Monday, 14 April 2014

Where is the light?

photographs in field work exhibition
Last year one of my photographs was displayed in an exhibition organised by the Geography Department at Durham University. The exhibition focused on the use of photography in fieldwork. Photographs in my view are an important tool to narrate the various stories emerging in the field, especially if one is doing ethnographic work. Since, ethnography involves being, living, spending time and integrating with the community, photographs provide a very good means of recording data, information and experiences. Needless to say, if one is looking at dissemination of one's research, photographs could be one of the most effective means to do so. 

So, I submitted a few photographs out of which one was selected for the final exhibition. This is probably my favourite out of the thousands of photographs that I clicked during the 9 months in the field. There are several good ones (self appreciation) but I think this photograph takes the cake. I especially love the colours in this photograph, which came out naturally. No manipulation of the composition.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Ethical Dilemmas: to hope or not to hope

Writing this post has been on my mind for some time now (actually a long time). I am not sure why I haven't been able to get around to posting this considering that I wrote this text several months ago. Anyway, better late than never.

For the last two years, the postgraduates of the Researchers in Development PhD Network (RiDNet) at the Center for Global Development, Leeds University have been organizing an excellent conference on 'Conducting fieldwork in Developing contexts'. The 2012 conference was themed around 'Reflexive Approaches to Practical Issues' and the 2013 conference on 'Practical Experiences of Data Collection and Analysis'. As an output of the 2012 conference they put together this excellent 'Practical field notes' document together as a guide for researchers working in middle and low income contexts.

The 2013 conference was organised on 7th November and luckily I got an opportunity to present at it. I was a part of the session on Ethical issues in research with organisations. However, my presentation was focused more on rural communities and societies and the ethics of transparency with them. The presentation was titled 'To hope or not to hope' and this is what I discussed:

to hope or not to hope

Monday, 24 March 2014

30 years later: caste, power and electricity

A lone dibiya (kerosene lamp) and books awaits a child


The village Rangpur lies by a dam, between a national highway and the Ganges. It has a good mixture of people from all castes. Although, the ratio of forwards and backwards [1] is 50:50, the village proceedings are generally dominated by the forward castes.

This story is set in Dabangpur Chamartoli. Chamartoli is a tola (colony) inhibited by Chamars. Chamars by caste and by profession have historically been involved in skinning animals, tanning leather and making shoes and other footwear. However, now like every other caste, they have diversified and moved on. Most of them, like many other backward castes now work as daily wagers or agricultural workers. Although very few own any agricultural land, several now sustain their livelihoods on agriculture by farming the lands of landed castes on theeka (rental basis) or bataiya (share cropping). Very few actually deal with leather now. Since, chamars dealt with dead animals and leather, they were considered 'unclean' and 'untouchables'. If one visits a typical Bihari [2] village one would find separate colonies for different castes, with the dalit [3] colonies typically on the fringes or as satellite colonies outside the village boundary. Their 'unclean' status puts them on the fringes, geographically and socially. Although some mixing and acceptance has come their way, the chamartoli in various villages are still found on the fringes.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Book Review: Age of Entanglement: German and Indian Intellectuals across Empire by Kris Manjapara

In Age of Entanglement, Kris Manjapara sets out to explore patterns of connection linking German and Indian intellectuals from the nineteenth century to the years after the Second World War. The author attempts to trace the intersecting ideas and careers of a diverse collection of individuals from South Asia and Central Europe who shared ideas, formed networks, and studied one another’s worlds. This book is recommended to those studying world history, geopolitics, postcolonialism and development. Here's my review of the book on LSE Review of Books.

Friday, 14 March 2014

The Role of the Transnational Community of NGOs

This is a based on the discussions at the Durham Geography Development Reading Group that gets together every week on Tuesdays to discuss journal articles/book chapters focusing on development and the Global South.
Townsend, J.G., Porter, G. and Mawdsley, E. (2002) ‘The Role of the Transnational Community of Non-Government Organizations: Governance or Poverty Reduction?‘, Journal of International Development, vol. 14, no. 6, pp. 829-839.

Abstract or Description
Non-government organizations working in development form a transnational community which has a new role in imperialism today. We explored the knowledge economy of this community with NGDOs in Ghana, India, Mexico and Europe and found it to be largely donor-controlled and generally top-down, often against the will of committed individual actors. Governability is arguably a greater priority to donors than the most effective poverty reduction. The new managerialism and its audit culture impose demands on NGDOs that tend to work against any ‘listening’ to southern NGDOs or their clients, so that the sharing of local knowledge and ideas is very restricted.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Idea Box (3 to 7 March): Energy, Education, Caste, Postcolonialism, Spivak

The last week was spent in two key activities, writing the thesis and teaching. Here's what might be relevant for others:

The Thesis: I had a discussion with my supervisors last week on the theme of energy and education with reference to the caste system in India. They pointed out that the works of Craig Jeffery may be a good source to understand and refer to for the relationship between caste and education in India. I wanted to share the links to some of his publications but he has done such extensive and thought provoking work on this topic that it is hard to pick the 'good ones'. So, I would just share the link to his staff profile on Oxford University website and you could pick your own picks. Here it is:

However, the connect between energy and caste, that is something that you and me would have to do on our own for now, unless some of you have some ideas that you could share with me.

Courtesy: Amazon
The Teaching: I was helping organise a practical on postcolonialism this week which involved the reading of a key milestone text of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Many would be familiar with this particular Spivak paper/chapter, Can the Subalterns Speak? In this paper Spivak raised issues of voice, representation and ethic with two very interesting and powerful case studies from India. However, those who may have read this paper would already know (and those who haven't, be warned) that this is a very difficult to read paper, its a paper that many would call inaccessible. A few weeks ago we picked this paper for the development reading group that gets together by-weekly in the Durham Geography department. Some well timed advice from a few faculty members meant that we became aware of the tedious nature of this reading. So, based on the suggestions of those much wiser than us, we had two additional reading which engage with this particular work of Spivak and explain it in a easier way for the minor mortals. We used these same reading in the postcolonialism workshop this week too and I am glad that the students found them very helpful. So, here
are the additional readings:

Hyper-self-reflexive development? Spivak on representing the Third World 'Other' by Ilan Kapoor,

Postcolonialism and Development by Cheryl McEwan pgs 69-71

Here's the link to a recent lecture by Spivak as part of the castle lecture series here at Durham University:

Monday, 3 March 2014

Idea Box (24 to 28 February): Energy, Health, Nationalism, Film & Television, Food & Globalisation

The last week was spent in three key activities; trying to write the thesis, attending a seminar and organising undergraduate tutorials. Here's what might be relevant for others:

The Thesis: This week I was trying to write about the health impacts of indoor household pollution from fuels like wood, charcoal and kerosene. A paper that looked interesting and informative came from the well known Kirk Smith of UC Berkeley:

Rehfuess EA, Bruce NG and Smith KR. “Solid Fuel Use: Health Effect.” Nriagu JO (ed.) Encyclopedia of Environmental Health, v 5, pp. 150-161. Burlington: Elsevier, 2011.

However, I am still looking for papers which could give me a breakup of indoor pollution from kerosene lamps and solid fuels like wood. Any ideas on this would be greatly appreciated.

Photo Courtesy: Amazon
The Seminar: Dr. Tim Edensor of Manchester Metropolitan University, who is currently a light fellow at Durham University's Institute of Advanced Studies gave a very engaging talk on "Sensing National Spaces: Representing the Mundane in English Film and Television". This is a new paper that he is developing but a background to this could be gathered from his 2002 book titled "National Identity, Popular Culture and Everyday Life". In this talk Tim discusses how articles and spaces from the everyday are represented in Films and Television to associate them with the National Identity.  For me and my interest in photography, the most interesting argument from Tim that came in relation to representation was that an "image can conjure smell, sense, sounds" (rephrased). This argument of looking beyond just what is visible in an image seems very relevant for visual analysis. 

The Tutorials: This week like many other fellow tutors from Durham Geography, I had to organise a tutorial connecting the topics of Food Geography and Globalisation. A very interesting article from the Guardian presented by some students was titled "Just how much does it cost growers to give us bananas at 68p per kilo?" I would particularly encourage the readers to take a look at the comments section which provokes interesting debates on the nature of Alternate Food Networks. An interesting journal article on the same issue that I came across was about "French beans for the masses: a modern historical geography of food in Burkina Faso".


This is a new attempt to post some readings, ideas, thoughts every now and then as a way to share but also record these on the blog. For more keep an eye out for this space.