Cosmopolitanism, Tradition and Identity: Framing the Sikh Experience in California by Nirvikar Singh

Sept 2016

This paper analyzes academic accounts of major aspects of the Sikh experience in California. In addition to providing an overview of various studies of the Sikh community, this paper points out implicit assumptions in these studies, as well as gaps in the literature. Issues discussed include Sikh religious identity, cultural practices and socioeconomic status, as well as the evolving national and global context in which the California Sikh community has grown. A specific academic framing of the community that is analyzed and critiqued is the classification of Sikh immigrants into “cosmopolitans” versus “transnationals,” the former term being imbued with normative desirability as more cultural flexible or adaptive. The critique offered here challenges historical representations of the early twentieth century Sikh community in India that underlie this framing, as well as highlighting insufficient consideration of societal contexts and constraints facing the community in twentieth century California.

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Nirvikar Singh holds the Sarbjit Singh Aurora Chair of Sikh and Punjabi Studies at UCSC. He also directs the UCSC South Asian Studies Initiative within Social Sciences. He is a member of the Advisory Group to the Finance Minister of India on G-20 matters. He has previously served as Director of the Santa Cruz Center for International Economics, Co-Director of the Center for Global, International and Regional Studies, Special Advisor to the Chancellor (all at UCSC), and Consultant to the Chief Economic Adviser, Ministry of Finance, Government of India. He organized one of the first major US conferences on Indian economic reform. He received his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and his BSc and MSc from the London School of Economics, where he was awarded the Allyn Young Prize, Gonner Prize and Ely Devons Prize.

Professor Singh’s current research topics include entrepreneurship, information technology and development, electronic commerce, business strategy, political economy, federalism, economic growth and the Indian economy. He has authored over 100 research papers and co-authored three books: Joint Ventures, International Investment and Technology Transfer; The Political Economy of Federalism in India; and Waiting to Connect: India IT Revolution Bypasses the Domestic Industry. He has also served as an advisor for several startups and knowledge services firms in Silicon Valley and in India.

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