“The village is for the poor people only” Social Structure, Milieus and Strategies in Nagaland

Andreas Küchle, Humboldt University, Berlin

This paper investigates the relation between social structure, milieus and their strategies in the context of the State Nagaland in North-east India as the ongoing research programme for my PhD thesis. It seeks to understand how social groups reproduce themselves through social classifications in the context of State interventions, changing agrarian scenarios and economic and cultural globalization. Preliminary empirical data for the working hypothesis derives from systematic fieldwork in two villages in Mokokchung District, Nagaland and among Naga students in Delhi during several stays since 2009. It revealed that the former village-based social structures as described in the ethnographic classics have been transformed historically in many ways. Certain older forms of inequalities have almost disappeared, others based on sex and age have been rearticulated in the framework of social inequality mainly based on the distribution of capitals. Similarly, these developments give rise to emerging regional inequalities and the rural-urban divide in contemporary Nagaland (Küchle 2011).

The current project now aims at both broadening and deepening the empirical base by adding other rural and urban areas in Nagaland, using a differentiated array of qualitative and quantitative methods suited to the theoretical framework. Starting point is the sociology of Pierre Bourdieu (1984) and its advancement through Michael Vesters “Milieu Theory” (2001). In accordance with these theories, the central hypothesis is that these developments have lead to a specific differentiation of milieus and their respective strategies in Nagaland. Challenging their Eurocentric presuppositions, it is argued with Boike Rehbein (2006, 2007) that older social structures are not being replaced completely by a “modern” one based on capitals alone, but persist and are only partially transformed.

According to this argument, the social space, the social milieus and the realm of social classification, though being connected intimately, need to be analytically differentiated from each other. One realm is the distribution of the relevant capitals, which is constructed similar to Bourdieu’s “space of social positions” (Bourdieu 1984) along the variables of economic and cultural capital. Milieus on the other side refer to similarities in habitus and lifestyle. They are constructed as a first step through a habitus-hermeneutical analysis of 40 structured qualitative interviews. In the second step, indicators of certain milieus are established and contrasted with the social positions, as well as with ethnic/tribal, gender and generation affiliation via correspondence analysis with data from a larger empirical base. In order to substantiate the hypothesis, milieu affiliation and social position should not be analogous to each other, but other criteria will have substantial influence. The third realm involves investigating the dynamics and strategies of milieus. Social classifications as a part of everyday life are therefore observed in actu, e.g during wedding rituals and ceremonies where people from different milieus interact.

This research will not only provide important empirical insight into social structures and its dynamics in Nagaland, it will also test the contemporary influential theories of Pierre Bourdieu and Michael Vester for their applicability and adaptability in the global South.