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Thomas Blom Hansen

Thomas Blom Hansen

Introduction

Thomas Blom Hansen is Professor of Religion and Society in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Amsterdam.

Prof. Blom Hansen's research combines political anthropology and anthropology of religion. He focuses on issues of violence, identity, the nature of the 'political', the postcolonial state, secularism, and religion and individuality. His books include The Saffron Wave: Democracy and Hindu nationalism in Modern India (1999), Wages of Violence: Naming and Identity in Postcolonial Bombay (2002), and the edited volumes Sovereign Bodies : Citizens, Migrants, and States in the Postcolonial World (2005, with Finn Stepputat) and States of Imagination : Ethnographic Explorations of the Postcolonial State (2002 with Finn Stepputat). His current research is concerned with political identities after apartheid in South Africa.

Prof. Blom Hansen previously taught at Yale University, the University of Edinburgh, Roskilde University, Copenhagen University and the University of Natal (South Africa).

The interview

Click on each question to watch Professor Blom Hansen's reply.

  1. Can you say a little about your background and how you became interested in anthropology?
  2. So who was it who influenced you at that early stage?
  3. Can you tell me about your first fieldwork: how you got there, how you found the place and your experience of it?
  4. I want to ask you more about that fieldwork in a bit but first about ‘The Saffron Wave’, the first fieldwork for that was done mainly in Pune then … So in that book you are discussing Hindu nationalism and the conditions that made it possible. Why was it then that in the 1990s that Hindu nationalism was so successful?
  5. Can you say a bit more about Hindu nationalism’s rise and its relationship to the so-called backward classes in India. That seemed to be a crucial part of the whole argument. What part were they playing then?
  6. What about economic liberalisation because people have seen it as a contradiction that there is increasing globalisation and liberalisation and then a reverting to Hindu nationalism. Can you say something about that relationship?
  7. But in India is Hindu nationalism a result of the tensions over economic liberalisation?
  8. You have this phrase, ‘a conservative revolution’. What does that mean exactly?
  9. On to Wages of Violence, which was a book about the changing nature of Bombay and how it changed its name and changed its identity from one which was commercial cosmopolitan modern to one which was filled with ethnic violence. What were your intentions behind writing the book?
  10. What are the main arguments that you wanted to put forward in this book? What for you is this book about?
  11. How far do you think this is a story about Bombay and the marginalisation of the Maharashtrians? Is it something which is just about this city or does it have wider implications?
  12. I want to ask you a bit about your fieldwork because I remember as an undergraduate being quite shocked that an anthropologist didn’t really like his informants or at least not share their values. What is that experience like, how do you do that and what is your role then as an anthropologist when you don’t have sympathy with the people you’re working with?
  13. Do you see that as the anthropologist’s role, to be a kind of chronicler? Someone who maps people’s histories, identity, character? What is our role then?
  14. But isn’t there a certain level of betrayal when you produce a representation, a book which disagrees with the Siv Sena ideologies? Don’t you betray your informants?
  15. You have also written about the state and Sovereign Bodies, which we won’t have time to go into now. What are you currently working on and what are your plans for future work?

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Last modified 8 May 2009