We feature long form essays that make use of ethnographic fieldwork as well as standalone field notes that tell a powerful story.
20 June 2022
Narrow lanes and deeper histories: Reflections from KG Halli
Omkar Nadh Pattela
While doing fieldwork, the lines of the Telugu poet Goreti Venkanna, which this piece started out with, reverberated in my head and resisted fading out for days after my fieldwork had apparently ended. Venkanna writes, “the lanes are narrow, but the story of the poor residing in this neighbourhood is deep [and] the homes of these people are tinier than a paan dhaabba1”. Every street I wandered and every home I visited for the next few months introduced me to people in this neighbourhood who had a story to tell me, and those stories were indeed profound. In what follows, I share some of these instances and several vignettes that reflect my subjective experience in trying to understand the place of KG Halli. These vignettes are short glimpses into the thoughts and conversations that constituted my fieldwork. They are written with a view to be fleeting scenes, notes from the field that become marginalia as I look for patterns, narratives, and the “big story” of health, poverty and inequality in the city of Bengaluru. These marginalia, I put forth, contain within them stories that sometimes go nowhere at all – an experience every ethnographer can, perhaps, relate to.
17 June 2022
Holocausto Norte and the Engines of Political Mobilization
I had become bewildered by the fact that Colombia’s two central parties had almost completely vanished from the political scene after more than a century of dominating national politics. When I looked into other contexts, it turned out that there too parties were extremely weak or in the process of weakening. It seemed to me that since most of the political science literature, the old sociological literature, and a rising gang within sociology thought that parties were crucial—even indispensable—forces within democracies, it would be a good idea to write a dissertation about a context in which parties used to be central, but no longer: if parties were not where mobilization power resided, then where? And just like that I found myself in the field as the 2022 Colombian Congressional and Presidential elections unfolded, running into a collection of different social units that hold mobilization capacity with intriguing variation in their internal characteristics, the way they integrate upwards to “parties,” and downwards to their followers. Holocausto Norte, a group of soccer supporters, is a surprising one, as I will now explain.
18 March 2022
Rising Pressure: Housing Costs in the Face of COVID-19
Low-income Hispanic families in Denver were already struggling to pay for housing even before the pandemic hit in mid-March of 2020. As the pandemic began, I was several months into my ethnographic dissertation documenting the experiences of families in a neighborhood at risk of gentrification as these families faced the rising costs in Denver’s booming housing market. I started making connections in summer 2019 in the low-income southwest Denver neighborhood of Westwood. That winter, I began meeting with 35 low-income predominantly Hispanic residents to learn about their neighborhood, housing costs, and wellbeing. I attended neighborhood meetings, community events, and informational sessions and went on neighborhood tours and walks with residents as I slowly became welcome into their homes.
23 February 2022
Becoming a Preventionist
The flickering halogen inside the square trailer is no match for the sun outside and my eyes squint to adjust. The desks are packed in nine dense rows and dotted with scraps of the previous class —worksheets and Gatorade bottles litter the desks and floor. I slide into a desk by the near wall and pull the heavy white curriculum binder out of my bag, crisp and barely used. I shuffle through the sheets of the curriculum and do a last-minute review of the day’s unit. The students begin to squeak and thud in.
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?