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Updated: January 30, 2013 16:10 IST

An eye on cultural dynamics

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Carol Upadhya, Professor in the School of Social Sciences at the National Institute of Advanced Studies in Bangalore. Photo: Deepika Sarma
The Hindu
Carol Upadhya, Professor in the School of Social Sciences at the National Institute of Advanced Studies in Bangalore. Photo: Deepika Sarma

Carol Upadhya, who is best known for her study on Bangalore’s software industry, has lived in Bangalore since 2001 and has been at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) in Mathikere since late 2003. As Professor at NIAS’s School of Social Sciences, she currently anchors the Urban Research and Policy Programme (URPP) at the institute, and is one of the directors of ‘Provincial Globalisation’. The project studies the transfer of resources such as money, ideas and cultural contributions from Indians abroad to small towns back home.

“A very big chunk of IT professionals in Bangalore don’t come from metro cities; some may even be first-generation English speakers,” says Carol. This has brought about a “sea change”, she says, “because you have a whole new group of people who are, in a sense, being drawn directly into a global middle class.”

An interesting aspect of the group’s international mobility is that it is strengthening its rural links, she says, pointing to philanthropic work and development of infrastructure and education as examples of the impact of this new wave of Indian migrants.

Carol was introduced to the idea of studying Bangalore’s software industry in the early 2000s by A.R. Vasavi, who worked at NIAS at the time. Then, the software industry had become a huge presence in Bangalore. “[Vasavi] thought there hadn’t been enough work done on the people who work in the industry, because that’s really where the change comes from. The idea was to document who these software engineers are, how their lifestyle has changed, and how Bangalore has changed as a result.”

The study, carried out between 2004 and 2006, also got Carol interested in Bangalore as a city. “I’m not really a person who does urban studies,” she throws in, but goes on to say that her fascination with the city prompted her to float the URPP.

Missing pieces

“But my interest has really been more in the new kind of occupations that are coming in with the software boom and therefore things like the expanding middle class. What I feel is missing from that picture is the production side of it; these new kinds of jobs coming in also really have an impact on the way people think about themselves, the kinds of lives they’re able to construct for themselves.”

Shift to small towns

How people think about their work, and what kinds of new aspirations their work brings in, are aspects that draw Carol’s fascination. The geographical mobility of workers, facilitated by the software industry, and the changes this brings, “whether it’s the rise of a new kind of class, or its upward mobility, or cultural change,” led to her thinking about the cultural dynamics of such activity from a transnational perspective.

The international project on provincial globalisation explores similar dynamics, she says, but there’s been a shift from studying urban centres to smaller towns, such as Udupi and Guntur.

Closer home, has she noticed any changes in Mathikere, where she has worked for nearly 10 years? “Well, the New BEL Road side has definitely become a lot more upmarket, and the area around NIAS has expanded with a lot more eateries that draw students,” Carol says. “And obviously, the traffic’s increased,” she laughs.

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