EASA, 2006: EASA06: Europe and the world

Bristol, UK, 18/09/2006 – 21/09/2006


Changing approaches to fieldwork in India in the age of globalisation

Location Victoria S1
Date and Start Time 19 Sep, 2006 at 11:30


Paolo S. H. Favero (University of Antwerp) email
Shalini Randeria (Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen) email
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Short Abstract

The panel addresses the implication for anthropological research, and in particular for fieldwork, of the recent transformations that have taken place in contemporary India.

Long Abstract

Over the past decade India has become more connected to the global economy. This process has entailed a number of transformations. The GDP, the size of the middle classes and foreign investment in the country have grown. But so has the gap between rich and poor and between urban and rural areas, phenomena which also contribute to the growth of emigration from the country. These recent transformations have also entailed changes in how India is imagined, within the country as well as abroad. Within the country there is a contrast between the transformations that have taken place and the discourses surrounding these. In the West, the image of India is undergoing a change as well. No longer only represented as an exotic dreamland populated by barefoot beggars and wandering holy men, India has also become, in the Western imagination, a superpower in-the-making, a new frontier for technology and market opportunities and a potential competitor. What do these changes imply for how we conduct anthropological research in contemporary India? The panel will explore the new trends of fieldwork in India and enquire into how anthropologists can critically face the transformations taking place there. How can we overcome the limitations of older discourses and refocus our research while avoiding the current celebratory rhetoric? What kind of approaches would avoid reifying India according to older categories but also eschew new stereotypes? Is there a way to combine divergent issues such as caste, new sectarian movements, village structures, state institutions, Bollywood, reproductive medicine clinics, kinship studies and hi-tech call centres into a new critical framework? Which innovative methodological tools and ethnographic practices can be used for an ethnography of these fields? The panel addresses questions regarding the implication of these changes for the modalities of fieldwork and the longstanding tradition of anthropological research in India.

Chair: Shalini Randeria, Paolo Favero
Discussant: Marcus Banks


(Re-)searching security in contemporary India

Author: Julia Eckert (University of Bern)  email
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Long Abstract

The transformation of the Indian State entails changing conceptions of security, crime and terror and their sources and individual and social responsibility. These issues involve secrecy and rumours and need methodologies which can relate local uses of state institutions and the embeddedness of societal and state practices in international discourses.

In the right place at the right time? Some reflections on multi-sited fieldwork and the politics of place in Malayali transnational migration

Author: Ester Gallo (University of Trento)  email
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Long Abstract

The southern Indian State of Kerala has experienced migration in different periods of its history, with the Gulf attracting a considerable number of Malayalis since the end of the 1970's. Gulf countries represent today one - though probably still the most important - among a constellation of places in Malayali transnational lives (Malaysia, Europe, UK, US). In Kerala not only migration is inscribed in personal, household and community biographies of a relatively large portion of Malayali society, but has also produced a culture of migration that deeply informs the everyday life of the people who have never physically left their place. Indeed, the understanding of processes of social transformation and cultural change taking place in Kerala increasingly relies upon the analysis of the relation between this State and its NRI population. Similarly, people's relations with different places in transnational migration is deeply informed by the reconfiguration of hierarchies and processes of social mobility taking place in the native country. How to approach more 'traditional' issues such as caste and religious identity taking into consideration processes of social mobility enacted through migration? How caste, class, gender and age inform people relation with different places in transnational migration? And how, in turn, peculiar destinations and their cultural representations enhance or hinder people's expectations of mobility? Finally, how these questions lead to a reformulation of fieldwork methodology in contemporary India? The trope of physical and cultural separation that the idea of fieldwork have traditionally entailed for the ethnographer seems at odds with the fact that the life of the people we meet are often partly build upon travel, connections and displacement.

The first part of my paper will address some theoretical and methodological problems that have emerged during different prolonged periods of fieldwork in Italy and Kerala about Malayali migration to this Southern European country. If multi-sited research represents theoretically and methodologically a suitable resource to cope with the relation between India and NRI population, it nevertheless raises crucial questions, not only in term of research timing and 'depth' but also on the processes of construction of fieldwork as a relational practice. The second part of my paper will focus on the relation between 'hierarchies of places' and the politics of identity in contemporary urban Kerala. The intent is twofold. First it will be suggested that the potentialities of multi-sited fieldwork rely upon an understanding the meanings of transnational experiences through the analysis of located contexts and, on the other hand, upon the intent to 'open' the understanding of these contexts to a transnational perspective. In my fieldwork experience these levels were conceived not only in continuity between each other but possibly as integral parts of the same approach. Finally, it will be pointed out how this perspective allows us to understand how different experiences and cultural representation of places orient men's and women's transnational movements, enhancing processes of social mobility as well as producing hierarchies and inequalities in contemporary Kerala.

Caste and globalisation: real and imaginary places in global identities

Author: Harald Tambs-Lyche (Université de Picardie, Jules Verne, Amiens)  email
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Long Abstract

Amitav Ghosh, 'In an Antique Land', reminds us of the life-world of merchants that, in the high middle ages, stretched across the Indian Ocean to link Egypt and the coast of Malabar. He also shows how, in his own Egyptian village, he found himself in a contemporary life-world where India was a very distant and foreign land. Clearly, 'global' links are not new to history, nor does commonality of place indicate a congruence of life-worlds, beyond a minimum of functional adjustments. The peasants of Ghosh's Egyptian village were not necessarily part of the transoceanic links of cairo's Jewish merchants. Still, one point Ghosh makes stands out clearly: time may act to separate as well as to integrate populations.

The main thesis of the present paper is that communities - and in india this tends to mean castes - are the units that become globalized in today's world: the increasing stress on 'ethnicity' and other 'communitarian' identities is an integral part of today's globalization process.

My argument will be based on material from three different field studies: Patidar immigants to London around 1970; a regional study of Saurashtra, Gujarat in the seventies and eighties; and my present study of Konkani-speaking merchants near Mangalore, Karnataka. The Patidars were then in the process of becoming the globalized caste they now are; the inhabitants of different castes in Saurashtra tended to bound their life-worlds in very different ways both in terms of social and geographical space; and the Gauda Saraswat Brahmins of Karnataka belong, today, to another globalized community whose last international meeting was held in San Francisco, California.

Whether or not the 'village community' was ever a valid point of reference for fieldwork in India is an open question; certainly, the material I present here suggests that the points of reference, for a large part of the inhabitants of Indian villages or small towns, is often elsewhere. In other words, the Indian life-world is, to an important extent, an emigrant life-world. I shall explore more closely the 'mythical' dimension of the place of origin in relation to the Gauda Saraswat Brahmins, and its relation to the construction of 'tradition', lending content to community identity, and the increasing reification and abstractness of this content that comes with migration: as one informant put it: 'the emigrants are the most traditional - but they do not know the tradition'. f

Can older methodological approaches be of any value for contemporary fieldwork in India? An exploration in the field of medical anthropology

Author: Susanne Straessle (University of Zurich)  email
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Long Abstract

In the 1950s, anthropologists such as McKim Marriott, Robert Redfield, Milton B. Singer or Bernard S. Cohn broke with the anthropological tradition of studying villages or small scale communities in India as isolated entities and designed an innovative theory of Indian civilization and new urban studies. This asked for a much stronger consideration of the links and connections of any given local community accross time, space and minds - with far reaching theoretical and methodological consequences for fieldwork.

This paper will fathom the potential of these seemingly dated approaches in todays translocally and globally entangled fieldwork sites and topics. Can these concepts, which were in their time marginalized by the strong tradition of village studies, be of any theoretical and methodological use today when tackling new challenges for anthropological fieldwork in contemporary India? Do these approaches anticipate much more recent theoretical frameworks?

To address these questions the focus of this paper will be on medical anthropology in India and its changing methodological and theoretical approaches. Are new objects and perspectives of research coming to the fore or are they just gripped in new theoretical terms? What are the research implications against the background of the outlined methodological-theoretical framework? On the basis of my fieldwork data gathered in the small town society of Kalimpong and Darjeeling (West Bengal) I will briefly illustrate how local medical practice of both biomedical doctors and so called "traditional healers" is linked to translocal discourses and draws upon different knowledge systems integrating them in a distinctive form of local modernity. This will allow me to point out connexions between the older theoretical concepts and current theories of modernity and globalisation.

Water, for example: arguing for research that links India to the world

Author: Bettina Weiz  email
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Long Abstract

This paper argues that one possibility to overcome the limitations of older discourses on India, while at the same time avoiding the current rhetoric that celebrates India as a superpower in-the-making, is to choose issues that link the Indian example to international discourses. It proposes to focus anthropological research less on topics that emerge out of the specifically Indian context (such as, caste, dalits, Bollywood) and concentrate more on such that make the Indian example compatible with observations from elsewhere.

As an example for such a project shall serve, in this paper, the study of water, whose privatisation and commercialisation is currently at stake on a global scale. It will be shown that focusing on such a topic does not at all mean to neglect the above mentioned issues; they can thoroughly be dealt with, just that the "international" critical framework helps to situate them afresh, to put them in a perspective and context - a bit like Indians who go abroad have to situate themselves, with their specific personal and familial histories, in the context of their new homes which are, for them, "international".

Furthermore, the paper argues strongly not to overlook the villages and that peculiar space that comes "between" the village and the city: the suburbs and the sprawling settlements, which are, in lack of a proper designation, sometimes being labelled "semi-urban". At least in South India, where the fieldwork on which this paper is based has been carried out, they appear to be mushrooming; and so far they have hardly been under anthropological scrutiny.

Indica/Mistica/Mediatica: about contemporary European phantasms of India

Author: Paolo S. H. Favero (University of Antwerp)  email
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Long Abstract

In European public culture, India has traditionally epitomized 'otherness'. The accounts of the first missionaries' and of the British colonial administrators gave birth to the idea of India as 'land of contrasts'. The region's blend of poor masses, 'mystical' traditions and maharaja-opulence constituted a threat against European notions of rationality and moral and created the impression that India was too difficult for a European to grasp. The phantasm of India was born.

This phantasm has reproduced itself throughout the decades in the fields of literature, news, cinema, tourism, photography and indeed anthropology. Recently, however, it has started trembling. With the economic boom, a new image of India has emerged, one where maharajas, sadhus and beggars are still roaming the streets, but now hand in hand with high-tech gurus, call-centres and Bollywood stars. India appears, thus, today, as a kind of surrealistic vision blending future and antiquity. While apparently freeing India from colonial notions, these new contrasts, the paper will suggest, re-produce the exotic image of India as 'land of contrasts'.

This paper explores the contemporary phantasmatic construction of India in the European imaginary. Based on an analysis of most recent European visual and textual representations of India and on material gathered from fieldwork in New Delhi, the paper addresses the cultural politics of such representations. Enquiring into the continuity between the latest representations and colonial accounts it will also promote a reflection upon anthropology's contemporary positioning in this phantasmatic field.

The presentation will also rely upon the projection of audio-visuals.