We feature long form essays that make use of ethnographic fieldwork as well as standalone field notes that tell a powerful story.

Field Notes.

Ethnographic Reflections.

12 May 2021

The Field, the Border, and I

Prince Tomar

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

Francisco Sánchez

“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

Anandi Mishra

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…

29 March 2021

Seguridad Privada: ethnographic poetry from Guatemala

Matthew Blanton

I lived in Quetzaltenango for five years, where I worked for a non-profit organization. My colleagues and I consciously employed ethnographic methodology to better understand the communities in which we worked. One day, I was slowly observing and wandering through the streets of a neighborhood where we were beginning a new clean-water project. I was struck by a (relatively normal) image—a man on a motorcycle in a security guard’s outfit with a shotgun and lunchbox secured behind him. It was evening and I presumed that he was on his way for a night shift guarding some shop, restaurant, or hotel. The image had an impact, and I sat there for a few minutes considering the gravity of such a job. I sensed I was not alone and looked down to see a street dog sitting at my feet and also looking in the direction of the motorcycle. I was struck by the similarities between them—both facing daily risks in an environment where they had fallen through the cracks of poverty and failing bureaucracy. This is a poem I wrote to capture that moment, a moment of ethnographic empathy, a sacred moment of considering the lives of those who we observe…

10 March 2021

Caught in the cyclone: Why ethnographers must break the law, sometimes

Ståle Wig

Walking out with her bag full of jeans would make myself directly complicit in breaking legal regulations, right under the eyes of the police. According to my formal research guidelines, I was on thin ice. Yet in retrospect, I think I instantly knew what I had to do, not only in the name of maintaining the trust of my study participants, but more acutely out of concern for the wellbeing of my interlocutor. Like other vendors who stood on the lowest rung of Cuba’s private sector, Luz was already scrambling to get by. If she were caught selling contraband, she faced a potential fine of several hundred dollars, and could lose not only the bag of jeans, but also her job at the market and her license as a vendor…

11 February 2021

(No) Place of Work

Saumya Pandey and Pooja George

What would we do if we experienced harassment in our workplace, but others didn’t see it happening? We know from history that this happens. We also know about it because as women at some point it has happened to us. By asking nine early-career women from different walks of life, including ourselves, we examine what abuse in the workplace is like, particularly when it is too subtle to be noticed, deeply gendered, and socially embedded as normal in the work culture…

3 February 2021

A Place at the Table

Nicholas Bascuñan-Wiley

As researchers, we often ask a lot of those who participate in our studies without offering much in return. We ask participants to let us into their spaces, to tell us about their histories and realities, and to take time away from their busy lives to do so. Many of the people that I met during my interviews broke down the social distances between us through acts of hospitality—inviting me to eat, showing me around their restaurant, or offering me something to drink. Conversations were often facilitated by black tea or thick Turkish coffee. On one memorable occasion, a restaurant owner brought out some complimentary Arak, an anise-based liquor, as an after-dinner top off as we conversed…

13 January 2021

“Country” and “Colonialism”: ethnographic poetry from Kashmir

Ruhail Andrabi

These poems are 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. The metaphors in the poems take a reader through the cities of colonialism, occupation and indigeneity…

08 January 2021

Sitting, Waiting, Wishing: a note on Uber drivers in New Delhi

Krishna Akhil Kumar Adavi

A towel on their own seat, an old water bottle – always with the original brand sticker peeled off – and a notebook for their manual tallying of rides are the drivers’ companions through the day. If other Indian vehicles have a Ganapati [a prominent Hindu God, often worshipped for an auspicious start and good luck] double-taped onto their dashboard to pray to, these drivers seem to worship the source of their bread and butter: their always charging phones. Car honks, barking dogs, irritated parking attendants, and the YouTube videos they watch on their second phone fade into the background through the constant interruptions of a notification on their main phone: ‘New Ride. Click to Accept’…

22 December 2020

“Playing my part”: navigating racial histories in the field

Cayce Hughes

My initial reaction to Dee’s request was trepidation and a fair bit of dread. Public speaking always makes me nervous, but I’ve grown accustomed to the format of presenting at academic conferences and in classrooms. Churches, not so much. But I agreed, partly because it was an opportunity to share my research with community members, and partly out of a sense of obligation to Dee, who had become an invaluable resource to me and my work…

7 December 2020

Populism as Witchcraft

Marco Garrido

In my green years after graduating college, I interned at several development NGOs in the Philippines mainly doing research on agrarian reform. In the course of this work, I lived for two months with a community of landless farmers in the province of Bulacan north of Manila. It was here that I encountered an exorcism. Cora was showing me around the village when we came upon a small crowd of people gathered around a young woman. She was seated on a chair, her body leaning forward, her face twisted into a grimace. She appeared to be growling under her breath. The older man seated beside her was busy arranging several vials on a table. He was the mangkukulam or witch doctor…

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