Agency, Embodiment, and Quotidian Politics

Posted: 22 Feb 2011


This paper focuses on how subordinated groups understand and respond to their structural position in Sikh society. In short, this paper asks: how do Scheduled Caste Sikhs and Sikh women take political action in a community that engages in discrimination, yet denies its very existence? To answer this question, I turn to James Scott (1990), Ranajit Guha (1988), and Michael Hanchard (2006) who argue that the politics of subordinated groups are best understood as neither overt collective defiance nor complete hegemonic compliance, but rather as quotidian politics. Yet, my analysis also departs from these scholars. Instead of imposing a binary conception of agency as either resistance or resignification, I develop an understanding of agency from within the specificity of Sikh lived experience. By doing so, I am able to adopt an intersectional approach to understanding political agency by taking into account the mutually constitutive nature of categories like religion, gender, caste, and class. In particular, I examine (1) SC Sikh participation in squatting movements as one modality of agency that highlights issues of suffering and survival; and (2) Sikh women’s participation in religious societies as a second modality of agency, which highlights the theme of religious devotion. Through an exploration of quotidian politics, I am able to demonstrate that, at times, SC Sikhs and Sikh women undermine and adopt the very narratives that give rise to casteism and sexism.

Suggested Citation

Behl, Natasha, Agency, Embodiment, and Quotidian Politics. Western Political Science Association 2011 Annual Meeting Paper , Available at SSRN:

Natasha Behl (Contact Author)

Occidental College ( email )

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