A video recording of this event is now available.
“Untouchability” is often understood as a peculiarly Indian problem rooted in the Hindu caste system. This talk aims to unsettle such preconceptions by exploring a transnational variety of groups that have long experienced discrimination linked to hereditary occupations that specialize in putatively ‘dirty’ and polluted labor across Asia and Africa, with diaspora communities spread across the world. They were once the neighborhood butchers, leather-workers, tanners, morticians, grave-diggers, custodians, basket-weavers, sweepers, custodians and others who performed essential yet despised work associated with ritual and physical contact with bodies, blood, and death. Drawing examples from the experiences of Korea’s baekjeong and Japan’s burakumin since the late 19th century into the present, this talk elucidates a little-known story of diversity at the margins of economic life—the complex, evolving, and often contradictory ways by which untouchable groups have sought to define the meaning of their stigmatized labor and relationship vis-à-vis states and societies that have shunned them, ranging from heated claims for recognition and demands for redress to quieter pleas for a right to be forgotten.
Hosted jointly with the Centre for Diaspora & Transnational Studies (CDTS) with the support of the Faculty of Arts & Science, the Labour and Humanities Seminar brings distinguished scholars in the humanities working on themes related to labour, globalization and employment relations to the University of Toronto to present and discuss their work. The seminars reflect an eclectic approach to the study of work across human history and culture and are intended to help build and reinforce interdisciplinary connections, both within CIRHR and in the wider University community.