In Conversation with Dr. Kumari Jayawardena

The first conversation in the SSA-Talks series is with Dr. Kumari Jayawardena. A leading feminist scholar and social scientist, she has made significant contributions to research in the spheres of labour and capital, peasant movements, women’s studies and gender equality, plantation workers, nationalism and ethnic identities. Some of her key works have been translated into Sinhala and Tamil. This conversation concerns one of her pioneering works, Nobodies to Somebodies:

This conversation concerns one of her pioneering works, Nobodies to Somebodies: The Rise of the Colonial Bourgeoisie in Sri Lanka (Colombo: SSA, 2000). The book examines the origins and growth of the Sri Lankan bourgeoisie especially during British colonial rule. It is one of the principal studies to examine the category of ‘class’, and the rise of the new-rich ‘nobodies’ – belonging to different caste, ethnic and religious groups – into the rank of ‘somebodies’. First published in 2000, the book was translated into Sinhala in 2006.

The discussion begins with an inquiry about the book, the research gap it sought to fill and her experience conducting research on the topic [clip 1]. This is followed by a discussion on the key category examined in the work, ‘class’, how and in what ways it differed from other categories such as ‘caste’ and ethnicity, and the tensions that existed, not only between these different forms of consciousness but also between the new-rich nobodies and the old-rich somebodies. Dr. Jayawardena proceeds to talk about the Sinhala bourgeoisie, the liquor trade, and the relationship between the liquor industry, the temperance movement and Sinhala-Buddhist nationalist revivalism of the 20th century [clip 2].

She further discusses the politics of the Sinhala bourgeoisie (including how it differed from the Indian bourgeoisie), and aspects pertaining to the rise of the Tamil bourgeoisie. She is also asked whether it is accurate to suggest that the Tamil people were privileged during colonial times [clip 3]. Finally, the conversation touches on the role of the Sinhala and Tamil bourgeoisie in generating anti-Muslim sentiments, and the impact of the rise of the Ceylonese bourgeoisie on gender relations. In the course of this discussion, Dr. Jayawardena points to potential themes that may deserve the attention of new researchers [clips 4 and 5].