Kutty, Omar, U. of Chicago, Chicago, IL - To aid research on 'The Gift of Society: Social Welfare Programs and Political Identity in an Indian Megacity,' supervised by Dr. John L. Comaroff
OMAR KUTTY, then a student at University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, was awarded a grant in April 2005 to aid research on 'The Gift of Society: Social Welfare Programs and Political Identity in an Indian Megacity,' supervised by Dr. John L. Comaroff. While this project was originally designed as a multi-community study, prior to receipt of Wenner-Gren funds it had been decided that it would be more fruitful to focus on the caste of sanitation workers known as the Valmiki Samaj. Because this community is one of the most ostracized and marginalized in Delhi, analysis of the many governmental and non-governmental welfare programs that target the Valmikis provided extremely rich ethnographic data pertaining to the changing policies and culture of welfare provision in contemporary India. Among the data collected under the auspices of the foundation were interviews with members of the internationally recognized NGO, Sulabh International, whose mission is to improve the condition of this community through a business model incorporating pay-and-use toilets which then also act as self-sustaining sources of employment. Other exemplary data pertained to a special governmental financial program that provides business loans specifically to the Valmiki community. Middle Class Resident Welfare Associations, who have recently begun to organize their hitherto informal, local sanitation workers on a business model were also observed. The tentative conclusion reached from this data is that new models of welfare provision are gradually but dramatically changing the nature of labor among the Valmiki community.
Guffin, Matthew Bascom, U. of California, Davis, CA - To aid research on 'Space and Identity Formation among Programmers in Hyderabad's Urbanizing Periphery,' supervised by Dr. Smriti Srinivas
BASCOM GUFFIN, then a student at the University of California, Davis, California, was granted funding in October 2009, to aid research on 'Space and Identity Formation among Programmers in Hyderabad's Urbanizing Periphery,' supervised by Dr. Smriti Srinivas. The grantee conducted fieldwork with infotech professionals living and working in the western periphery of Hyderabad. The grantee stayed in a gated community to track how rituals and celebrations, daily interactions, and an active email list helped to create a strong sense of community. Visiting informant's apartments and workplaces, research documented how new spaces of work built by multinational and Indian IT companies have created a new sense of comfortable living. The grantee participated in dance and aerobics classes, played soccer, and went to nightclubs, examining the gender dynamics inherent in the body cultures of each space. Traveling in the city and talking with commuters provided a sense of traffic culture in Hyderabad where order is maintained chiefly by concrete constraints like speed bumps, medians, and the relative size and speed of oncoming vehicles. The grantee also accompanied informants to view under-construction apartments and saw how their aspirations were placed in negotiation with the concrete realities of these spaces-in-formation. Preliminary findings reveal that a new kind of society is rising in this periphery, one that valorizes individual socioeconomic and geographic mobility and affirms individual aspirations in part through the construction and use of new concrete spaces.
Can, Samil, Stanford U., Stanford, CA - To aid research on 'Indebted: Cultures of Obligation and Economies of Informality among Muslims in New Delhi,' supervised by Dr. Thomas B. Hansen
Preliminary abstract: Informality in India is a celebrated cultural frame of economic growth, comprising diverse commercial, legal, financial and industrial networks and practices. However, preliminary study on debt disputes among Muslims in Delhi suggests that urban informality have varying moral, ethical and religious framings, or 'cultures of obligation' among different communities of India. Providing a powerful lens on informality in India, debt relations (networks of finding loans/debts and practices of resolving debt disputes) are a classic medium for utilizing and negotiating 'cultures of obligation' and 'narratives of authority'. Inspired by the critical call to 'post-colonialize' economies of urban informality in the global South (Varley 2013), this study on debt and 'cultures of obligation' affirms the dynamic agency of marginalized or subaltern populations in everyday framings of informality, making and re-making markets, rationalities, liberalisms and capitalisms. It questions the conceptual separation of the informal from the formal for maintaining colonial fantasies of an intriguing, flexible, vital, yet continuously 'lacking,' dysfunctional and devastated 'other'. By focusing on how Muslims establish social networks across the city to find debts and how they resolve debt disputes through a range of 'formal' and 'informal' sources and authorities, the project aims to shed light on how dynamic moral framings of economic action within debt networks continuously assemble and disassemble informality and authority through active everyday negotiations of 'obligation' and 'authority.'
Venkatesan, Dr. Soumhya, U. of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK - To aid research and writing on 'Crafting Discourse: Mat Weaving in Pattamadai, South India' - Richard Carley Hunt Fellowship
DR. SOUMHYA VENKATESAN, of the University of Cambridge in Cambridge, England, was awarded a Richard Carley Hunt Fellowship in December 2002 to aid research and writing on mat weaving and the discourse surrounding the craft in Pattamadai, India. From January 2003 to January 2004, Venkatesan conducted research in South India among Muslim mat weavers, exploring issues relating to Islam and the craft object. She wrote up the results of the research in a manuscript for publication as a monograph, with the working title Transformative Words: 'Craft,' 'Development,' and the Worlds of Indian Artists. Aspects of the research were also to be published in a paper entitled 'Making Gifts Matter,' in a volume edited by Ssorin-Chaikov and Sosnina.
Venkatesan, Soumhya. 2006. Shifting Balances in a 'Craft Community:' The Mat Weavers of Pattamdai, South India. Contributions to Indian Sociology 40(1):63-89.
Venkatesan, Soumhya. 2009. Craft Matters: Artisans, Development and the Indian Nation. Orient Black Swan: New Delhi.
Reese, Jill Marie, U. College London, London, UK - To aid research on 'Spectacular Politics & the Image: Narrative, Morality and Power in the Tamil Public Sphere,' supervised by Dr. Christopher Pinney
JILL REESE, then a student at University College London, London, United Kingdom, was awarded a grant in October 2012 to aid research on 'Spectacular Politics and the Image: Narrative, Morality and Power in the Tamil Public Sphere,' supervised by Dr. Christopher Pinney. Situated in Madurai, Tamilnadu, India, this project sought to examine the relationship of spectacularity to political efficacy, the nature and circulation of narrative tropes of morality employed by image regimes, and the utility of a 'streetscape' as ethnographic location to illuminate the spatio-temporal dimensions of a politico-media assemblage. Data gleaned during fieldwork reveals the centrality of patronage and hierarchies of power as demonstrated through spectacle (images as well as affective displays of public devotion) and mobilized through materials (goods promised in campaigns, illicit payments for votes, materials presented at ceremonies, and the opulence of religious, civic, and political functions). Eighteen months of fieldwork affirmed the preeminence of imagery to political parties and their successes despite continuous tensions between ambivalence and anxiety about images, but also revealed the importance of the materiality of politics to electoral success. It is essential for parties to create a coherent narrative through the image regime, but that need not necessarily be moralistic. Additionally, the utilization of multiple 'streetscapes' within Madurai as ethnographic locations is imperative because public spaces-especially those around significant statues of past leaders-situate popular discourses as they are revealed and contested through imagery and events such as religious festivals, political demonstrations, and caste and civic celebrations, and it is for this reason that political parties employ these spaces.
Lee, Seung-Cheol, Columbia U., New York, NY - To aid research on 'Financialized Ethics: Governing Individual Bankruptcy in South Korea,' supervised by Dr. Elizabeth Povinelli
SEUNG-CHEOL LEE, then a graduate student at Columbia University, New York, New York, was awarded funding in October 2013 to aid research on 'Financialized Ethics: Governing Individual Bankruptcy in South Korea,' supervised by Dr. Elizabeth Povinelli. This research aims to examine South Korea's governance of individual bankruptcy over the past decade, in order to understand how sociality and ethicality are remolded and imbricated with financial neoliberalism. To explore the intricacies of the social realities that surround the issue of personal insolvency, this project started with the focus on the legal process and remedial education for bankrupt individuals, and expanded its scope to the workings of other relevant institutions and agents. The conducted fieldwork has included: 1) archival research on government documents, court records, and poplar representations of the bankrupt issue; 2) following individual bankruptcy cases as they pass through court hearings and the rehabilitation program; 3) participant observation at a leading local NGO concerned with individual bankruptcy; 4) interviews with the bankrupt, bankruptcy attorneys, court officials, and NGO activists. The research found: 1) individual bankruptcy has been problematized as a 'moral' issue, and thus it has served as a point at which economy and morality overlap; 2) during the rehabilitation process, the bankrupt individuals are trained to embody neoliberal responsibility and morality; and 3) the present-day governing practices produce depoliticized effects by mobilizing morality as the antidote to a crisis that requires political/economic solutions.
Heimsath, Kabir Mansingh, Oxford U., Oxford, UK - To aid research on 'Lhasa Contemporary: Urban Spaces and Tibetan Practices,' supervised by Dr. Marcus Banks
KABIR MANSINGH HEIMSATH, then a student at Oxford University, Oxford, United Kingdom, received funding in October 2006 to aid research on 'Lhasa Contemporary: Urban Spaces and Tibetan Practices,' supervised by Dr. Marcus Banks. The tangible modernization of Lhasa, Tibet, has accelerated dramatically in the past decade. This research attempts to use the theoretical construction of space as a method for understanding Tibetan lives in a continually shifting urban landscape. Building on previous experiences residing and working in Lhasa, this fieldwork focused on people's interaction with the material and visual environment of the city. The project attempts to bring together ethnographic research methods with more geographic and architectural concerns of space, buildings, and the city. Fieldwork time was divided between different areas of the city as well as different modes of work, leisure, commerce, and home; while research questions focused on the inter-dependence of material, lived, and representative spaces in the city as they relate to the lives of individual Tibetans. The growing diversification of economies, homes, and professions leads to multifarious spaces in Lhasa, but this project also seeks to discover whether it is possible to discuss the city itself as a coherent place/space. Unexpected riots and crackdowns during fieldwork both complicate and emphasize the peculiar nature of urban topography and its significance for Tibetans today.
Chudakova, Tatiana, U. of Chicago, Chicago, IL - To aid research on 'The Institutionalization of Tibetan Medicine in Post-Soviet Buryatia,' supervised by Dr. Judith Brooke Farquhar
TATIANA CHUDAKOVA, then a student at the University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, received a grant in October 2008, to aid research on 'The Institutionalization of Tibetan Medicine in Post-Soviet Buryatia,' supervised by Dr. Judith B. Farquhar. This research focused on efforts to institutionalize, scientize, and commercialize the practices of Tibetan medicine in Ulan-Ude, the capital of Buryatia, an autonomous republic of the Russian Federation located in southeastern Siberia. In so doing, it interrogates the emergence in Russia's state--sponsored and private health care institutions of what appears to be a kind of 'biocosmopolitan' imaginary -- a set of rhetorics and practices that attempt to combine and blend together disparate therapeutic cosmologies, diagnostic techniques, and possible ways of managing bodies and subjectivities under a single logic of 'optimizing' and 'revitalizing' health through the 'integration' (integratzia) of 'Eastern' and 'Western' medical knowledge. This project looks at the ways in which Tibetan medicine in Buryatia has been closely entangled with local scientific and biomedical practices, entanglements that both predate strictly post-Soviet logics of cultural and religious revival, and give rise to new kinds of knowledge practices, forms of expertise, and modes of care and health management. In this sense, this research focuses on the ways in which Tibetan medicine in Buryatia is both transformative of the efforts to 'rationalize' it, and constantly informed by them.
Chudakova, Tatiana. 2015. The Pulse in the Machine: Automating Tibetan Diagnostic Palpation in Postsocialist Russia. Comparative Study of Society and History 57(2):407-434.
Wang, Yu, Duke U., Durham, NC - To aid research on 'Naturalizing Ethnicity, Culturalizing Landscape: The Politics of World Heritage in China,' supervised by Dr. Ralph A. Litzinger
YU WANG, then a student at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, was awarded funding in September 2005 to aid research on 'Naturalizing Ethnicity, Culturalizing Landscape: The Politics of World Heritage in China,' supervised by Dr. Ralph A. Litzinger. In the past ten years, more than twenty sites in China have been added to UNESCO's World Heritage List. This growing World-Heritage 'fever' has manifestly transformed the lives of people living in these sites. It also raises questions about the changing relationships between culture and nature, local and global, and development and conservation. Based on an ethnographic account of the tourism development, ethnicity construction, and heritage protection on a potential World Cultural Heritage Site in Yunnan Province of China, the research investigates how the world-heritage system generates debates about cultural (ethnic) authenticity and creates new sites of struggle over control of local resources in this particular site of Yunnan. In a context where both global and state policies continue orchestrating developments in contemporary China, and where local struggles over identification and poverty increasingly haunt the policies, this research particularly tackles the problems of development and conservation by offering a case that is centrally engaged with international and state-based modes of governmentality. This project aims above all to put in question assumptions about the simple relationship between the development agenda of the state and the conservation mission of UNESCO.
Sandesara, Utpal Niranjan, U. of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA - To aid research on 'Prenatal Kinship and Selective Reproduction: The Process of Sex Selection in an Indian Community,' supervised by Dr. Philippe Bourgois
UTPAL SANDESARA, then a graduate student at University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, received funding in April 2014 to aid research on 'Prenatal Kinship and Selective Reproduction: The Process of Sex Selection in an Indian Community,' supervised by Dr. Philippe Bourgois. Over the past thirty years, the selective abortion of female fetuses has led to far more boys than girls being born in parts of India. There exists a plethora of research on the phenomenon, but this literature includes very limited instances of fieldwork with people actually engaging in the practice. The current project contributes a 'from-the-inside' understanding of how sex selection works, on the basis of interviews and observation with pregnant women and their relatives, clinicians, and government officials. Empirically, the project provides: 1) the first clinically based account of how women, relatives, clinicians, brokers, and medical technology come together to perform sex selection; 2) a new account of how families make decisions around sex selection, emphasizing emotional suffering and the psychodynamics of continuity as important factors; 3) the first empirical account of two new forms of marriage emerging as adaptations in response to skewed sex ratio; and 4) one of the first fieldwork-based accounts of how the state's anti-sex selection activities operate on the ground. Theoretically, the project explores a broader social system that rests on alienation of women; pressures parents to desire sons over daughters; remains resistant to state intervention; and sustains itself through inflows of outside women.