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Wave Theory: Cash, Crowds, and Caste in Indian Elections

Francis Cody
Associate Professor, University of Toronto
Date and Time: 
Monday, April 20, 2020 - 15:30

Department of Anthropology
Main Quad - Building 50
Room 51A (Colloquium Room)


This talk develops an ethnography of emergent “waves” in the run-up to elections in rural India to ask questions about the signs people read suggesting that political change is happening in one direction as opposed to another, and about how voters align themselves to these signs as they are circulated across media forms.  By paying attention to how people assess chances across factors ranging from cash-flow, crowd behavior, and caste calculations, on to professional analyses of polling data, this approach conceptualizes the ambient and layered ecologies of information that inform position-taking where everyday speculation about political fortunes is situated alongside formalized methods of analysis, calculation, and prediction.  Wave theory can also shed light on parallels between ethnographic and subaltern psephological epistemologies, insofar as they both raise the problem of scale in their quest to explain the experiential dimensions of a phenomenon as massive as national elections in India.


Francis Cody is an Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology and the Asian Institute at the University of Toronto. His recent publications include, Edward Sapir Book Prize-winning The Light of Knowledge (Cornell 2013), and “Populist Publics: Print Capitalism and Crowd Violence Beyond Liberal Frameworks” (Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East 2015).