Suitably Modern: Making Middle-Class Culture in Kathmandu

Chautari Book Series 40

Writer: Mark Liechty
Publisher: Martin Chautari
This South Asian edition first published in 2008
Page 292, Rs. 500
ISBN: 978-9937-8004-5-7

Book Review
Himal South Asian, Oct-Nov 2008, vol. 21, no. 10/11, p. 127+
Times, 20-26 June 2008
The Kathmandu Post, 6 July 2008
Readऽ 5 April-June 2009
Republica, 13 Nov 2009


Suitably Modern traces the growth of a new middle class in Kathmandu as urban Nepalis harness the modern cultural resources of mass media and consumer goods to build modern identities and pioneer a new sociocultural space in one of the world’s “least developed countries.”
Since Nepal’s “opening” in the 1950s, a new urban population of bureaucrats, service personnel, small business owners, and others have worked to make a space between Kathmandu’s old (and still privileged) elites and its large (and growing) urban poor. Mark Liechty looks at the cultural practices of this new middle class, examining such phenomena as cinema and video viewing, popular music, film magazines, local fashion systems, and advertising. He explores three interactive and mutually constitutive ethnographic terrains: a burgeoning local consumer culture, a growing mass-mediated popular imagination, and a recently emerging youth culture. He shows how an array of local cultural narratives—stories of honor, value, prestige, and piety—flow in and around global narratives of “progress,” modernity, and consumer fulfillment. Urban Nepalis simultaneously adopt and critique these narrative strands, braiding them into local middle-class cultural life.

Building on both Marxian and Weberian understanding of class, this study moves beyond them to describe the lived experience of “middle classness”—how class is actually produced and reproduced in everyday practice. It considers how people speak and act themselves into cultural existence, carving out real and conceptual spaces in which to produce class culture.

Mark Liechty is Associate Professor of Anthropology and History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is co-editor of the journal Studies in Nepali History and Society published from Kathmandu.


List of Illustrations ix
Preface to the South Asian edition xi
Preface xiii
Acknowledgments xix

1. Middle-Class Construction 3
2. Modern Nepali History and the Rise of the Middle Class 39

3. Middle-Class Consciousness: “Hanging between the High and the Low” 61
4. Consumer Culture in Kathmandu: “Playing with Your Brain” 87
5. “Doing Fashion” in Kathmandu: Class and the Consumer Public 117

6. The Social Practice of Cinema and Video Viewing in Kathmandu 151
7. Media Cultures: The Global in the Local 183

8. Constructing the Modern Youth 209
9. Modernity, Time, and Place: Youth Culture in Kathmandu 232

10. The Space of Class: Toward an Anthropology of Middle-Class Cultural Practice 249

Bibliography 267


Martin Chautari

Martin Chautari (MC) is a research and policy institute based in Kathmandu, Nepal. Begun as an informal discussion group in Kathmandu in 1991, MC now focuses on research and policy on democracy, media and education, with cross-cutting themes of gender and social inclusion. Along with the continuing discussion series, publications, open library and a rigorous mentoring program of young researchers are in-built into MC’s work. These all form an intrinsic part of MC’s primary objective: strengthening the social contract between state and citizens by expanding and making inclusive the public sphere with informed dialogue, analytically rigorous research and viable policy choices.

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