Mark Leitchy. 2003. Suitably Modern: Making Middle Class Culture in a New Consumer Society. Princeton: Princeton University Press (Second Reprint Kathmandu: Martin Chautari 2008), pp 292 with 9 figures and 2 maps.

- Dilli Ram Dahal

The present book under review has three goals: (a) to describe the cultural contexts and historical processes out of which a new middle class culture has emerged in Kathmandu, (b) to provide a detailed account of the practices that make up contemporary middle class life, and (c) drawing on the ethnographic insights, to offer a new approach to conceptualizing to middle class culture in Nepal (p.5). Drawing from both Marx and Weberian tradition, the book argues that in comparison to caste class better accounts for the new socio-cultural patterns that have come to dominate urban life in Kathmandu. The book as a. whole provides interesting but lengthy ethnographic accounts of consumer culture, mass media, and youth culture in Kathmandu. Several case studies were collected to justify the relative position of middle class in Kathmandu. The writings of this book are based on sixteen months field research conducted from 1988-1991, plus the follow up visits in 1996 and 2001.

There are five parts organized in ten chapters in the book, containing one to three chapters in each part. Except from chapters one and ten, the other eight chapters are the collection of the author's already published articles in different journals such as the Studies in Nepali History and Society (Chapters 2 and 6), Selves in Time and Place: Identities, Experiences and History in Nepal (Chapters 3, 4 and 5), and Youth Cultures: A Cross Cultural Perspective and Geography and Id_ntity (parts of Chapters 8 and 9).

Chapter 1 "Middle-Class Construction" introduces some of the study's ethnographic contexts to sketch out the theoretical frame of the study to make sense of the middle class cultural life. This chapter begins with a note on marriage ceremony in house of a middle class family under construction in Kathmandu where contradictory resources of "tradition" and "modernity" were displayed. The author aptly remarks, "Like the unfinished home where the wedding took place, class culture is always at work in progress in Kathmandu" (PA).
Chapter 2 "Modern Nepali History and the Rise of Middle Class" traces the background and early history of middle class formation in Kathmandu over the past several centuries. European and Indian textiles and other consumer goods had been imported into Nepal. Not only Bhim Sen Thapa, the Mukhatiyar of Nepal, but also the nobility of that time, adopted the Western dresses and used the sport rifles, glassware, crockery to mirrors, plate glass sand lighting devices, paintings/portraits and so on. The visit of the Prime Minister, Jung Bahadur Rana to London encouraged the Rana elites to build even more enormous and lavish European style palaces and palatial buildings in Kathmandu such as Singha Durbar in 1903. From beginning to the end of the Rana era, Nepali elite had started to adopt Western style clothing, paintings and photographs.
After 1950, the Nepali state instituted an open door policy that meant the unregulated commodity imports of goods and services to Kathmandu and Nepal as a whole. Since then the modem bureaucracy of Nepal was nurtured with the massive amounts of international development aid, tourism, carpet manufacturing and remittances. This also helped to create new urban middle class, which increasingly submerged in a cash economy in Kathmandu. The flow of cash economy in Kathmandu was clearly observed among the rapidly growing population with increased number of vehicles, motor cycles and other consumer markets. New suburbs in the Kathmandu Valley illustrate the shifting demographic patterns, rise of educational institutions, shifting labour patterns and social values.

Chapters 3, 4 and 5 as a whole have offered detailed insights into the language of middle class, a language that explicitly constructs a moral space between social others, "high" and "low". The middle class maps its own cultural logic onto urban space, reconstituting public space as middle class space. Throughout these chapters the middle class discourses of "suitability" are discussed time and again to argue the case.

Chapter 3 "Middle Class Consciousness: Hanging between the High and Low" has particularly laid down some of the historical and material factors that serve as the backdrop for class production in Kathmandu. "To be middle-class in Kathmandu is to participate in a social and cultural dialogue about what it means to be a "modem Nepali" (p 61). Caste in Kathmandu should not be viewed as, in Louis Dumont's terms, a purely "religious institution". It is a moral community that restrains its members in a sphere of "suitable behaviors". The notion of suitability helps those "in the middle" and distinguishes themselves from those below in the social scale.
Calculating middle class requires not only the caste background but also the consumer prestige goods- the middle class is built around an economy of ijat, in which honor or prestige is the central form of capital. The ijat economy is never only a moral economy or only a material economy. It is both. The middle class is somewhere in the middle in terms of fashion, class and suitability.

Chapter 4: "Consumer Culture in Kathmandu: Playing with your Brain" considers the role of goods in the ongoing process of constructing middle class, particularly how groups of people construct boundaries around themselves and debate terms of good membership through commodity consumption and practices. This chapter explores - how consumer goods have become a new social currency - a new communicative medium- for Kathmandu's emerging middle class, and how people are drawn into, adopt, or choose to experiment with the logic and values of new consumer materialism. Kathmandu is the center of not only the nation's administrative and cultural life but also its consumer market such as Hong Kong Bazar, Bishal Bazar (super markets), rotating credit system for cash, commercial banks, gift scheme for buying goods, eye catching adds in local newspapers and so on.

The author asks an interesting question before youths living in Kathmandu "What do you do with twenty thousand rupees"? Responses and visions on how to utilize this money were varied among youths living in Kathmandu and outside Kathmandu. A Brahmin male student of outside of Kathmandu who was relatively poor wanted to utilize money 'for education in buying books, save and send money home (education as the cultural capital) whereas Kathmandu's youths would utilize money for English books, taking. friends to a restaurant and buying new mountain bike, go to disco, fashionable clothes (like jeans) and so on. Girls of Kathmandu also would spend that much of money for fashions.
There are moral and economic dilemmas for the people of Kathmandu to meet their consumer demands. "Buying a new television by selling gold ornament of wife” has become a necessity even for an educated person like Kedar. There are cases of Manangis [people Manang district] who earned' movey illegally and are causing anxieties for other people and a custom officer, a corrupt neighbor living near by, who has everything at his house. A case study of a high caste women Gita in her early thirties and her anxiety focused precisely on how as a wife and a mother she has to maintain what she called a “standard of living” in the face of severe economic shortages. Another case study of Sano Rah Shrestha, age 40, suggests that how he struggles to maintain parity with those in their social communities". For Kedar, Gita, and Sano Raj, the problem is how to construct and maintain a middle class materLtl existence in the face of constantly upward spiraling standards on the one hand, and extremely limited resources, on the other. Prestige, inflation, and cash compulsion are working together to create a new middle class culture in Kathmandu.
Chapter 5 "Doing Fashion" in Kathmandu: Class and the Consumer Public" shifts focus to consider middle - class culture as public practice through the language, practice, and materiality of a local universe of fashions. In the past, the religious idiom was the primary form of prestige in the public life. In the form of religious donations it was a mode of public display and a means of converting economic into cultural capital. But today, fashion has become the public practice par excellence in Kathmandu. Adornment has become the means of communication. Case studies suggest how fashion has changed over time from sexual and erotic meaning of clothing and at the same time decency and suitability are very much alive even today.
But why do people do fashions? "Doing fashion" is one of the prime causes to lure into prostitution by the lower classes people. The necessity of fashion for girls/woman is evident because they wanted to be good looking. A Case study of 24 year old woman suggests that people do fashion looking at others. Cinema has become the source of fashion inspiration. The case of Hari, a man in his late forties, notes that cinema is the main factor transforming dress and fashion. Fashion consciousness moves from the mass media and thus there are connections between films, film images and fashion. Film magazines like Mayapuri, Grihashobha, Femina and Maonorama among others have become the sources of fashion in Kathmandu. For members of Kathmandu's middle class doing fashion is not a luxury but a necessity; for most people, the necessity of fashion was a new fact of life; fashion practice has become a class practice. An untidy person is not counted within the society. One's speech- volume, vocabulary, accent- and hand gestures give hints one's education, caste, regional origins, and a general degree of urbanity (p.144). Today public spaces such as the New Road, restaurants and hotels, schools and colleges, shopping arcades and so on have become the places of consumption of modern commodities.

Chapter 6 "The Social Practice of Cinema and Video Viewing in Kathmandu" focuses on mass media and explores the changing class and gender dynamics in media consumption in Kathmandu .Cinema hall provided a common consumer space, though the class system was always there.
Cinema halls in Kathmandu during the 1960s and 1970s were vivid microcosms of the city's social universe, with different class groups arrayed from low to high along the ticket gradient that separated the cheap seats down to the pricy ones in the balcony. Video boom in the early 1990sin Kathmandu find video parlors in almost every residential area of Kathmandu. The VCR ownership became more and more essential to claim to middle class status. Equally important in the middle class was the move from "hall to home" a shift in this key domain of consumer practice from public to private. New film fashions instantly shape fashions in Kathmandu.
Middle class viewers in particular divide films into many different genres: art, social, action, love and blue. For the most part, middieclass Hindi film viewers are women, both young and middle ages, who watch video films at home. With increase education levels among women, increased cash flow in middle class families, easily available low cost domestic menial labour, improved transportation, and the arrival of various mediated entertainments (radio, video, television) into the home, young and middle ¬aged women live easy and luxury lives than those of even their own mothers (p. 167).

The viewing of English films, on the other hand, points out some of the reasons for the male rhetorical rejection of Hindi cinema. Watching English films is not only for learning the 'language but also for understanding the European culture and civilization and so on. English film is watched mostly by men. Media consumption helps to produce and reproduce relations of class and gender dominance.

Chapter 7 "Media Cultures: the Global in the Local" where three case studies were presented on television, print media, and popular music, respectively that highlight specific ways in which mass media relate, and help to produce, emerging class and commodity cultures in Kathmandu (p. 183).:This chapter also introduces the idea of the media assemblage - a term used to describe various commercial media, interact with and cross reference to each other.

From the onset of Nepali television since 1985 it became a means of producing a Nepali national identity. Kamana and Chalchitra film magazine were introduced. A survey report of Kamana indicated that the average Kamana readers were young, male, educated, urban and unemployed living in Kathmandu. The Western pop music in Kathmandu became popular.
Chapter 8 “constructing the Modern Youth" and Chapter 9 “Modernity, Time and Place Youth Cultures in Kathmandu" construct a new "teen" consumer identity in Kathmandu, There were competing forces at work in the new space of youth, each hoping to "tell" the modem youth within its own narrative of being and becoming, Chapter 8 particularly describes youths an essentially new social category that emerging from prolonged middle class educational expectations, new media and commercial forces, and E. severe shortage of "suitable" employment. The modem concept of youth has a history tied to particular socio-economic processes.
A new group of urban youths are confronted with a host of modem problems in a series of profound shifts in economic, demographic and political patterns in the Kathmandu Valley. The lives of middle class young people in Kathmandu are full of frustration, anxiety, confusion, desperation, and rage. Education, as a market supplied commodity with the potential to both raise the social standing and provide doors to the world beyond Nepal. Education has become one of the primary institutions around which new class based communities are formed in Kathmandu, The same socioeconomic forces that promote greater and greater incorporation into the-labor for cash economy also promote education as a means of socialization. For more and more people in Kathmandu, English proficiency is the key to a better future, an index of social capital, and a part of the purchase price for a ticket out of Nepal. Education is among the primary commodities by which class membership is asserted or imposed.

Teen magazine and its contents with the story of its owner Diane and Gopal clearly indicate that how this individual media product is linked with other media products (videos, music, TV shows, etc) and with consumer goods, The fact that Teen magazine attracted a cross section of the middle class youth is significant, Youths in between space, between childhood and adulthood, high and low class, desire and fulfillment were vividly expressed as the meaning and identity of youths in the Teen magazine. For many youths are simply a new consumer category.

Chapter 9 consists of stories of two men, stories of how young people at work reconcile a barrage of conflicting accounts of their past, present and future. There is a nice case study of Ramesh, a young male (21 years old) of heroine addict whose father married another woman after the death of his mother. A case study of Suman (22 year old male) depicts his life when his father married a second wife in Kathmandu. According to the author "Youths are terrified at the prospect of being left behind in the poverty and backwardness of the past, but terrified too by the seemingly impossibility of the modem future that society expects them to construct" (p.241). It is clear that mass media and other transnational cultural forces deterritorialize local experience by multiplying the "imaginative resources" that people used to make sense of their lives. The youth culture is a contested space.
No doubt, "Youth culture" is basically about men. Chapter 6 discussed how young men act as "gatekeepers" or censors, determining what kind of films women in their families can see. In Chapter 7, out of the thousands of applications to a local film acting school, none were women. In chapter 8, "teenagers" were almost by definition male. In short, one of the things this book suggests is that in Kathmandu young men are more likely to be implicated in the cultural constructions of "youths" than are women. What emerges in Kathmandu as an age specific youth culture, is not only class specific but also gender specific.

Chapter 10: "The Space of Class: Toward an Anthropology of Middle Class Cultural Practice" concludes with a discussion of class and space. The author argues that the special dynamics of class practice help us to understand what class is than what class does. It is through the endlessly repeated and reenacted spatial claims of class practice that class becomes a reality- a "social fact" (p. 249). Performance and practice highlight the fact that class is a cultural process -- active, fluid, contested, in the making-not timeless object like social category (p. 253). The product of class cultural practice - is cultural space. The production of class cultural space is accomplished through two conceptually distinct forms of cultural practice: discursive, narrative or linguistic practice on the one hand and embodies physical or material practice on the other.
Considering the literature on the middle class is virtually scarce in Nepal and elsewhere, the book is an excellent ethnography of the middle class culture in Nepal. There are good case studies of the undesired people that are told by the forces of modem consumerism (such as the "fashion prostitute", the family driven to sell gold in order to buy a television set, the corrupt government worker who takes bribes in order to improve his family's standard of living, the elderly parents disrespected because he has no money and the drug and pornography addicted modem youths). Media consumption and youth respectively provided additional layers of detail to the image of class culture and offer further insights into the construction of class cultural space in Kathmandu. 'No doubt, with rich historical facts with references, and basic ethnographic elements contributes to an understanding of class as a cultural practice in Kathmandu. The ethnography is "voice" oriented: the text is full of people speaking their minds, stories, and their lives (xiv).

However, I feel that Leitchy is also trying to cite more negative stories for depicting the view of modernity and youth culture from the perspective of drug addicts, their imagination of the world and their discredited position from where they could not go up. But there are hundreds of other stories where youths are leading the new path of modernity, getting good education from the East and West, leading the new life and serving the nation better than before. No doubt, for many youths of Nepal the West or the United States of America has become a symbol for "model for reality", but in the real life the "model of reality" is Nepal itself where they live and work today; No doubt, because of the education boom in recent years, parents are spending a good amount of money to educate their children in the best schools of Kathmandu and elsewhere.
The other major problems in the book are: (a) If middle class itself is a distinct cultural category, it should also include other range of socio¬economic attributes such as salaried employment, income, a culture of professionalism, and consumer tastes and so on. The major domains of middle class culture are: work, consumption, residential location, formal and informal voluntary associations and family organization. So why the "consumption" patterns of people alone is given so much importance is not very clear. Is consumerism, a market based model, the appropriate model to declare a person modern? Is the class- based experiences, a sole value of the West, the definition of modern and so called "middle- class culture" in Kathmandu? If so why the contemporary Western values of autonomy, self expression of feelings and "culture of individualism" are still not the distinctive features of cultures of youths in Kathmandu? People redefine the contours of respectability; ijat itself as a value loaded complex of cultural logic of reputation. I feel that there is also a distinct smell of comparatively atomized Western views of images and ideas that are systematically built in while arguing the case of respectability or honor or ijat to define "middle class". The values of the West such as the English movie, English education, fashion and Western style clothing, imagination of the youths after watching of an English movie such as "One flew over the Cuckoo's nest" are case in points, (c) Methodologically, it would have been nice if Leitchy has mentioned the number of case studies collected formally or informally by gender, age, sex, education, caste/ethnicity and location and how these case studies differ in the overall context of the notion of "middle class culture" in Kathmandu, (d) Questions such as "What do you do by 20 thousand rupees?" or "Why do you do fashion?" are very subjective considering the age, sex, education and location of informants. I am aware of the fact of the subjective meaning of "practice" of an individual while competing between tradition and modernity and poverty vs. prosperity. (e) The other major issue is whether the path of middle class is an indicator of upward mobility within the society? In brief, are we at the risk of simplifying a complex reality of middle class culture in Kathmandu or Nepal as a whole?
Despite these shortcomings, the book is outstanding in several ways. Although, there are trained anthropologists working in Nepal over the last 50 years, except few, anthropologists as usual, are describing the exotic culture of people. This boo\{ is a good refresher even for those anthropologists who always talk culture of a group of people in a monologue or exotic fashion. The book breaks the ice of traditional field of anthropologists where the narration of multi- cultural values of people are put together w- make a synthesis. Leitchy's considerable observational skills, confidence in Nepali language, reflexive, and multi vocal styles has broken "the academic old boys network" in the context of anthropological research work in Nepal. Taken together, this research work points to the possibility for the wider research agenda for anthropologists in Nepal

Finally, scholars interested in material culture and historical anthropology will find this book outstanding, offering methodological and analytical models, as well as rich and complex historical ethnography. Readers of all levels, the educated general public, undergraduates, or graduate students, and teachers of all disciplines can learn from this book. The accompanying photographs provide documentary evidence of the intensity, vivacity and beauty of the book. This book is a must not only for aspiring anthropologists/sociologists but also for Adibasi/Janajati scholars/ leaders of Nepal who think that culture remains "static or unchanging" and claim that "caste" plays very important role for the underdevelopment of Nepal. No doubt, in this study, class has emerged not as a theoretical tautology but as vivid ethnographic facts, perpetually produced and reproduced in cultural practice of everyday life of people of Kathmandu.

CNAS-TU, Vol. 35, No. 2, July 2008, Page 293-301

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