King’s India Institute Graduate Workshop
FIELDWORK AND ITS FRAGMENTS
July 1, 2016
K0.18 King’s Building
KING'S COLLEGE LONDON | STRAND CAMPUS
Himadri Chatterjee (Jawaharlal Nehru University)
Magician, Traveler and Laborer: ‘Market Talk’ and ‘Home Speak’ in a Refugee Village at the ‘Border’ of Kolkata
Abstract: How do we distribute the field? This question animates the reflections on an ethnographer’s task in constituting and construing ‘the field’. This paper takes it bearings from Sharad Chari’s (2003) use of ‘Genres’ in distributing and constituting his field in Tiruppur. This paper is based on ethnographic material collected from 2013 to 2015 in the village of Netajeepally at the North- Eastern extreme of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation. A village largely settled by refugees from the 1971 War of Liberation in Bangladesh – Netajeepally embodies the characteristic regional history of West Bengal. An extremely mobile population with histories of migration spanning the years since 1947 Partition of South Asia makes the narratives uncontainable in terms of the village boundaries. Such mobility disturbs the stable ‘regional’ constitution of the field. Scholars like Appadurai, Ferguson, Gupta and Passaro have commented on this mobility and its particular dialectic with the territorial constitution of the field. In this study there are two levels at which the field is distributed. Firstly, the narratives distribute life histories across long migrations triggered by violence and continued due to economic necessity. Secondly, the narratives told at the village market place change substantially in character, tone, detail and meaning when the same respondents speak of their ‘journeys’ in their ‘homes’. The paper attempts to empirically distribute the field through the two genres and spaces in which the respondents spin their tales while assuming different roles and meanings through each re-telling.
Himalay K Gohel (Jawaharlal Nehru University)
A study in the field of dance: Tracing the movement structures in the regions of Saurashtra, India
Abstract: My research focuses on the movement structures and changes in the choreographic elements of dances like ‘Garba’ and ‘Raas’. My field work, conducted in autumn of 2015, made me interact with dancers, organizers of the dance events, and contemporary choreographers. Since the conception of this dance form is grounded on the community identity, it is conventionally studied through an ethnographic perspective. I intend to see dancers’ interaction with society through physically intensified movements from dance studies perspective. On fieldwork, my encounter with several organisers and dancers was initiated first with caste, and second with the knowledge of Garba dance. Since Garba dance styles also depend on the castes and regions, it was necessary to bring caste discourse in front. As a researcher, my caste and knowledge of Garba was discussed as well. My hypothesis about dancing communities’ caste assertions was gradually changing and becoming more nuanced
as I realised that these identities worked on subtler level. After interviewing the organisers I found out that caste specific dance events are organised not only to assert caste identity but also to forge business ties with capitalist function. My belief of gaining an easy access to the region and people was challenged when I was restricted to interact with female dancers of certain castes. In the end, my writing up was informed with the material on old aged dancers and pregnant women’s movements to labour practices turned into choreographed dance movements.
Sarah McKeever (King’s College London)
Digital Discontents: Negotiating the Digital Field with Qualitative Research
Abstract: As our world becomes increasingly mediated through the lens of the digital, new realms of study have opened up for the academic researcher. From digital ethnographies to Big Data studies, research methods are adapting and shifting to cope with the rapidly changing digital landscapes of our lives. However, in the enthusiasm and excitement of digital studies, the user often remains an elusive yet crucial element that is often overlooked or left as an anonymous entity. Many studies overcome this issue by focusing on large-scale data scrapes or maintaining digital boundaries and researching other aspects of digital changes to the social world. Negotiating the boundaries of the digital to find the user and conducting qualitative research poses many unanswered issues of access and to the ethics of digital research that require more critical examinations. This paper explores the difficulties of critically analysing digital events using qualitative methods. From defining the boundaries of a digital study to confronting our own biases as researchers in digital expectations, the variety of challenges and re-conceptualisations of “the field” in a digital world require a rigorous examination of methodological and academic assumptions. This paper will explore and discuss some of the challenges involved in studying the digital impact of two movements – The Anti-Corruption Movement in 2011 and the Delhi Rape Case in 2012 – using qualitative methods, including semi-structured interviews, to search for and understand the user and practitioner. It will examine issues of bias and ethics and discuss new methodological difficulties posed by the mediated world.
Sruthi Muraleedharan (SOAS, University of London):
‘Mapping Democracy’: The ‘Visual Field’ of Politics
Abstract: Politics needs to be analyzed as a ‘visual field’ and so does the discipline of politics need to engage with the ‘visual’. My research explores practices of meaning making in the context of Identity politics. It tries to understand the relationship between identity formation and interventions in symbolism. Hence the forms of evidence collection have involved – ethnographic observations, open- ended interviews and visual ethnography through photographs. Embedded in inter-disciplinarity and a reflexive approach to ethnographic fieldwork methodology incorporating the visual.
Since my PhD research gives the ‘Visual’ a critical role, by introducing it as an alternative way of understanding and a route to knowledge about social and political phenomenon. Here particularly I am referring to how photographs can be used as an effective tool for accessing the unarticulated and embodied views of individuals and groups in the research process. This paper will aim to chart out the journey of engaging my ‘field site’ as a ‘Visual site’ engrained in capturing the symbolisms and performativity that informs the everyday engagement of my respondents with politics and to analyze the changing configuration of how democracy is performed and experienced. It would aim at discussing for instance how does use of photography as a mode of evidence collection layers and complicates the analysis of ethnographic moments of social interactions, temporalities and ocular empowerment. This analysis would also entail discussing the encounter of this ‘visual field’ with my positionality as a ‘female researcher’ and entering the masculine space of photography/ videography and the challenges therein.
Anna Ruddock (King’s College London)
Getting In: Notes from the threshold of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS)
Together with being the country’s most respected public hospital, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Delhi is widely considered to be India’s most prestigious medical college, accepting less than one tenth of one percent of 90,000 annual applicants to its undergraduate program (MBBS). It is also notably understudied by social scientists, partly informing my choice to write an ethnography of AIIMS for my PhD. This narrative paper follows efforts to gain access to AIIMS from two perspectives: firstly, mine as a researcher, and secondly, that of a student aspiring to study medicine at the institute. In both cases I employ Bourdieu’s (1986) theory of capital(s) as a means of explicating how AIIMS reproduces its status as an elite institution, and the consequences these processes have for those seeking access, whether as an aspiring young doctor, or a foreign anthropologist.
Saba Sharma (University of Cambridge)
Me Again: Practice, Fieldwork, and How to Go Back
Abstract: Traditional notions of the ‘field’, particularly in qualitative fieldwork, imagine unconquered lands, whose depths the researcher slowly uncovers through her dogged pursuits and piercing questions. How, then, does one return to a field that is already ‘known’, not just through books and writing, but through first-hand experience? Specifically, in this case, how, when one has established one’s identity in a place as a development worker, does one return as a researcher? Between 2013 and 2014, I worked for a year on a post-conflict rehabilitation project in the Bodoland Territorial Area Districts, or BTAD, in Assam. I was responsible both for coordinating the project, as well as conducting a year-long study mapping the aftermath of the conflict. Soon after I left, I decided to do a PhD that focused on the same region, but on different aspects, primarily the relationship between state practice and conflict. I returned for the first time as a researcher for four weeks in March 2016, to study ongoing election campaigning. This paper will explore the nuances of attempting to bridge the divide between ‘NGO type’ and student during fieldwork, and whether it is possible, or even useful, to abandon one role for another. How does the change in role affect the way we gain access? Finally, the paper also looks at the way returning as a student reveals certain blind spots in the understanding of the field as it was known.
Shreya Sinha (SOAS, University of London)::
Studying Agriculture in ‘Rurban’ Space: Reflections on Fieldwork
Abstract: In a 2015 paper, Dipankar Gupta used ‘rurban’ as a ‘clumsy term’ to describe the rapidly transforming countryside in India. Harriss-White (2016) has used the term ‘Middle India’ to express the dynamism of small towns, and their links to rural areas. It is this fluid and ill-defined, but surely expanding, terrain that was ‘discovered’ and traversed by this researcher in the course of her fieldwork on agrarian capital in Punjab. This paper draws on a year’s fieldwork conducted in 2014-15 on the accumulation strategies of large farmers and the structure of crop markets in Punjab. The fieldwork was based in a market town and surrounding villages in Ludhiana district. Since capital-centred political economy projects are relatively uncommon, there was ambiguity on the nature of the field and the most effective research methods for the purpose before the fieldwork, even though a detailed tentative plan had been made. This paper will, therefore, reflect on how the field itself was ‘found’ and defined, through fieldwork, at the inter-section of the rural and the urban. It will also provide insights into how the choice of data collection methods differed across different types of respondents and settings. The limitations and trade-offs involved in these choices will be explored. There will also be a discussion of how fieldwork strategies were informed by gender constraints. Finally, the paper will constitute a methodological note on being a researcher in and of a transforming agricultural space, and on applying emerging analytical ideas to fieldwork practice.
Veena Sriram (John Hopkins University)
Navigating uncertain terrain: Reflections on the use of Elite Interviewing and Observation in Health Policy Analyses in India
Abstract: Health policy analysis is a small, yet growing, subset of health research in India. Policy analyses often necessitate ‘studying up’ (Nader 1972), by examining institutions, mechanisms and actors at the top of the decision-making architecture. The use of elite interviewing and non-participant observation are frequently used methods in such analyses, but their application in India and other low-resource settings requires further attention. These methods often blur the boundary between art and science, and furthermore, have not been sufficiently dissected in the Indian context, where dynamics of class, race, ethnicity, caste, gender, institutional affiliations, connections, and other factors, on the part of the researcher and researched, strongly influence study outcomes. This abstract reflects on experiences during my dissertation research in India in 2015. Methods for my study, an analysis of the development of medical specialties in India, consisted of interviewing elites in powerful positions in public and private health sectors, and observing high-level meetings. I will discuss the tensions in navigating the complex and fragmented stakeholder network in my study, and the challenges of engaging controversial institutions, such as the Medical Council of India. I will reflect on my positionality as an Indian-origin researcher from an US-based institution, and how those characteristics facilitated and hindered access. I will discuss how being a young, female researcher, and a mother, influenced my relationships with interviewees. I will explore the role of connections in access and relationship building. Finally, I will consider how my Tamil ethnicity enhanced trust with Tamilian interviewees.
Smita Yadav (University of Sussex)
‘Native’ Ethnography: Contestations of Gender, Marital Status, Class and Education in Central India
Abstract: What challenges does ethnographic fieldwork present when the ethnographer is perceived as a ‘native’ by the informants?How different is the experience compared to those ethnographies who are perceived to be non-native anthropologists by the informants? In this paper, I will discuss how during the ethnographic fieldwork and data collection in a remote village in central India, how my ‘native’ identity led to contesting gender stereotypes of being single working Indian woman as an ethnographer. The fieldwork entailed traveling at odd hours and being seen in odd places and wearing odd clothes as judged by traditional and patriarchal standards in that region. How there was a thin line between me losing the trust of my informants due to my unmarried status which was considered a threat by other married women in the field and how I dealt with speculations regarding my sexual and unmarried life and constantly being Judged and asked to justify about my pursuits in the field due to my urban roots. More importantly, how difficult it was to conduct fieldwork without men in this part of India where women are rarely seem alone in public and what implications it had for my fieldwork. I will discuss accounts of how these local men (as motor bikers taking me around to inaccessible villages) would take advantage of me for not having any kinship relations in the village and pursue me for temporary companionships which is forbidden until marriage in such societies of India. I will also show how initial relations of trust to enter the fieldwork soon turned unprofessional and personal threats to life from the local mining mafia in the region and what negotiating strategies were used to make the fieldwork possible.