Creating borders, maintaining boundaries: Traditional work and global markets in Bagru's handblock textile industry

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Susan Snow Wadley


Traditional work, Global markets, Bagru, Handblock textile industry, India

Subject Categories

Anthropology | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Social and Cultural Anthropology


Bagru textiles, a relatively recent addition to the global export market have over the past 30 years become internationally renowned as a traditional product based on regionally inspired designs. As locally "traditional" and transnationally "exotic" products, these textiles provide contextual, often contradictory, instantiations of meaning across distinctive social arenas. Socially constructed dichotomies between rural and urban, educated and illiterate, creative and menial, mark powerful influences of class. Yet these dichotomies are challenged and negotiated through the control maintained by independent businesses and international demand for Bagru products and labor. Economic and social categorization based on desire and access to material culture indexes myriad distinctions beyond the objects themselves. In the case of India--where trade in both culture and textiles represented a central node of global interaction long before the idea of the nation took hold--textiles have an especially complex part to play in cultural identifications through both time and space. This dissertation focuses specifically on the material culture of Bagru as a recently emergent, but traditionally marked, textile center where meaning and distinction are being actively constructed and negotiated. Through this lens, I examine the tropes of "tradition" and "innovation" as axes of meaning where identifications of caste and class play out based on labor practices, ideas of creativity, local and cosmopolitan experience, and corporate and government regulation of capitalisms. In this context, Bagru and its supporting infrastructure (designers, NGOs, design schools, government institutions and regulations) can tells us something about the role of tradition in the distinction of emerging middle classes. Today, as international capital flows into Bagru and cloth flows out, the movement of culture between the "local" and the "global" presents an opportunity to understand how the meanings of material culture are often contradictorily conveyed, negotiated, and recontextualized across contemporary time and space. New occupations have grown up around these negotiations of tradition and innovation and I analyze work as an important identifier in narratives of Bagru textiles as they are understood within and across social worlds.


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