Brian Cannon

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Ph.D. Candidate

My dissertation, provisionally entitled “Claiming Caste: Land, Patronage, and Kinship in North India, c. 1660-1965,” examines the many avenues of social mobility traversed by one named community over three centuries, to argue against the scholarly essentialization of caste both as categorically defined and as uniquely Indian.  It documents histories of the Charans of northwest India, the so-called “bards” of the Thar desert region, to present a comprehensive view of their social organization, as inextricably embedded in long-term processes of political, economic, and social change.  The thesis considers Marwari, Hindi, and British colonial records to ask to what extent transitions in patronage, changing structures of gift-economies, and new legal regimes played in this history of socio-economic mobility.  In doing so, it asks more broadly about the ways in which claims to social status were contested and re-structured amidst shifting landscapes of patron-client relations.  Research for the project in India and the United Kingdom has been supported by a grant from the Fulbright-Hays program, and the Metcalf Fellowship in Indian History from the American Institute of Indian Studies.


M.A., University of Pennsylvania
B.A., Cornell University

Research Interests

Caste, social organization, and kinship; histories of land and labor; desert ecology and political economy