"A useless thing!" or "nectar of the gods"? The cultural production of education and young men's struggles for respect in liberalizing north India

C Jeffrey, P Jeffery, R Jeffery

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature reviewpeer-review


Drawing on fourteen months' ethnographic field research in western Uttar Pradesh among educated Dalit (exuntouchable) and Muslim young men, this article uncovers a crisis in educated people's access to salaried employment in rural north India. Against the grain of other studies of youth underemployment in postcolonial settings, we argue that educated Muslim and Dalit young men have reacted to their exclusion from secure white-collar occupations by embracing education as a form of embodied cultural distinction rather than seeking out "traditional," "indigenous," or "village-based" identities. Young men elaborate on education's value with reference to a system of differences between moral, civilized, developed "educated" people and immoral, savage, underdeveloped "illiterates." Education has become a type of discursive "scaffold" upon which people display their ideas about morality, development, and respect. These narratives are compromised and contested and highlight differences in the ability of Muslim and Dalit young men to maintain an image of themselves as educated people. The extraordinary durability of local ideas of development (vikas) in the face of poor occupational outcomes and local variations in young people's ability to maintain development identities point to the importance of the cultural production of education as a field for comparative geographical enquiry.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)961-981
Number of pages21
JournalAnnals of the Association of American Geographers
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2004


  • development
  • education
  • India
  • work
  • youth
  • Dalits
  • Muslims

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