ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

The Minus Degrees

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

Economic & Political Weekly EPW november 8, 200837book reviewThe Minus DegreesCarol UpadhyaDegrees without Freedom is an an-thropological study of educated un/underemployed young men in western Uttar Pradesh (UP). The authors have had extensive and long-term field experience in the region. The book focuses on attitudes to education, strategies of mobility, and the “work” that higher edu-cation does in the lives of young men in north India. Addressing these questions through close ethnographic work, the authors throw new light on larger debates about development, education and employ-ment in India, and raise important issues and questions that demand further explo-ration and debate by sociologists and policy-makers alike. As such, it is important read-ing for development practitioners and social scientists, and of particular interest to sociologists working on education.Reality of EducationThe starting point for the discussion is the widespread notion, shared by many deve-lopment experts and the wider public, that education is a key resource – if not the most important one – for “development”. Education is thought not only to provide the skills needed for employment and allow greater access to market opportuni-ties, it is regarded as intrinsically valuable because it gives people greater autonomy and control over their lives, or “freedom”, as Amartya Sen puts it.This article of faith, the authors argue, fails to take into account the reality of education in India (and elsewhere) and the diverse and contradictory roles that it plays, especially in the context of stiff competition for formal sector employ-ment. Drawing on a critical sociology of education, particularly the work of Pierre Bourdieu, the study illustrates the ways in which education contributes to the re-production of inequalities and even to social marginalisation. The discussion also draws on recent literature on chang-ing youth cultures in the context of neoliberalism: the spread of education has not been matched by expanded em-ployment opportunities for large numbers of youth across the world, who in response are creating new forms of agency, identi-ties (especially, gendered identities), and cultural styles. The study is based on extended field research carried out in two villages of Bijnor district and in Bijnor town, focusing on young men (aged 20 to 34) belonging to three major social groups in the region – Jats (the dominant landowning caste), Dalits (mainly Chamars) and Muslims. It documents the engagement of these groups with higher education (defined as 8th class and above) and its everyday ef-fects, not only in relation to employment, but also in the construction of identity, political mobilisation and gender rela-tions. Exploring how education is used in diverse and contrasting ways by the youth of these communities as a strategy to gain power and status, the book also highlights the many ways in which educa-tion fails to provide what it promises, especially to Muslims and Dalits. This is perhaps the first study of its kind in India to employ ethnographic methods to explore how education is deployed as a strategy in various ways by different social groups.Community DominanceA comparative analysis of how youth of these three groups have experienced higher education, and how choices about educa-tion have played out in their lives, forms the core of the argument, drawing on in-depth ethnographic data and narratives. The main argument (well-known to sociologists but somehow missing from policy discourses) is that education is as much about the reproduction and consoli-dation of caste/class/gender/community dominance and inequalities as it is about “empowerment”. The authors agree that education can be “empowering” in some respects, but the major thrust of their argument is that “the ability of young men to benefit from education depended crucially on money, social resources and cultural capital” (p 208).The study highlights the contradictions that are endemic to the Indian education system, which produces unemployment as well as employment and, hence, exten-sive frustration and disenchantment among marginalised youth. Liberalisa-tion (and the consequent decline in public sector employment) has produced a large cohort of educated un/underemployed young men in this region, who typically spend long periods of time searching (mostly unsuccessfully) for secure sala-ried jobs. The research focused on the re-sponses of these youth to the experience of unemployment – the “social struggles over the value and uses of education in situations of economic uncertainty” (p 8) – and the strategies they pursue not only to attain economic security, but also to shape new identities, consolidate social status, and reproduce local power struc-tures (for instance, of Jats over Dalits). Failing to find suitable employment, these youth devise other stratagems of upward mobility – such as through politics, self-employment in the informal economy, or entrepreneurship. The ethnography also illustrates a widespread negative outcome of the spread of education – the turning away from agriculture by highly educated rural youth, who then spend years search-ing for a “suitable” job. In this complex situation, marriage and dowry play a pivotal role in the mobility strategies of young men and their families, with significant repercussions for young women and gender relations.Caste/Class PowerComparison of the responses of Jat, Muslim and Dalit young men to under/unemployment underscores the reproduction Degrees without Freedom? Education, Masculinities, and Unemployment in North Indiaby Craig Jeffrey, Patricia Jeffery and Roger Jeffery; Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008; pp xiv + 240, $ 21.95 (paperback).
BOOK REVIEWnovember 8, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly38of older structures of caste/class power and inequality in westernUP in a new so-cial and economic context. The greater social and cultural capital of the Jats ena-bled them to find employment more easily than the other groups, especially private sector jobs, and to take advantage of other economic opportunities, for instance, by mobilising their social networks. Dalits and Muslims, on the other hand, were largely excluded from the most prestig-ious and lucrative types of qualifications and work. Many Dalit young men re-sponded to their exclusion by entering politics. This account of the rise of the “new politicians” among rural Dalits in UP provides important ground-level in-sights into the “Dalit revolution”, as well as a critique of other accounts that paint a highly optimistic picture of caste relations inUP. Many of the Muslim youth, on the other hand, turned to artisanal work or religious occupations in response to their experience of unemployment, which was exacerbated by the rise of communal tensions. A fourth response, found among some subjects in all the groups, was an attitude of resignation and resentment, and consequent withdrawal from normal social life – becoming a “timepass” or “useless” man.DevaluationA significant finding of the study is that education’s failure to deliver what it pro-mises does not, on the whole, lead to a devaluation of education by rural and semi-urban youth. Instead, the narratives of these young men indicate that they have internalised the idea that education creates educated, “civilised” and modern people (‘parhe likhe log’), symbolised by a particular cultural style and new forms of masculinity, in contrast to the igno-rance, crudeness and “uselessness” of the uneducated villager. In this sense, education is seen (especially by Dalits) as valuable in itself, even if it does not lead to employment or upward economic mobility. At the same time, a shocking finding of this study is that many parents among the lowest social classes, who in the 1980s and 1990s had invested heavily in educating their children, are now turn-ing away from this mobility strategy be-cause it is seen as a waste of resources (‘bekar’). Retention of children of these groups in school is actually falling, with families withdrawing their children from schooling even before the comple-tion of 8th class.The authors are quick to point out that they are not arguing againstthe provision of universal primary education or the ex-tension of higher education; rather, this work is an attempt to provide a much-needed corrective to the belief that educa-tion will automatically dissolve social in-equalities. It also illustrates the need to match education more closely with skills and employment opportunities. Paying heed to subaltern voices, they suggest, forces us to recognise this “ambivalent nature of education” (p 209). Education is a “contradictory resource” that may open
BOOK REVIEWEconomic & Political Weekly EPW november 8, 200839up “opportunities to undermine estab-lished structures of power”, but also draw “marginalised young people more tightly into structures and ideologies of dominance” (p 210).ConclusionsThis study is particularly significant in the context of the spread of private educational institutions across small and medium towns and rural areas, creating new op-portunities for many but also exclusion and failure for others. Higher education and formal sector employment are widely regarded as essential elements of middle class status, and the “new middle classes” of provincial towns as well as many poor and low status families invest heavily in this form of cultural capital for their children, only to have their hopes dashed when the desired jobs prove elusive. This study documents in painful detail the con-sequences of this kind of failure for rural youth when they find that “degrees” do not always lead to “freedom”.Email: carol@nias.iisc.ernet.inGoa Sweet Land of Mine Goa Foundation, Mapusa, Goa, 2008; pp 92, no price mentioned. Green Sense in a Land Run RedRahul GoswamiAlorry load of red earth in Goa has for too long been a cargo beyond question. Ripped out of an earth that is protected by dense forest, the value of this cargo has in the last three years dramatically altered an industry that used to be predictably cyclical. Today, the global demand for metals, minerals and commodities has turned mining into a conspicuously lucrative industry. In 2005, India’s total iron ore exports were valued at $3,860 million (about Rs 18,100 crore at the then exchange rate). Goa’s share of that value was around Rs 6,300 crore which, to help understand scale, compares with the Rs10,951 crore that was Goa’s net state domestic product for 2005-06. Today, Goa’s iron ore miners have em-ployed their new liquidity in two direc-tions: expansions in the same industry sector, and in property development. In doing so they are less impulsive than their counterparts across the high green ridges of the western ghats: the maverick miners of Karnataka’s Bellary and Hospet have substituted their jeeps with helicopters.Responding to what the industry says are its needs, Goa has released what it calls a draft mineral policy. This attempt at describing the state-minerals relation-ship in the first place fails to set out the responsibilities and costs related to a major economic activity. The current Congress chief minister, Digambar Kamat, was after all once a minister of industries and mines. Even so, Goa’s ore miners have not attempted to make any corrections or additions to this policy, and why should they? For two decades, their cause has been helped by the officials and bureau-crats of the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) which has, particularly in the eyes of citizens living in mining- affected villages, done everything pos-sible to shear the land of its protective green covering.Direct CulpabilityThroughout Sweet Land of Mine, the de-structive role of theMoEF is reprised. This ministry has aided and abetted the over-turning of every single piece of legislation designed to protect ecological systems and the communities of Goa. It has done so consistently from the mid-1980s when the Portuguese mining “concessions” were converted into leases. The ministry has ig-nored, time and again, every single sub-mission from environmentalists active in Goa, every single objection from the few honest administrators in the state, every study conducted by any independent authority that could harm the interests of the mining industry in Goa. This ministry is directly culpable for a great deal of the damage the small state has suffered during the last 20 years of organised mining. It is a modern and deliberate administrative crime.TheMoEF has approved opencast min-ing within one to three kilometres of Goa’s wildlife sanctuaries. Mining leases have been granted clearances even when inside these sanctuaries – the Cotigao, Netravali, Bhagwan Mahavir and Mhadei sanctuar-ies run from south to north Goa along the western slopes of the spine of the western ghats. They should form a continuous pro-tected corridor for wildlife but the practice in Goa has been wildly at odds with the intention. In 2002 the same MoEF had di-rected all state governments to demarcate a 10 km buffer zone from the boundaries of all wildlife sanctuaries.The Goa Foundation pressed the Supreme Court for enforcement of this direction, and when it did the MoEF withdrew the circular and suggested the state govern-ments examine the issue according to each sanctuary, effectively transferring the burden of decision to local satraps. In Goa, the government set up an interdepartmen-tal committee to demarcate the buffer zone around the six wildlife sanctuaries and one national park. The committee’s generosity to Goa’s environment extended to no more than a one km zone with a res-triction on mining; if forests were present then the buffer zone would be three kms. Even this rickety safeguard has been dis-mantled in favour of the mining industry by the state government – it has recom-mended that three of Goa’s sanctuaries need no buffer zone at all. TheMoEF has encouraged such ecological sabotage while violating the Supreme Court order banning mining in protected areas, which includes all wildlife sanctuaries.For Goa’s village communities that are steadily reorganising themselves to op-pose mining, more struggles are inevita-ble. Between September 6, 2005 and October 24, 2007 environment clearances were given to 73 new mining leases by the MOEF. These lie in panchayats that have either been ripped up or bulldozed aside

To read the full text Login

Get instant access

New 3 Month Subscription
to Digital Archives at

₹826for India

$50for overseas users


(-) Hide

EPW looks forward to your comments. Please note that comments are moderated as per our comments policy. They may take some time to appear. A comment, if suitable, may be selected for publication in the Letters pages of EPW.

Back to Top