ASA12: Arts and aesthetics in a globalising world

Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India, 3rd-6th April 2012


The ethnographic framing of the migrant subject

Location CSSS Class Room No.104, First Floor, SSS-II
Date and Start Time 04 April, 2012 at 08:30


Anita Bressan (University of Sydney) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

Can the migrant speak? Inclusion and exclusion in the subjectivization of migrant identities

Long Abstract

Judith Butler's concept of framing can be applied to the study of migrants, to uncover how the gaze of the dominant culture articulates the possibilities that they are offered in their new country. The framing imposed on the migrants contributes to the formation of the intelligible subjects by establishing the possibilities of self expression one is left with: in order for "colonized" subjects to become recognizable ones, they must adhere to the normative scheme upheld by the recognizer, which (inevitably?) re-arranges meanings by interpreting cultures, their performances and artistic manifestations.

Parallel to this, as exposed by authors such as James Clifford and Paul Rabinow, ethnography, inescapably imposes on the subject the epistemological framing entailed in the power position from which it is carried out: subjectivization recreates and reinstates the same conditions of power imbalance that it often seeks to overcome, rendering vane the attempts to give voice to the other(-ed).

With reference to the study of migrations, this panel will investigate the way in which the interlacements between national, cultural and gender belonging produce subjectivities (and their other), and how such process affects (self)recognition. Moreover, it will exemplify the ruses implied in ethnographic work, for which it will try to propose pragmatic, contextualized solutions.

With the purpose of highlighting the expedients that can help rendering (progressively) intelligible the 'cultural excesses' otherwise relegated to the world of the unspeakable, it will illustrate the possibilities offered by self-reflexivity, and by the inclusion in the field of the research of (the unearthing and disentanglement of) the power hierarchies that differently position the agents involved.

Chair: Anita Bressan, Ghassan Hage, Meenakshi Thapan

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Indian Migrants in Australia: Beyond the Middle Class Framing

Author: Sukhmani Khorana (University of Queensland)  email

Short Abstract

In Indian and Australian television news accounts of the allegedly racist student attacks in Melbourne and Sydney during 2009-2010, the figure of the migrant was constructed as that of one hailing from the nation's assertive (yet homogeneous) middle class. I made a documentary in early 2009, just before the attacks, that challenges the homogeneity of such framings by mainstream media across the world.

Long Abstract

Indian and Australian television news accounts of the allegedly racist student attacks in Melbourne and Sydney during 2009-2010 varied significantly in their journalistic emphasis, nationalist bias, and postcolonial overtones. However, they were rather similar in the way that the figure of the student-migrant was constructed as that of an aspirational male hailing from the nation's assertive (yet homogeneous) middle class. In a documentary titled 'I Journey like a Paisley' which I completed in early 2009 just before the attacks, a group of young people of Indian origin living in the South Australian capital, Adelaide are interviewed on a wide range of subjects ranging from their perception of racism in Australia to their views on arranged marriage. Such a portrayal shows the diversity of the middle class Indian diaspora in Australia, and challenges the homogeneity of limited framings by mainstream media across the world.

Understanding constructions of 'otherness' in migration: the case of northern Italy

Author: Meenakshi Thapan (Delhi School of Economics)  email

Short Abstract

None provided.

Long Abstract

This paper seeks to understand aspects of contemporary Europe from the perspective of both the migrants (who are strangers for Europeans) and those they themselves perceive as òther (the Europeans). The migrant is constructed as stranger by not only the receiving state, through its policies and laws, but more experientially, by the others who are encountered in daily life in an alien world. At the same time, the migrants construct their European 'other' as a separate category from themselves so that the experience of being a migrant is always located in this fraught and complex relationship between migrants and others. The paper is based on material collected through interviews and fieldwork in the Emilia Romagna and Lombardy regions of northern Italy. My focus in not only on Indian immigrants, men, women and young people, but also on Italian people who engage with them in different roles through a variety of services, activities and supportive endeavours. Through this paper, I seek to explore and develop the categories of migrant and his or her others showing that the social place of the stranger/newcomer cannot be treated as an exclusive, homogeneous, separate category and is constituted only in specific contexts in and through relationship with Europeans and other non-European 'others'.

Framing cultures: the multicultural and ethnographic hijacking of the voice of the (1950s Italian women) migrants (to Australia)

Author: Anita Bressan (University of Sydney)  email

Short Abstract

Migrant cultures are rendered (un)intelligible through the framing imposed on them by the hegemonic subjectivity, which they hence start to reflect. Can the moulding gaze of the dominant voice ever be done away with?

Long Abstract

Following the speculation of Derrida, Butler, Clifford, Rabinow, Pratt and Žižek, and making reference to the work I have been carrying out amongst the Italian women who moved to Australia in the 1950s, my paper aims at addressing the theoretical in-superability of the ruses implied in the epistemological framing of (migrant) subjectivities.

I will set off by analyzing the street parades that on January 26th celebrate Australia Day, which relegate most "ethnic" (as opposed to "Anglo"?) cultural manifestations to the domain of institutionally crafted carnivals: how does such type of performance contribute to rendering (un)intelligible (to "old" Australians) the cultural and gendered identity of the (NESB women) migrants?

Subsequently, with the purpose of discussing (circumstantial?) solutions to the seemingly impossible matter of giving the subjugated cultures (their own) voice, and in view of the need of unearthing the power relations involved in ethnography, I will illustrate the importance of disentangling (the specifically informed gaze implied in) my position of "insider anthropologist". I will then continue by trying to describe how the (im)possibilities of expression entailed in ethnographic framing mirror the constraining of migrant subjectivities within the (implicitly partial) matrix of the multicultural projects set up by the Nation State.

I will conclude by giving a feminist theoretical account of the risks inherent to the attempts of getting the dominated subject to speak: can the moulding gaze of the hegemonic voice ever be done away with?

Finding space for the migrant voice: A Ladakhi migrant's short story and its awkward reception

Authors: Elizabeth Williams-Oerberg (Aarhus University)  email
Mohd Shabbir (Jawaharlal Nehru University)  email

Short Abstract

A collaborative attempt between an ethnographer and a migrant to tell a story that necessitates telling; and their cumulative reflections on the difficulties faced regarding dispersion, framing and authority in finding space for this story.

Long Abstract

Revolving around the narration of a story by a Ladakhi student migrant this collaborative paper investigates spaces of enunciation for migrant social commentaries both within and outside academia. In the spring of 2011 a Ladakhi Muslim student migrant approached an American ethnographer friend to ask for help in publishing a story which communicates reflections from his homeland. The hurdles encountered in fulfilling this request and the negotiation of roles between the ethnographer and her informant in the process bring to the fore issues that migrants face in their (artistic) endeavors to give voice to their thoughts, reflections and experiences. It also leads to important discussions on the authority and framing of informant and ethnographer voices in anthropological discourse, as well as about the continued relevance of anthropological debate in bringing forth migrant voices.

The collaborative format of the paper brings to light the complicated tensions faced both by migrant and ethnographer in telling their stories. In this attempt at honesty and self-reflexivity, we hope to both share experiences on Ladakhi subjectivization and debate wider problems of ethnographic representation, advocacy and collaboration.

Life Historical Narrations and the Framing of the Subjectivity and Identity of the Rural Immigrants in East Guizhou (1930-2010)

Author: Mei-Ling Chien (National Chiao Tung University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper aims to describe and discuss how the different generations of Hmub migrants in eastern Guizhou, Southwest China frame their subjectivity and identity through speaking their life histories.

Long Abstract

With regards to the phenomena of the rise of China, the mass immigration from the rural areas to township or urban cities is one of the most apparent and significant contemporary social and collective experiences in mainland China. However personal and biographical experiences may also find its peculiar way to understand such a macro phenomenon. This paper, continuing from my long term ethnographic studies on Miao (Hmub, a cognate of Hmong) villages in the highlands of eastern Guizhou since 1997, aims to explore the subjective experiences and identity through the personal histories and narratives of the Miao (Hmub) language speaking migrants. Narratives of life history express not only the data collection, examination and analysis of the biography of people but also the performance, existence and language practice related to persons. This paper especially aims to describe and discuss how the different generations of Hmub migrant frame their own subjectivity and identity through speaking their life histories. That is, this paper will further describe and discuss what and how if the variations of the framing of migrant experience relate to the historical contexts across the following four periods: from the years of 1930-1940 (before the Chinese Civil War), 1950-1970 (the socialist transformation period), 1980-2000 (economic reform and development period), to that of 2000-2010 ("the Rise of China"). The empirical data of this paper is based on the methods of in-depth interview, participant observation and historical research.

Narratives of Migrant Women Agricultural Labourers in Rural Punjab: Mapping the experiences of female migrants' work, well-being and changes in migrant-native relationship

Author: Sabina Singh (Jawaharlal Nehru University)  email

Short Abstract

The present paper is based on an ongoing ethnographic research in Punjab. The narratives of migrant women agricultural labourers in Punjab are used to deal with the holistic understanding of factors related to work, well-being and migrant-native relationship. The narratives are being used so as to corroborate the lived experiences of migrant women agricultural labourers in an ethnographic study.

Long Abstract

The uneven development often fosters migration from less developed regions of the country to more developed regions. This movement of people in India from certain less developed states like Bihar, Eastern Uttar Pradesh and Orissa to green revolution state of Punjab, primarily in search of work, has brought together people from different cultures and socio-economic background at a common place. This labour migration inevitably involves a majority/minority relationship, wherein conflict and competition are inherent. The cultural and spatial diversity along with the ethnocentric views of the majority (natives) often hampers the work and well-being of migrants. Gender and power relations also play an important role in determining the burden of work and consequent well/ill-being. The present paper is based on an ongoing ethnographic research in a village of Punjab and deals with the lived experiences of female migrant agricultural labourers. Our understanding from the literature suggests that women represent a vulnerable group among agricultural labourers partly due to the burden of production- reproduction activities and also due to their overall position in the system. There is a need to understand the interaction of various structural inequalities which leads to devaluation of women's work and consequent impact on women's well-being yet from their own perspective rather than imposing our understanding onto them. The narratives of migrant women agricultural labourers in Punjab are thus used to deal with the holistic understanding of factors related to work, well-being and migrant-native relationship and also to corroborate the lived experiences of migrant women agricultural labourers in an ethnographic study.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.