Beyond nostalgic tea industry ads romanticizing colonial Ceylon and the impoverished conditions that beleaguer Tamil tea workers are the stories of the women, men, and children who have built their families and lives in line houses on tea plantations since the nineteenth century. The tea industry’s economic crisis and Sri Lanka's twenty-six year long civil war have ushered in changes to life and work on the plantations, where family members now migrate from plucking tea to performing domestic work in the capital city of Colombo or farther afield in the Middle East. Using feminist ethnographic methods in research that spans the transitional time between 2008 and 2017, Mythri Jegathesan presents the lived experience of these women and men working in agricultural, migrant, and intimate labor sectors.
In Tea and Solidarity, Jegathesan seeks to expand anthropological understandings of dispossession, drawing attention to the political significance of gender as a key feature in investment and place making in Sri Lanka specifically, and South Asia more broadly. This vivid and engaging ethnography sheds light on an otherwise marginalized and often invisible minority whose labor and collective heritage of dispossession as “coolies” in colonial Ceylon are central to Sri Lanka’s global recognition, economic growth, and history as a postcolonial nation.
Mythri Jegathesan is assistant professor of anthropology at Santa Clara University.
Piya Chatterjee is Associate Professor of Women’s Studies at the University of California, Riverside.
"With clear, heartfelt prose, methodological imaginativeness, and careful attention to intersecting axes of power and distinction, this book not only makes essential contributions to the fields of anthropology and gender studies but also to scholars interested in South Asia, decoloniality, and ethical research methods."
~New Books in Anthropology (NBN)
"This vivid ethnography lifts the veil on a community that has been marginalised and invisibilized but whose labor and contributions are central to make sense of SL’s global recognition as a leading tea exporter that has contributed greatly to the country’s economic growth and history as a post-colonial state in SA. "
"Tea and Solidarity reinvigorates conversations in feminist political economy and presents an exciting and inspiring example of the richness of the anthropologyof work today."
~Anthropology of Work Review
"Tea and Solidarity is an excellent read and provokes an engagement with such issues as positionality, situated knowledge, ethical responsibilities as researchers, and more importantly the transformative potential of transnational rights-based interventions. By focusing on ‘how gender, work and value making shape Hill-Country Tamil Women’s lives’, Jegathesan shifts the terms of feminist engagement to stand in solidarity with them."
~Gender, Place & Culture
"[A]n insightful, rich ethnography, which stands as an original contribution to the plantation as an object of anthropological inquiry."
~Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
Society for the Anthropology of Work Book Prize
Michelle Z. Rosaldo Book Prize
Diana Forsythe Prize in Anthropology