increase their ability to resist oppression, to organize politically, and to get a fairer deal" (Drèze and Sen 1995: 14–15).

Drèze and Sen's ideas have powerfully shaped how scholars, practitioners and activists think about schooling in poor countries. As Sen (1999; chapter 12) explains in later work, they go beyond human capital approaches by insisting on close links between education and various social goods. Moreover, unlike human capital theorists, Drèze and Sen are sensitive to how unequal access to education frequently reproduces inequality within society, a point well made in a volume of regional case studies (Drèze and Sen 1997). Implicit in Sen's work is recognition of the multiple means through which people learn, for example through apprenticeships (Lave and Wenger 1991; Hameed 2005), labor (Breman 1985; Parry 1999) or play (Katz 2004). Moreover, Drèze and Sen have made important empirical contributions to understanding how education works in India.

Nevertheless, a review of critical approaches to education suggests two principal difficulties with Drèze and Sen's (1995) and Sen's (1999) construction. A first problem with Sen's schema is one of emphasis. In laying repeated stress on the importance of schooling in and of itself, he risks downplaying how schooling is differently experienced. The notion that education is intrinsically beneficial is now widely circulated by governments, non-state actors and local people. Yet these ideas have routinely been the subject of critique: from the radical 'deschoolers' (Illich 1972) to scholars who stress the role of formal education in creating 'failure' as a social label (Willis 1977; Levinson and Holland 1996). Others have pointed to how school education is implicated in the creation or perpetuation of national, religious, gendered, and class identities and beliefs (e.g. Althusser 1971; Bowles and Gintis 1976; Bourdieu and Passeron 1977; Foucault 1980; Giroux 1983, 2001).

The second problem relates to the social and political processes through which marginalized people obtain substantive freedoms. Sen is sometimes slow to explain clearly the mechanisms through which one freedom creates others. Moreover, where he has attempted to do so, other scholars have occasionally challenged his interpretation. Reflecting on the comparative position of China and India, for example, Corbridge (2002) has questioned the idea common in Sen's writing that democratic governments are inevitably more likely than authoritarian regimes to generate economic growth, improve welfare and provide food security for the poor. Corbridge argues that Sen fails to consider the Marxist arguments that democratic governments frequently side with dominant classes and that freedoms are often achieved through social struggle. In relation to schooling, Jeffery and Jeffery (1998) have used empirical work in UP, as well as secondary evidence from other parts of India, to question the notion that formal education within school inevitably improves women's autonomy and lowers fertility. Jeffery and Jeffery show that the correlation between low fertility and women's schooling does not demonstrate a causal link. Moreover, many schools in western UP reproduce highly exclusionary gendered norms. Parents characteristically send their daughters to school to groom them for their future role as wives and mothers and instill restrictive notions of femininity (see Jeffery and Basu 1996; Jeffery and Jeffery 1998; see also Agarwal et al. 2006).

The operative word in Drèze and Sen's theoretical schema is 'potential': education can improve people's access to multiple freedoms if other conditions permit. Questions of whether education is the most effective point of entry in processes of social empowerment and, crucially, what other initiatives might need to be taken in tandem with efforts to improve educational access become pressing. As Corbridge (2002) and Seabright (2001) have argued, the implications of Sen's work for policy are not always rendered explicit in his writing.

We are not arguing against efforts to expand the educational opportunities of the poor. There is an urgent need to support Drèze and Sen's call for improved school facilities within and outside India. A large number of young people in South Asia, especially girls, still lack access to primary, let alone secondary, education. These young people typically enter household labor or poorly paid manual, service or industrial work outside the home, often in grueling and dangerous conditions (Nieuwenhuys 1994; Dyson 2007). Drèze and Sen's arguments have an important strategic political value in the context of political resistance to improving government education and considerable state apathy around addressing the material and educational needs of working children. It should be equally clear that we do not subscribe to the type of 'post-development' theorizing that might imagine formal education as somehow 'inappropriate' to the strategies of rural north Indians. The example of Chandbir reminds us that many young people in rural India have absorbed notions of schooling as a form of development. Rather, we are concerned that Sen's theoretical emphasis on education as a driver for change might divert attention away from social struggles over the value and uses of education in situations of economic uncertainty. As an alternative strategy, we seek to uncover the importance of post-educational landscapes as terrains of social and political struggle. We use geographical terminology wittingly to signal our interest in how young people equipped with very different resources compete for work, security and respect on the ground.


Excerpted from Degrees Without Freedom? by CRAIG JEFFREY PATRICIA JEFFERY ROGER JEFFERY Copyright © 2008 by Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission of STANFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


The Authors....................xiii
1 Introduction....................1
2 The Political Economy of Uttar Pradesh....................35
3 Masculinity on a Shoestring? The Cultural Production of Education....................62
4 From Canefield to Campus (and Back Again): The Social Strategies of Educated Jats....................78
5 Dalit Revolution? New Politicians in Uttar Pradesh....................109
6 Muslims' Strategies in an Age of Insecurity....................139
7 Down and Out in Nangal and Qaziwala: The Cultural Politics of Resentment....................168
8 Conclusions....................196

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