Saraswati and Seacrest: Schools and language medium politics in north India

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Susan Snow Wadley


Saraswati School, Seacrest School, Banaras, Language, Politics, India

Subject Categories

Anthropological Linguistics and Sociolinguistics | Educational Sociology | Social and Cultural Anthropology | South and Southeast Asian Languages and Societies


This dissertation examines pre-college education in Banaras, North India by considering the ways that languages are refracted through school identity at the same time that languages provide the most popular means of differentiating schools. Across North India, a divide in English-medium, fees taking and Hindi-medium, government administrated schools is the most salient way of organizing a complex school system comprised by many types. The language divide is perhaps the most popular way of talking about schools generally, and appears in conversations that do not necessarily involve schooling as their focus. The language divide, enacted in school idiom as a medium divide, is the basis for the arrangement of complex notions of class and status that allow speakers to launch critiques or praise against schools, those engaged in the activity of schooling, their families, or much larger entities. By focusing on ways that the co-constructions of languages and social categories are always shifting in such narrative activity, this work conceptualizes the divide as a discursive frame that implicates social actors at the same time that they create, in never quite the same way, the school division.

This dissertation participates in a growing concern that ideology is an important factor in any sociolinguistic endeavor. Indeed, complex serniotic projections often find in institutions a template for the organization of languages, language forms, and language publics. Sections of the present work address different relationships between North Indian education and North Indian languages, and the communities that are aware of them, criticize them, or are partly constructed by them. These sections are comprised by considerations of (1) past constructions of the relationship between the linguistic and the local in North India and their contexts; (2) constructions of the language medium divide in Banaras; (3) the relationship between school-derived constructions of language and those outside of school; and (4) language activity in classrooms and its resonance with ideologies of language medium. The dissertation demonstrates that persons create local publics through discourse about and in schools, and therefore, create them with parameters whose meanings are hardly confined to their local productions.


Surface provides description only. Full text is available to ProQuest subscribers. Ask your Librarian for assistance.