07 September 2021
My ethnographic field site is Hyderabad, in South India and my current home is 8000 miles away in Philadelphia, PA. In this visual essay I explore the implications of this dis-placement. It is an attempt to grapple with the question raised by Anand Pandian, “what might the circumstances of our writing…, share with the environments we write about?” In lieu of verbal commentary, I present sensory juxtapositions of audio and still images from my fieldwork in Hyderabad with video montage of my everyday life in Philadelphia. Through this multimodal form, I wish to push beyond the limitations of the now generic “reflexive gesture” in academic ethnographic writing, which has been reduced to a standard, simplified and easily reproducible template. Inspired by John L. Jackson Jr.’s call for more vulnerable forms of reflexivity, this film highlights the role of my own subjectivity and environment in the writing of ethnographic stories as academic artifacts, while also evoking parallels of human striving and suffering which go beyond the First/Third World divide.
The film uses still images and voice recordings from my dissertation fieldwork conducted over 15 months between 2017 and 2020. My dissertation (in progress) titled “Permanent Slums: Subaltern Property and Citizenship in Hyderabad”looks at what a United Nations report has famously called the “challenge of slums” from the perspective of slum-dwellers themselves, to bring into sharp focus the intersecting relations of caste, class and citizenship that shape the everyday lives of the urban poor. By ethnographically focusing on the citizenship claims of slum-dwellers through the lens of their politics of property and (dis)possession, I argue that slum-dwellers are cast as subaltern citizens through differentiated property regimes, laws, policies, and procedures. Framed by the push for “slum-free cities” on the one hand, and the increasing pressures of shrinking employment and receding social security for the urban poor on the other hand, my dissertation is an account of how the urban slum is produced and governed, and how these processes reproduce unequal cities and citizenship.
Vimeo Link: https://vimeo.com/518655416
Directed by Indivar Jonnalagadda (Run time: 8 mins.)
Jackson, John L. 2004. “An Ethnographic Filmflam: Giving Gifts, DoingResearch, and Videotaping the Native Subject/Object.” American Anthropologist 106 (1): 32–42.
Pandian, Anand. 2020. “The Ecology of What We Write.” In Writing Anthropology: Essays on Craft and Commitment, edited by Carole McGranahan, 37–40. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Indivar Jonnalagada is a PhD Candidate in Anthropology and South Asia Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to being an ethnographer, writer and teacher studying cities and citizenship, he is deeply interested in multimodal and visual research methods. Indivar currently lives in Philadelphia, PA.