Archive for the ‘Anthropology’ Category
An interesting piece about bicycling and urban sociology/ethnography:
Back in 2009, I was taking a graduate class on “concept work” and Chris Kelty came to visit. I had a chance to babble a little bit about my dissertation project studying bicycling in Los Angeles, and Chris speculated that bicycling could be a way of hacking urban space. This made a lot of sense to me. When you are doing an ethnographic study of one mode of transport in a city where another mode of transport reigns supreme, you notice things that are otherwise hard to see. Living among bicyclists in Los Angeles meant that I learned short cuts and the locations of tunnels under freeways, found out how to avoid major streets and still get across town, and questioned the dominant academic view of Los Angeles as a postmodern non-city.
The bicycle can be an experimental tool for ethnographic work. In my case, studying the social/cultural life of bicycling worlds, this was front and center in my fieldwork life. But I know many other people have found examining the bicycle as an object and bicycling as a practice productive while studying other topics more directly. For example, Wiebe Bijker’s writing on the development of the safety bicycle has given insight into the social construction of technology. And Robin LeBlanc called her 1999 book about Japanese housewives’ political engagement Bicycle Politics because she found that her mode of transport during fieldwork gave her a useful metaphor for the limited (but existent) political power of the women she studied.
“The world we see at a given time is chosen for us by the transportation we use to get there,” LeBlanc commented in her introduction. Has bicycling gotten you into new worlds, as an ethnographer or in other areas of your life?
Take a look!
I enjoyed reading Leela Prasad‘s Ethics in Everyday Hindu Life: narration and tradition in a South Indian Town (which, I think is the same as Poetics of conduct: oral narrative and moral being in a South Indian town).
Prasad’s writing brings to life on the pages the people she is describing: after reading the book, one feels as if one knows Dodda Murthy, Chayamma, Vijaya, Lakshmidevamma, Shastry, and Ajji personally. There are also a couple of places where I found the book moving — the experiences of Dodda Murthy in Sevashram and the experiences of Lakshmidevamma’s first pickle making exercise. The book is also filled with lots of very interesting anecdotal details: the ones I liked best are about the explanations for the presence of a leopard in the town and the sensitivity of Dodda Murhty about narrating a sad incident and drinking milk after such a narration.
The book also talks about the Ashirvada tradition of Sringeri. A form of Ashirvada is practised in my place too– however, it takes place only at the conclusion of the 12 days and one year mourning period after a death. In this ceremony, the priest and the elders talk about the care given by the heir (both physical and ritual) and the responsibilities that the heir has to fulfill towards the family and the local community to fill the hole left by the deceased member. However, the Ashirvada process described by Leela is more elaborate, has a poetics of its own, and more importantly, is performed after even religious ceremonies –not just on completion of the mourning period.
On the whole, a very nice and interesting book; a book that I might also revisit; a book that I have already recommended to a few people (including my father). Strongly recommended if you are interested in anthropology or religion or both.
In the latest issue of EPW, there is a perspective piece by Donald W Attwood titled How I Learned to do Incorrect Research which might be worth your while (and, pray tell me, how do you NOT READ an essay titled thus?)
On a different note, Yes; I know. But, I am not able to figure out how to get the link for the pdf of the article at the EPW site. Anyway, hurry before the piece disappears from the front page.
Throughout the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, drama and theatre had been very powerful genres for creative expression. During the last 60 years, Indian languages have witnessed a decline in these genres, particularly in ‘ sangeet-nataka’. Its place is now occupied completely by cinema and television.
One can mention the names of Mahasweta Devi, U.R. Anantha Murthy, Vaikom Mohammed Basheer, M.T. Vasudeva Nair, A.K. Ramanujan, Arun Kolatkar, Dilip Chitre, K. Satchidanandan, Nirmal Verma, Ashokamitran, Salman Rushdie, Qurtalain Hyder as the great names in literature during the last 60 years. Fortunately, their writings have not been merely the narration of a nation. Indian literature’s concern for issues larger than nationalism, the multi-lingual character of Indian creativity and the participation of wider section of society in literary creation make the last 60 years of Indian literature an important literary era. It has been the Age of Participation in Indian literature.
By the way, I recently heard Prof. Devy on A Nomad Called Thief: Social Stereotypes and Violence in India — a deeply moving lectures in four parts (or, in four stories, as he called it), which taught me, among other things, that we can never understand India and her colonial history unless we closely follow what happened in contemporary England. What is more such an understanding even help us understand the current day Indian society.