Poverty and public celebrations in rural India / Vijayendra Rao Rao, Vijayendra

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Rao, Vijayendra
Appears In
The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
Poverty - India.; India - Social life and customs.; Poverty -- Social aspects
This article examines the paradox that very poor households spend large sums of money on celebrations. Using qualitative and quantitative data from South India, it demonstrates that expenditures on weddings and festivals can be explained by integrating an understanding of how identity is shaped in the Indian context with an economic analysis of decision making under conditions of extreme poverty and risk. It argues that publicly observable celebrations have two functions: they provide a space for maintaining social reputations and webs of obligation, and they serve as arenas for status-enhancing competitions. The first role is central to maintaining the networks essential for social relationships and coping with poverty, while the second is a correlate of mobility that may become more prevalent as incomes rise. Development policies that privilege individual over collective action reduce the incentives for the former while increasing them for the latter, thus reducing social cohesion while increasing conspicuous consumption.
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