Department of Cultural Anthropology and Ethnology, Uppsala University:

– Recent Research Projects connected to South Asia
– Earlier South Asia related research at the department

Postal address: Box 631, SE-751 05 Uppsala, Sweden
Visiting address: Thunbergsvägen 3H, Uppsala (close to Engelska Parken)
Web page:

South Asia related research in the department

For many years, the Dept. of Cultural Anthropology and Ethnology has played an important role for South Asia related research at Uppsala University. Several research projects focused on South Asia have been carried out, and the department has cooperatet with universities in India, especially the Madras Institute of Development Studies in Chennai, North-eastern Hill University in Shillong, and Calcutta University in Kolkata.
The department’s personnel was also much engaged in Uppsala University’s interdisciplinary Masters Programme in South Asian Studies started in 2003, and ran till 2005, and have later been connected to the South Asian Studies Seminar series initiated at the university (more information).
A strong link also exists between the department and Uppsala University’s Collegium for Development Studies (Kollegiet för Utvecklingsstudier) – a special unit at Uppsala University functioning as a link between development research and Swedish development cooperation. The Collegium, housed at Övre slottsgatan 1 in Uppsala, regularly organises seminars and conferences that deal with South Asian issues. More information on the Collegium for Development Studies.

Associate Professor Gunnel Cederlöf worked at the department till 31 December 2006, but she has now returned to the Dept. of History, the same department where she in 1997 defended her doctoral dissertation entitled ”Bonds lost: Subordination, conflict and mobilisation in rural south India c. 1900-1970”. More information about her research in the Dept. of History page.
In recent years, Gunnel Cederlöf has been involved in building up a collaboration project between Uppsala University and Calcutta University within the field of Environmental History. More information on the Kolkata collaboration project.

Dr. Bengt G. (Beppe) Karlsson worked at the department officially till 31 December 2009, but the last two years he were on leave, staying in the Republic of Sakartvelo (Georgia). See his personal web page.
He has now moved to the Dept. of Social Anthropology, Stockholm University, where he teaches from January 2010.new
Beppe Karlsson defended his doctoral dissertation on ”Contested Belonging: An Indigenous People's Struggle for Forest and Identity in Sub-Himalayan Bengal” at the Dept. of Social Anthropology, Lund University, in 1997. The thesis dealt with the modern predicament of the Rabha' or Kocha' people, their survival in the forest and their quest for identity. The Rabhas are one of India's indigenous or tribal people, traditionally practising shifting cultivation in the jungle tracts situated where the Himalayan mountains meet the plains of Bengal.
One of the central points of the book relates to the question of identity – the construction of identity as a form of resistance. Beppe Karlsson discussed the Reba's ongoing conversion to Christianity and their ethnic mobilisation. The main theoretical issue of the book concerned the agency involved in the making of cultural or ethnic identities. Read the full thesis on Google Books (as a pdf-file).

During their work together in the Uppsala department, Gunnel Cederlöf and Beppe Karlsson were involved in a joint research project titled ”Claims and Rights: Power and Negotiations over Nature in India: An Anthropological and Historical Study”. A project related to the emerging multi-disciplinary field studying Nature–Society relations and drawing particularly on recent debates within environmental history and political ecology. The main aim of the project has been to investigate the interplay between the state and indigenous communities in India in relation to claims and rights in forest land and natural resources. It had three sub-projects, two by Gunnel Cederlöf, and one by Beppe Karlsson – see below. More information about the main research project.

Within the framework of this ”Claims and Rights” project, Gunnel Cederlöf carried out a research project titled Negotiating Rights: The Agency of the Colonial Subject in Early 19th Century South India”, a project dealing with the early, colonial expansion into the marginal but resource-rich forest areas of the Indian subcontinent. The complexity of the process which appears when the many violent conflicts of the east and north India are contrasted with the long-lasting and uneven negotiations in the legal spheres in the south. The major work has been located in the Nilgiri Hills in the Western Ghats in south India, investigating the different notions of land and natural resources, the negotiations over access to these and the establishment of ”rights” in legal codes during the period 1790-1860. More information on the project.
Dr. Cederlöf is now working on a new research project titled ” The Environmental History of Law. State making and land conflicts in colonial India”. In November 2005 she received SEK 2 400 000 as a three-years (2006-08) project grant from Sida's Developing Country Research Council (U-landsforskningsrådet) for this project. More information in the Dept. of History page.

Khasi Hills
Cherrapunjee, Khasi Hills, Meghalaya. The wettest place on Earth. Paradoxically though, the place lacks water during a large part of the year, and it is therefore called a ”wet desert”.

Within the framework of the same ”Claims and Rights” project, Beppe Karlsson from 2001 worked on a sub-project titled ”Indigeneity and Nature: A Political Ecology of Meghalaya, Northeast India”, dealing with the politics of indigenousness and nature in India. More particularly, it relates to the struggle over forests and natural resources in Meghalaya, a small hill state of about two million people situated in the north-eastern region, where the majority of the population (about 85 %) are indigenous peoples or so-called ”scheduled tribes”; the main ones being the Khasi, Jaintia and Garo people. More information about the project.
At the International Conference on the Forest and Environmental History of the British Empire and Commonwealth held at the Centre for World Environmental History, University of Sussex, UK in March 2003 Beppe Karlsson presented a paper on ”Deforestation and conflicts over forests in Meghalaya”.
In 2005 Beppe Karlsson edited a volume called ”Indigeneity in India” together with Tanka B. Subba, Professor of Social Anthropology, North-Eastern Hill University, Shillong. More information on the book.

Between 2005 and 2007, Dr. Karlsson combined his research at Uppsala Univerity with being Director on a 50 % basis for the Nordic Centre in India university consortium, NCI, administered from Uppsala University (more information about NCI).

Dr. Åsa Tiljander Dahlström defended her doctoral thesis No Peace of Mind – The Tibetan Diaspora in India, on 6 June 2001. After that, Åsa pursued research at the department, but less related to South Asia. However in the December 2003 isssue of LBC (Living Beyond Conflict Seminar) Newsletter, published by the department, she returned to the subject and wrote an article on ”Performing Displacement. Life Histories in the Tibetan Diaspora”. Tragically Åsa Tiljander Dahlström passed away on 23 October 2004, only 40 years old. Read the abstract of the thesis.

Dr. Elisabeth Åsa Hole defended her doctoral dissertation titled ”Neither here, nor there. Gujarati Hindu women in the diaspora”, on 15 December 2005. Faculty opponent was Dr. Frank Korom from Boston University, USA. The project was based on fieldwork performed among Gujarati Hindu women, primarily in Coventry, United Kingdom, but also included some comparative material from fieldwork among a similar group of women in Sweden. Both groups consisted of women that wee all Hindus and had their ethnic roots in Gujarat, India. They were all first generation migrants or refugees. Most of them were twice- (or more) migrants and had earlier been living in at least one place outside India. Most of them had earlier lived in East Africa, but due to the Africanisation process, started during the last years of 1960s and early 1970s in Kenya and Uganda, were directly or indirectly forced to leave. The study includes aspects such as the predicament of being a woman in a diaspora situation. It also deals with different problematic aspects of religion as part of everyday life, but also with the possibilities religion can give in parallel and continuous spheres of this life. The theoretical discussion focuses on the contemporary discussion and problimatisation of the term diaspora, as well as the importance that religion may play in an ongoing identity process. The fieldwork in the United Kingdom was performed in association with Warwick University, Coventry.
For many years Åsa Hole was a member of the editorial board for the magazine SYDASIEN, and wrote several articles on Indian religion, literature and culture, such as ”Moder kos helighet mest myt?” (SYDASIEN 3/94) and ”Martyren som inspiration – Därför lider hjältinnorna i den bengaliska kvinnolitteraturen” (SYDASIEN 3/95) .
Dr. Hole now works at the Legal, Financial and Administrative Services Agency (Kammarkollegiet), the oldest public authority in Sweden, dating back to 1539 when Gustav Vasa established a "chamber" to deal with tax collection and the auditing of public accounts in Sweden.

Earlier South Asia related research at the department

In the 1980’s Per Löwdin was working at the department. His research was focused on food and culture, and he was involved in a comparative research project on the relationship between food and culture in three different cultures, initiated by Professor Anita Jacobson-Widding. Löwdin’s role in the project consisted of exploring the complexities of Hindu food culture and its relation to social organization, and this led up to a lenghty field work in Nepal, where he was affiliated to the Centre for Nepal and Asian Studies, CNAS, at Tribhuvan University. The research resulted in a doctoral dissertation titled ”Food, Ritual and Society: A Study of Social Structure and Food Symbolism among the Newars”, that Per Löwdin defended in 1986. Faculty opponent was Harald Tambs-Lyche, Professor of Ethnology at the University of Picardie-Jules Verne, Amiens, France.
The dissertation was published in the book series URRCA Uppsala Research Reports in Cultural Anthropology. Inspired by the constructive criticism given by Tambs-Lyche and also Gabriella Eichinger Ferro-Luzzo Per Löwdin however decided to revise the book and make a second edition of the book in 1992, and in 1998 it was again published, this time by Mandala Books in Kathmandu, Nepal. Finally the whole book was published on the Internet in 2002, with photographs from the fieldwork being added.
Per Löwdin, who later changed on to do research in other fields, non-related to South Asia, in retrospect concludes that the main value of his work may be as a contribution to Newar memory and history.

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Last updated 2011-02-01