We feature long form essays that make use of ethnographic fieldwork as well as standalone field notes that tell a powerful story.
06 October 2021
There is Smoke in the Distance
I had lived in _____ before: over the previous few years, for a few weeks at a time, I would rent a room and arrange meetings, interviews, and volunteer with local groups to get familiar with the place and build a community. After three years of visits, my research questions were focused on the intersections of race, history, and climate change, taking place primarily with recent migrants who imagined this town as a kind of utopia. This place was one among many Western desert towns that developed, at the turn of the 20th century, still-powerful booster narratives that enticed white Americans to move there. How, I wanted to know, do we justify living in a place that was built on inequality and displacement and does not have the resources in place to support its own future? How do we justify breathing in smoke when the fire is all around us?
15 June 2021
Theatre of the Moving Markets: inside the Mumbai Local
In this text, I use the medium of a theater scene to frame my field notes to showcase the appearing and disappearing of moving train vendor markets. Once the main actors enter the stage of performance, the ladies compartment, they begin to play out roles of the shrewd seller, the old and known friend, the aggressive bargainer, and the observing researcher. Each move feels learned and rehearsed and yet needs improvisation during each performance. Conversations between vendors and customers unfold as if on cue, each playing off the dialogic moves made by the other. This is not to indicate that vendors and customers are engaging in a ruse or putting up a facade. These scripts and their rehearsed anger and playfulness are part of learning to participate in the life of a ladies’ compartment and sustain its social and economic rhythms…
10 June 2021
Two Arms: an excerpt from “Made by Sea and Wood, In Darkness”
Made by Sea and Wood, in Darkness takes place in and around a 24/7 harbourside café in a Greek town. It tells the story of the Egyptian immigrants who work as fishermen on the trawlers and other outcasts who hang around the café and the harbour. Each chapter is a stand-alone short story and each story is a step further into the darkness and light of a novel where the Egyptian fishermen, the beggars, the café’s servers, the prostitutes and the spat-upon homosexuals become the grotty heroes of the everyday.
The book is based on ethnographic work that took place nearly twenty years ago, while I was an undergraduate student in Social Anthropology, but also a waiter and barista in the harbour-side café where Egyptian fishermen liked to gather and spend their spare time.
Find below an excerpt from the book. This excerpt is from the section titled “Two Arms”.
19 May 2021
Midnight Conversations: ethnographic poetry from Kashmir
This poem is set in the context of Kashmir which is a disputed territory occupied by India. The author-poet demonstrates through his ethnographic poetry how normal life looks under the gaze of settler colonial occupation through which the indigenous people are rendered homeless and their identity reduced to the rubble of coloniality.
12 May 2021
The Field, the Border, and I
Crossing the border was anticlimactic, a 10-minute walk through the old, dusty, and broken road on the Maitri bridge that connects India and Nepal over the Sirsiya river. This was one of many routes that connect the Indian state of Bihar with the city of Birgunj in Nepal, but as the only one with a concrete road, it was the most important. My first steps outside my country were not exactly as majestic as I had anticipated. It was not a big infrastructure that I had to go through to enter the other side. Nor were there any big imposing ‘welcome to Nepal’ or ‘welcome to India’ boards. In a short walk I and others around me moved between the two countries. There were people walking toward India and Nepal on two wheelers, rickshaws, autos, and horse carts. The only time anyone noticed me was when the auto-wallas looked for customers. Otherwise, I was invisible, at least to the borderland. I didn’t look, speak, or move differently and no one cared about me. I was too familiar for them to care, too familiar to pay attention to, and too familiar to worry about. This made my field work unadventurous, far from the spirit of the colonial anthropologist…
28 April 2021
“On the edges of the Arauca river”: an ethnographic story
“The Arauca is like that: it can give or take all from you; that is life here on the border. On one side you can find everything, on the other everything can be lost. It has always has been this way for us.” These were the words of Ramiro, a local who guided me across the border between Venezuela and Colombia in the state of Apure, near the Arauca River…
20 March 2021
My autorickshaw rides: a smorgasbord for the senses
The internet describes an autorickshaw as a motorized, three-wheeled rickshaw for public hire, but that doesn’t justify what all it means to me. The definition is bland, perfunctory even, excluding the warmth, mood and comfort that an auto brought to my life. Whenever I took an auto ride amid the rains, the bokeh print of the city, visible through the windshield would be my antidote to all things beyond control. It added a bounce to my step each time I saw the city lights coalesce with the evening sky through the visor of an auto in any part of the country. Listening to a particular love ballad on the earphones, riding in an auto, while watching the world whizz by was my way to relax after a day of long, tiring hours. Everything made sense, once I sat in an auto and looked out at the city presenting its best self to me through it. In this essay, I write a paean, a clichéd love letter if you will, to autos and how they electrified my mundane commute…