‘Taking care of our own’: From mentorship to peership in anthropology

While the title of this post does seem a bit like a Bruce Springsteen Born-In-The-USA-esque track, it actually draws from a phrase I’ve used a couple of times with some of my peers, that we “anthro [grads] need to take care of our own” – our tribe, if one’s pushing the metaphor too much.

Being in a graduate programme can be, and is, challenging. Especially for many of my peers who have been new to anthropology. More so for those who begin to work professionally, after being trained in anthropology, in related-but-different domains (e.g., qualitative research, medical anthropology, science and technology studies).

There are similar struggles, of course, in education/pedagogy and among professionals. The most common one, I have noticed, can be phrased as thus: how is anthropology relevant? Continue reading

The ethnography of chai, or an anthropology of waiting

I walked into the community centre one day in August to find the team engaged in a meeting with the accounting and finance team of the NGO.

One of the things being discussed was how there were several problems in the way the community organisers were filling out reimbursement vouchers, or finding vendors who would be willing to take payments in cheques (a relatively new policy in the NGO).

Several small vendors in Dharavi, and elsewhere, work informally – they may not have stamps, or visiting cards. And many wouldn’t take cheques, preferring cash instead.

These are the vendors the team buys tea and snacks from during sessions with the community-based volunteers – a very commonplace practice, if not strategic one, in working with communities. A very basic practice in reciprocity, perhaps; but as the meeting progressed, I realised it was a contested one as well. Continue reading

An anthropologist among front-line workers: Part 2

(This post is a continuation of an argument I had made in the last one. Read it here).

Sanjay, Jagdish, Pankaj* and I were eating lunch at the NGO’s community centre. It was a Sunday, and we had just finished a session on gender and sexuality with young boys from the community.

As we finished lunch – a combination of chicken curry and rice, and some sheera# for desert – Sanjay said, introspectively, “Hum field staff, ground level pe kaam karne wale log, kadi patte jaisa hain.” We field staff, those who work on the ground level, are like curry leaves. Continue reading