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Nobody's People
Hierarchy as Hope in a Society of Thieves
Anastasia Piliavsky

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November 2020
312 pages.
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Hardcover ISBN: 9781503604643
Paperback ISBN: 9781503614208

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What if we could imagine hierarchy not as a social ill, but as a source of social creativity and hope? In Nobody's People, Anastasia Piliavsky takes us into the world of thieves, the Kanjars, in the Indian state of Rajasthan. Introducing us to wily policemen, quirky aristocrats, and resourceful goddesses, she shows that, locally, hierarchy is a potent normative idiom through which Kanjars imagine better lives and pursue social ambitions. A community once patronized secretly by aristocrats and now precariously in the service of farmers and the police, Kanjars try and fail repeatedly to find a way into hierarchic relations rather than out of them. In a world where to be is to belong, they are nobody's people, those who can be murdered with no moral restraint or remorse. Following Kanjars on their journey between death and hope, Piliavsky invites readers to see in hierarchy—not inequality—a viable ethical frame instead of an archaic system of subjugation. Doing so, she suggests, will help us understand not only rural Rajasthan, but also much of the world, including settings stridently committed to equality. Challenging egalo-normative commitments, Piliavsky asks scholars across the disciplines to consider hierarchy as a major intellectual resource.

About the author

Anastasia Piliavsky is Senior Lecturer in Anthropology and Politics at the India Institute at King's College London. She is the editor of Patronage as Politics in South Asia (2014).

"Anastasia Piliavsky's compelling study of a 'caste of thieves' in Rajasthan addresses one of the most important debates in the sociology of South Asia, the significance of hierarchical values in social life. By exploring everyday politics of patronage, she argues that social hierarchy expresses a relational logic based on a 'non-egalitarian ethos' of mutual obligations and care for others. Whether one agrees or not with ascribing ontological status to normative inequality, this book will rekindle discussions on the foundation of sociality in contemporary South Asia and beyond."

—Filippo Osella, Professor of Anthropology and South Asian Studies, Sussex University

"Nobody's People is an extraordinary work. A major rethinking of the social productivity of hierarchical relations, as well as a gripping account of the lives of a caste of 'thieves' in North India, this is ethnographically grounded anthropological theorizing at its best. It should fundamentally transform contemporary conversations about the nature of social life."

—Joel Robbins, Sigrid Rausing Professor of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge

"It's difficult to overemphasize the effect of this narrative: the brio with which it is written, the verve of its characters, the author's intellectual panache. This scintillating book picks apart one of the great conundrums in anthropology. Such a re-reading of hierarchy, most poignant where it has supposedly been banished, poses profound questions for evaluations based on social equivalence."

—Marilyn Strathern, University of Cambridge

"By exploring the politics of everyday patronage, this compelling study of a 'caste of thieves' addresses one of the most important debates in the sociology of South Asia."

—Filippo Osella, Sussex University