Scholarly discussions of formal education in the global South are increasingly moving away from a narrow focus on human capital to consider the meanings that people attach to 'being educated'. This article advances current debates on the social construction of educational value in South Asia by examining how educated Chamar (Dalit) young men reflect on their education in the face of poor occupational outcomes. Since the 1960s, Dalits' investment informal education in rural Uttar Pradesh (UP) has seen a marked rise, in part through emulation of higher castes. The pro-Dalit Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has also been instrumental in promoting a vision of empowerment through formal education and entry into white-collar employment. Our research in rural Bijnor district suggests that the most recent generation of high school and college graduates amongst the Chamars has failed to find salaried employment. Some young men respond to this exclusion by reaffirming their faith in the BSP's model of progress and establishing themselves as local political figures (netas). Other young men voice a growing alienation from the BSP's vision of empowerment and speak of themselves as people 'trapped' by education. Nevertheless, both these sets of young men continue to value education as a source of 'cultural distinction', sign of their 'modern' status, and means of challenging caste-based notions of difference.
- CULTURAL PRODUCTION
- FORMAL EDUCATION