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Doing Ethnography in India

Instructor: Shanti Pillai SITA Fall 2003

Course Description: This course has three objectives: 1) to introduce you to ethnographic research methods and writing; 2) to assist you in the design of a research proposal for your independent study projects, and 3) to learn about various aspects of Indian culture generally, and especially Tamil culture. We will briefly consider the history of “writing culture,” and then move to looking closely at how contemporary scholars are producing ethnographic literature. We will examine issues of authority and identity on the part of the researcher, in addition to the advantages and disadvantages of various fieldwork methodologies, including participant observation, interviews, archival research, and mapping. As we read a series of ethnographic texts throughout the semester, we will explore how scholars have made use of particular techniques in looking at particular topics. We will also pay attention to how the researcher’s own feelings, history, and political position give shape to her/his writing. All of this will serve as a backdrop for our own ethnographic adventures. Over the weeks we will engage in a series of mini-fieldwork exercises designed to try out various techniques, hone our observation skills, and practice writing research findings. This will be invaluable experience when we turn our attention to the project design and methodology of your own independent projects. After the tour in Kerala, each of you will be conducting research in Madurai that will culminate in the production of a paper at the end of the semester. During this course, you will work on the research proposal for that independent project. Your final grade for this class will be based largely on your completed proposal. Thus, alongside our reading of other people’s work, we will be working steadily towards developing a focused objective and appropriate methodology for your own endeavors. Most of the ethnographic texts we will read in this class are about India, and many of them are about South India in particular. In this way, we can meet our third objective for the class, to familiarize ourselves with some aspects of local culture. Perhaps some of the topics we examine will peak your interest, suggesting possible avenues for your own research.

“New Light in the House: Schooling Girls in Rural North India” Dickey. “Introduction” Visweshwaran. “Defining Feminist Ethnography” 2 Sept 11: Women as Informants Reading: Visweshwaran.” FW Assignment 3 Sept 16: Performance Reading: Schechner. “Offstage with Special Drama Actresses in Tamil Nadu. “Anjali’s Prospects: Class Mobility in Urban India. “Civic Rituals in the New Silicon Valley” Roy. South India” Review FW Assignment 3 Sept 22: Urban Spaces Reading: Srinivas. “The Politics of Poverty” FW Assignment 4 Sept 24: Village Spaces Reading: Mines.” Review FW Assignment 2 Sept 3: Identity in the Field: “Inside/Outside” Reading: Narayan. “High and Low Castes in Karani” Review FW Assignment 4 .” FW Assignment 2 Sept 2: Authority Reading: Clifford.Doing Ethnography in India Course Schedule: Aug 23 (at Thanjavur): Introduction FW Assignment 1 Aug 25 (at Thanjavur): What is Ethnography? Review FW Assignment 1 Aug 29: Thick Description Reading: Geertz. Racine & Racine. “The Hindu Gods in a South Indian Village” Viramma. “Refusing the Subject. “How Native is the ‘Native Anthropologist’?” Sept 9: Women in the Field Reading: Behar.” Grodzins Gold. “The Ramlila of Ramnagar” Seizer. “Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture. “On Ethnographic Authority.

as well as that of everyone participating in the seminar. it will hinder your ability to participate. “The Ideology of Love in a Tamil Family” Session 15 (in Trivandrum): Proposal Presentations and Wrap-Up 3 Course Requirements: Class Attendance & Participation: Your active participation is necessary for your own learning experience. Your attendance. and also will rob you of an important opportunity for feedback from your colleagues. If you hand them in late. “Photographic Portraiture in Central India in the 1980s and 1990s” Oct 1: Popular Culture Reading: Dickey. If you haven’t done yours on time. The idea between the Forum and the class is for you to develop a lively dialogue between personal reflection and experience. The fieldwork exercises will be an important part of our class discussions. and completion of assignments are required in the Forum. on the one hand. Group Forum Participation: Concurrent with the class and continuing into the Independent Study period. I strongly encourage you to do them on time. Fieldwork Exercises: During the course of the semester we will have little miniassignments aimed at allowing you to practice various fieldwork methods and sharpen your cultural observation skills. The assignments will be announced in class and will require a brief write-up to be shared in the following class. and critical and theoretical thinking on the other. You must attend all classes and come prepared to discuss the session’s assigned readings. The purpose of these discussions is for you to continue your reflections about the experience of learning and living in India. “Political Praise in Tamil Newspapers” Pinney. “Consuming Utopia: Film Watching in Tamil Nadu” Review Fieldwork Assignment 5 Oct 3: Emotions Reading: Trawick.Doing Ethnography in India Sept 27: Material Culture Reading: Nagarajan. I reserve the right to lower the grade you receive on the assignment by one full grade. . but on a more personal level. Jake and Kirsten will lead weekly discussion sections. We will accept only medical absences. full participation. “(In)Corporating Threshold Art: Kolam Competititons…” FW Assignment 5 Sept 29: Images Reading: Bate. I accept only medical absences.

so that I can look it over while we are on the tour and then hand it back to you so you are 100% ready to get started on your project at the beginning of the Independent Study period. The key to a successful project is a well-written. The proposal will serve as your “final paper” for this class. Because of the schedule of the semester. to suit your needs as well as my own. and the work’s relevance to the study of India generally. tightly-focused proposal that will detail the problem you are to examine. the methods you will use. I will NOT ACCEPT any final proposals late.Doing Ethnography in India - 4 Research Proposal: The purpose of this course is largely to assist you in the preparation of a research project that you will conduct during the Independent Study period. it is absolutely crucial that you hand your proposal in on time. Therefore. Grading will be as follows: Assignment Class Participation Participation in Group Forum FW Exercise #1 FW Exercise #2 FW Exercise #3 FW Exercise #4 FW Exercise #5 Research Proposal Due Date Every Class! Every Forum! August 25 September 2 September 16 September 24 October 1 October 12 Percent of Final Grade 15% 10% 5% 5% 5% 5% 5% 50% Readings: All readings are in the packet that will be distributed to you upon your arrival in Madurai. .

and Colgate. Pinney. Cambridge. Pp. Clifford 1973 “Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture. Clifford. 151-211. Kirin 1993 “How Native is the ‘Native Anthropologist’?” American Anthropologist 95 (3): 786-796.” In Religions/Globalizations: Theories and Cases. Pp. Roy. Calcutta: Gender and the Politics of Poverty. Srinivas. 131-156. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.Doing Ethnography in India READINGS 5 Behar. 25-78. Narayan.” In Women Writing Culture. Literature. and Art. Durham: Duke University Press.” In Consuming Modernity: Public Culture in a South Asian World. Christopher 2002 “Photographic Portraiture in Central India in the 1980s and 1990s. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 21-54. Patronage. Vijaya Rettakudi 2001 “(In)Corporating Threshold Art: Kolam Competitions. Inc. ed. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press..” In City Requiem. . Victor Buchli. Dickey. James 1988 “On Ethnographic Authority. Ruth Behar and Deborah A. 3-30. Schechner. Hopkins et. 1-35. Pp.” In The Interpretation of Cultures. Ananya 2003 “The Politics of Poverty. New York: Basic Books. Oxford. ed. Geertz.” In Landscapes of Urban Memory: The Sacred and the Civic in India’s High-Tech City.” In The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth Century Ethnography. Pp.” In The Material Culture Reader. Sara 1995 “Consuming Utopia: Film Watching in Tamil Nadu.” In Between Theater and Anthropology. Pp. eds. Nagarajan. Pp. MA: Harvard University Press. Richard 1985 “Ramlila of Ramnagar. Gordon. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 161-186. Dwight N. Pp. Smriti 2001 “Civic Rituals in the New Silicon Valley. Ruth 1995 “Introduction: Out of Exile. New York: Berg. Pp.

Seizer. Bernard J. Pp. Diane P. 214-226. and Sarah Lamb. ed. 236-248. 116-131. 308-325.” In Divine Passions: The Social Construction of Emotion in India. Berkeley: University of California Press. “High and Low Castes in Karani.Doing Ethnography in India Trawick. 37-63. Viramma.” Pp.” Pp. Owen M. Josiane Racine & Jean-Luc Racine.” Pp. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Bate. Sara “Anjali’s Prospects: Class Mobility in Urban India. Margaret 1990 “The Ideology of Love in at Tamil Family. 2002 Everyday Life in South Asia. Mines. Pp. Kamala 1994 “Defining Feminist Ethnography” and “Refusing the Subject. 17-39 and 60-72. “The Hindu Gods in a South Indian Village. . Visweshwaran.” Pp.” Pp. 86-99. Dickey. Lynch. Susan “Offstage with Special Drama Actresses in Tamil Nadu. South India: Roadwork. 190-198. 6 The following are all to be found in: Mines. Grodzins. “Political Praise in Tamil Newspapers: The Poetry and Iconography of Democratic Power. Diane P. eds.” In Fictions of Feminst Ethnography. Ann Gold “New Light in the House: Schooling Girls in Rural North India.” Pp.