Ep #53 Making Meaningful Anthropology: Amita Baviskar on Maggi Noodles and Anti-Dam Movements

“It was a really difficult dilemma for me, because I felt that I needed to stand by my work, but at the same time what was more important was the social movement, because you know, what am I writing for?” 

In this episode (which is our first interview of 2020!) we bring you our interview with Dr Amita Baviskar that was recorded at the AAS Conference last year, which Amita was one of the keynote speakers at. Amita is currently based at the Institute of Economic Growth in India, with interests in food, social inequality and ecological politics, author of multiple books including ‘In the Belly of the River: Tribal Conflicts over Development in the Narmada Valley‘, recipient of the 2010 Infosys Prize, and is a visiting fellow at several universities, including Stanford, Cornell, Yale, The Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po) and UC Berkeley.

Amita spoke with our very own Alex D’Aloia about her work on the anti-dam movement in the Narmada Valley, India, discussing the controversy that arose among other activists after publication, her tips for early career anthropologists looking to make meaningful anthropology, and wrap up by unpack(ag)ing the meaning behind Maggi 2-minute noodles and how this relates to caste distinctions in India.

We should also mention that this is Alex’s first interview! Let us know what you thought about the interview, or any questions you have about the episode, certain topics you’d like us to tease out more, or just anthropology in general, at either @TSFTweets on Twitter or search for The Familiar Strange Chats group on Facebook.

Protesters at the Narmada Valley dam.
(Image ‘Protest against the Maheshwar Dam in the Narmada Valley’ by International Rivers, 2006)


“The anthropologists did play a role in the beginning in trying to frame policies that, on the one hand, tried to protect Adivasis, but at the same time, left them open – completely exposed to their lands being taken away from them. Since then, we have a lot of Adivasis who have engaged and mobilized politically to try and fight against what has been happening, and then there’s been a wave of anthropologists, including myself, who’ve been, you know, watching these struggles, sympathetically trying to write about them, and trying to bring readers’ attention to the fact that these are struggles which are not just about the particular interests of these extremely vulnerable groups of people but that these are actually struggles which are about these larger questions of: what development is, who is it for, what kind of futures do we want to imagine for ourselves, what kind of vision of justice and equality do we have?”

“Often people will not any longer listen to reason, to rational arguments, but if you can appeal to them on the grounds of the things that they hold valuable – if you can make that connection to their feelings, to their emotions – one has a greater chance to get through.” 

“To the people going out into the field, think carefully about what’s at stake, is it really important to focus critically on the activist? Or should a point of critique be some other entity, some other institution, you know some other set of people?” 


You can find Dr Baviskar’s profile here: http://www.iegindia.org/staffmembers/faculty/detail/3541/3
And the list of her published books here:

You can find Amita’s book ‘In the Belly of the River: Tribal Conflicts over Development in the Narmada Valley’ here: https://www.amazon.com/Belly-River-Conflicts-Development-Environmental/dp/0195671368

And read a brief abstract of Dr Baviskar’s recent work on Maggi Noodles: http://www.iegindia.org/upload/profile_publication/311018_105637AB_Abstract.pdf

If you’d like to hear Amita’s keynote speech at the AAS Conference 2019, head here: https://www.aas.asn.au/aas-annual-conference/past-conferences/

For a different take on the Maggi noodle situation in India (even during a scandal) check out this article from Eater: https://www.eater.com/2019/1/30/18202879/maggi-noodles-india-banned-lead-safety-concern-cult-following

What do Maggi Noodles mean to you?
(Image ‘For Sale – Maggi Noodles from Goa’ by Joegoauk Goa, 2015)

Don’t forget to head over to our Facebook group The Familiar Strange Chats. Let’s keep talking strange, together!

Our Patreon can be found at https://www.patreon.com/thefamiliarstrange

This anthropology podcast is supported by the Australian Anthropological Society, the ANU’s College of Asia and the Pacific and College of Arts and Social Sciences, and the Australian Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, and is produced in collaboration with the American Anthropological Association.

Music by Pete Dabro: dabro1.bandcamp.com
Shownotes by Matthew Phung and Deanna Catto
Podcast edited by Alex D’Aloia and Matthew Phung

Feature image ‘Activists and affected people march against the construction of dams in the Narmada Valley’ by International Rivers (2006) from Flickr

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