Date of Award

Summer 2010

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Asif Agha

Second Advisor

Greg Urban

Third Advisor

Ritty Lukose


This sociocultural anthropological study looks at youth culture in Tamil Nadu, India, focusing on college-age youth in Madurai and Chennai. The dissertation first shows how youth experience their position in the larger Tamil society as “being outside of.” This exteriority is manifest in youth concepts of status and gender, the signs and activities which express such status and gender, and the social spaces in which such signs and activities are played out. In particular, the dissertation focuses on how the youth peer group is dually shaped as an exterior space of youth status negotiation—as exterior to adult norms of authority (and thus a space of status-raising qua transgression) and as exterior to norms of hierarchical ranking (and thus an egalitarian space of status-leveling, intimacy, and reciprocity). It is this tension between status-raising and -lowering which the dissertation shows to be crucially at play in how youth engage with and deploy various status-ful signs. In particular, the dissertation focuses on youth’s engagement with English and Tamil-English hybridized slang, commercial hero-centered Tamil films and their heroes, and (counterfeit) Western brands and fashion. In addition to focusing on youth engagement with such forms, the dissertation also looks at the production and circulation of youth-oriented Tamil film and (counterfeit) branded garments. The dissertation argues that we can only make sense of such cultural forms and their production and circulation by situating them with respect to youth concepts of status and their negotiation in the peer group. Based on this discussion the dissertation offers critical commentary on academic literatures of globalization, film reception, and the semiotics of the brand.

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