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

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Style as ‘Alternative Normativity’

Doing Style: Youth and Mass Mediation in South India by Constantine V Nakassis; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016; pp 352, 1,656.

Constantine Nakassis’ book Doing Style: Youth and Mass Mediation in South India is a new addition to the literature on young people, social class and cultural articulation in post-liberalisation India (Brosius 2010; Mankekar 2000, 2015). Alongside Ritty Lukose’s Liberalization’s Children (2009) set in Kerala, and Sara Dickey’s Living Class in Urban India (2016) set in Tamil Nadu, it is one among a handful of youth studies that situates itself in the Southern states rather than in Bengal, the North, or Central and Western India. While connected by its examination of Southern young men’s performativity in a variety of arenas such as entertainment and educational spaces in Madurai and Chennai, the three sections of the book each deal with distinct subject matter namely, brand, language and film. Since young people are seen to be “in between” and attempting to pass from one stage or class to another, they tend to inhabit what anthropologists have often written about as a liminal position or state. Doing style in relation to mass mediated products in a liminal space can seem like a rather futile—and ultimately disempowering—endeavour, but Nakassis analyses the creative tribulations of his young interviewees with warmth and sensitivity.

Across the book, Nakassis draws attention to the symbolic markers of dress, grooming, film spectatorship and language. These, he argues, connect style (always in italics to indicate its bracketing off as a term with multiple connotations) to issues of masculinity, social class and economic success in five colleges in Tamil Nadu, where he sojourned as a research scholar from 2007–09 and intermittently thereafter. Using a series of traditional ethnographic vignettes—primarily about young college-going men, but on occasion also about young women in this same milieu—Nakassis fleshes out his argument that the way in which these young people do style constitutes an “alternative normativity.” It is “alternate” in that it distinguishes itself from hegemonic normativity which appears to determine young Tamilians’ social class, caste, gender and other status in 21st century Tamil society.

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Updated On : 24th May, 2017

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