Accepted paper:

Spiritual infrastructure/infrastructural spirits: intimacy, danger, and distance in human-nonhuman relations in South India


Miho Ishii (Kyoto University)

Paper short abstract:

The aim of this study is to investigate the intimate yet dangerous relationship between humans and nonhumans. How can we maintain intimate relations while keeping our distance from dangerous nonhuman others? To answer this question, I examine būta worship and the developmental project in India.

Paper long abstract:

The aim of this study is to investigate the intimate yet dangerous relationship between humans and nonhumans in South India, focusing on būta worship and the developmental project. Būtas are generally considered the spirits of wild animals in forests. In rituals, people give offerings to the būtas to avoid incurring their curses. Interacting with the būtas as sensible, visible entities in the rituals, people vitalize their intimate relationship with the būtas and then let them leave for the invisible world again. Since the 1990s, the Mangalore Special Economic Zone (MSEZ) has been under construction in this area. It is composed of several complexes consisting of manufacturing facilities and infrastructures. Not only for local inhabitants but also for employees in the MSEZ, these newly constructed machineries are seen as alien, and human-machine relations in plants are regarded as neither social nor intimate. However, crises inside the plants provide people occasions for changing such relations. While both infrastructures and the internal structures of machines are normally invisible, when an accident happens they are exposed as sensible, visible entities. In such a critical situation, the power of the machines is identified with the agency of the būta dwelling in the site. The people organize rituals to appease the būtas embodied in the machines and let them leave, or be 'buried' again. By conducting the ritual, the people (re)create the occasionally intimate and basically distant relationship with the deity-machine as a dangerous social other, and thus transform a physical infrastructure into a spiritual one.

panel IP02
Intimacies of infrastructure