Cultures of Lights

Kumar, Ankit. 2015. Cultures of light. Geoforum65, 59-68

This paper is part of a larger project, looking at electricity access in rural India. For the project, a nine months long ethnographic research was carried out in five villages in Bihar, an eastern state of India. It involved looking at various sources of light – grid electricity, solar lanterns, biomass micro-grids and kerosene oil. The paper tries to understand, and explain, the cultural notions that dictate peoples’ specific lighting practices and lighting practices that propagate particular cultural notions. The paper argues that, through the mediation of materiality, light cultures (cultivates and propagates) culture and culture cultures light. It does this by engaging with three key ideas. First, it argues that light has a critical role in establishing and reinforcing honour. Following this, it examines light’s role in hospitality. Lastly, it connects light to the religious beliefs among Hindus, and looks at how culture affects the materiality of light. The paper approaches what light does and what it means as emerging from a material-culture assemblage, which embodies the external and the internal, the political and the productive, the corporal and the conceptual, the material, moral, and the sensible. From this, light emerges with dual – material and non-material – properties, as it interacts with culture.

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