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Title: The home in the mountains: Imagining a school and schooling imaginaries in Darjeeling, India
Authors: Connelly, Adam
Advisors: Froerer, P
Keywords: Anthropology of India;Processes of schooling (particularly private schooling);Social imaginaries;Indian middle class
Issue Date: 2013
Publisher: School of Social Sciences Theses
Abstract: Why do middle class kids go to middle class schools? It all began with the story of a father’s dream. It was sometime in April in 2008 and I was in the midst of my undergraduate fieldwork. I had been exploring the resurgence in the ‘Gorkhaland’ movement across the hills of Darjeeling in North Eastern India. I had been interviewing various people who had been engaging in hunger strikes in pursuit of the cause. In the process of these interviews and in my general experiences during this time, I was struck by the constant rhetoric that they fought not for themselves or their own futures but for the futures of their children and generations to come. I was staying in the small town of Sukhia about 20 km outside of Darjeeling town. On that particular April day I had found myself temporarily housebound in the home of my host family, in the wake of a sudden tumultuous downpour. The weather it seemed was conspiring against my research, forcing me to postpone another interview. I sat in the kitchen waiting for the weather to pass, sharing an afternoon cup of tea with a side of sliced bread and jam, with Prabin, a member of my host family. Prabin worked in the office of the District Magistrate and thus was a man with a keen eye on local politics. As such, he had volunteered himself to be my unofficial research assistant. It had been a quiet Saturday about the house, as Prabin’s wife Binita and their 3-year-old son, Pranayan, were out shopping in the market. Prabin’s mother and father were visiting other family nearby, and Prabin’s younger brother, Pramod, had travelled into town to collect some supplies for his school. There was no sign of the rain letting up soon so Prabin and I continued to chat. Prabin’s son had recently started school and we were discussing his son’s apparent indifference towards schooling. ‘Everyday he cries! He doesn’t like school very much’. Prabin was convinced that his son would stop crying once he had learned the value of school. I had been working as an English teacher in a small private school and had seen first-hand how parents like Prabin acknowledged the importance of schooling choice, even as their children began their schooling journeys at around 2 years old. Prabin was keen to reinforce the idea that his son’s present school, a small building only 5 minutes’ walk up the road, was just the beginning. Prabin told me that he wanted his son to get a ‘good education’ in contrast to his own schooling experience, which he described as ‘simple’. Prabin told me that he dreamed of his son going to England and making enough money to support the whole family. Prabin knew that if his son was going to fulfil his dream then he would need to succeed at school, but not just any school. ‘I want my son to go to St. Joseph’s School; this is the best school in Darjeeling’. I was aware that there were many schools in Darjeeling, both in the town itself and in the surrounding areas, all of which professed to offer a high level of English medium education, so I was keen to know what made St Joseph’s such a certain choice. ‘Have you been there?’ he challenged me, as if to say that anyone who would lay eyes upon this place would know what he was talking about. ‘We will go there someday; it is a very nice place’. He was keen to emphasize how ‘nice’ this school was even if he had only seen the building from the road. ‘Others schools can teach English but [St. Joseph’s] is more than that. They play all the sport[s], they have good Rector, they have nice student[s], good discipline, this is the right place for my son’. Prabin emphasized that he dreamed of a good life for his son and in order to get there he first had to go to the right school. This was the first time I had even heard of St. Joseph’s School, but it provided a provocative insight into perceptions of the roles of schooling in India today. Prabin’s dream outlined a particular future for his son, which depended upon a foundation within a specific kind of schooling. I was immediately drawn to how he had mapped out a prospective educational trajectory, which leaned on certain intangible aspects of schooling that were perceived to subsequently guide his son towards a certain livelihood. St. Joseph’s had been singled out, as it offered something that others were perceived not to have. Perhaps most importantly of all, Prabin had never been to the school which he dreamed of. His ideas of St Joseph’s were ultimately imagined through an amalgam of stories that he had heard from work colleagues, interspersed with his own fleeting encounters in passing the school building. The imagined view of the school was integral in shaping Prabin’s actions. He was planning for his son’s future around a dream. Prabin’s perspective reflected a wider trend within literature pertaining to the Indian middle class, indicating a certain preference for a particular kind of schooling as being a necessary prerequisite for a specific, ultimately idealised, future livelihood. Donner (2006) identified a similar kind of career mapping amongst middle class Bengali families in Calcutta. The families, particularly the parents themselves, sought to admit their children to particular pre-schools, which were seen as the foundations of a scholastic career. Admission to future primary and secondary education hinged on the previous stage and as such, investment in each stage of the schooling process was vital in establishing the necessary trajectory for their child to progress on to specific occupations that would offer the necessary array of capital - financial, social and cultural – that would lead to a middle class life. What I became interested in was the concept that shapes this process. Why do middle class Indians choose certain schools and not others? What is the apparently intangible quality that leads parents like Prabin to desire St. Joseph’s over all the others? What is it about schools like St. Joseph’s that make them stand out from the range of available schools? It was with these questions that I headed off to St. Joseph’s for some answers.
Description: This thesis was submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy and awarded by Brunel University.
Appears in Collections:Anthropology
Dept of Social Sciences Media and Communications Theses

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