Porn and the Kathmandu Lady

I’ve been meaning to put this book review (see below) that I did a little while ago of Mark Liechty’s ethnography Out Here in Kathmandu: Modernity on the Global Periphery for Himal Southasian on the blog.

Ethnographies on consumption in the developing world really do tend to divide opinion. A lot of people believe that they are somewhat frivolous and intellectually lightweight, while others argue that in important sub-plot about wider social and even political change is narrated through people’s consumer choices. Personally I’m  with the latter point of view. One of my lecturers at SOAS, Caroline Osella, had written a lot on social mobility, consumerism, migration and masculinity in South Asia and was the first person to really alert me to the ways in which stories about economic and religious change are told through seemingly mundane choices about clothing, food, jewelery and expenditure on religious rituals (Check out this paper, ‘I am Gulf’) . Ever since SOAS I’ve been sympathetic to projects like Liechty’s, but ultimately I felt that Out Here in Kathmandu just didn’t have the necessary clout in terms of depth of fieldwork and theoretical discussion. But it was a fun read and Liechty certainly tells a good story. 

And just for the record, the byline about ‘the overgrowing modernity situation’ was none of my doing. Chya! Himal, really!

Porn and the Kathmandu Lady
by Sophia Furber
The overgrowing modernity situation seen arising in the ladies of the Kathmandu valley concerning with sex and porn.

Over the past decade, a new kind of restaurant has appeared in the Kathmandu Valley – the dance bar or, similarly, the ‘cabin restaurant’. These places cater to an all-male crowd who come to drink local spirits, eat snacks and ogle girls dancing suggestively to Hindi and Nepali pop songs. Such establishments appear to have done a roaring trade even during the most fraught years of the Maoist ‘people’s war’, and can now be found throughout the valley, from the backpacker district of Thamel to respectable suburbs. It is not sex tourists that are being catered to here, but a new kind of customer altogether – the middle-class Nepali male.

The emergence of the dance bar is one of the most immediately striking of a variety of cultural transformations taking place in the Kathmandu Valley, which are the subject matter of this new collection of essays. Liechty’s focus on urban cultural practices marks a departure from the existing body of anthropological writing about Nepal, which has been dominated by studies of rural societies. These essays deal exclusively with Kathmandu, since the city is a place where Nepalis are feeling the impact of globalisation in a unique way.  The dance bar is significant because it takes food and sex (both traditionally controlled by strict ideas about ‘purity’ and ‘contamination’ among Nepal’s predominantly Hindu middle class), and repackages them as commodities for the free market.

This is not the only area of middle-class life where such a process is occurring. Other forms of consumerism, such as viewing of English- and Hindi-language videos, eating in restaurants, wearing make-up and even watching ‘blue’ movies have similarly brought the most intimate aspects of Nepali life out of the recesses of the home and into newly constructed public spaces. Out Here in Kathmandu explores a city where new, enticing foods, goods and services, ranging from momos and apple pie to Chinese electronics and sexual favours, are appearing on nearly every corner…

….read the rest of the review here!

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