Border Ethnography: Part 2

By Caroline Osella|February 10, 2019|project outputs, Uncategorized|2 comments

I wrote in my last post about the ways in which long-term ethnographic work opens up unanticipated themes which then demand our attention. Border ethnography (see examples here , here and here) has pushed itself into the REALM project.

I am currently writing up a traditional academic paper about a complex case history of an Indian migrant worker who was badly treated by his (UK passport holding) ex-pat employer in the Gulf. The UAE state officials offered exemplary service and legal redress – which my respondent chose not to pursue. He dropped his case against his employer, for complex reasons to do with the importance of maintaining social networks and reputation within the South Asian migrant community. The research respondent is somebody I have known and have been in touch with closely for fifteen years; the situation that unfolded in his life was dramatic and complex; there was no way I could not write about the unexpected turns of events that played out. Expect a post from me in March with more about this surprising research story.

While I hope that my paper will be a helpful supplement to work on migrant decision-making and social networks in matters of visas and negotiating the state, I am also concerned to work and present REALM themes in formats which will at once reach broader audiences and will also communicate in modes which are not limited to classical academic deliberations.

In the last post, I reported on my ongoing work in collaboration with a live art practitioner. The piece (‘Do You Belong Here?) along with post-performance discussions and feedbacks are due to be repeated in Brighton in March (more on that later).

In today’s post, I’m bringing in another format from the emerging creative methods scene: fiction. We have a strand of ethno-fiction in social anthropology, and even ethno-drama. These creative experiments have sometimes been kept quarantined in certain corners (such as illness narratives) or permitted only to certain heroic ethnographers, controversial figures whose work has as many detractors as admirers

Bur recently, fiction is entering the mainstream. The prestigious journal, The Sociological Review, launched a section for ‘sociological fiction‘ and I am grateful to have been part of the first issue.

Here, you can read a short story which I wrote (and read aloud) in 2018 for the Chichester Literary Festival. The journal’s format of fiction-plus-exegesis and bibliographic links is an exciting means of satisfying both the call for carefully thought-through discussion and our desire to speak into people’s hearts. While this story does not come directly out of issues central to my part of the REALM project, it does connect back to the border ethnography that I am currently writing up in a more traditional academic format. It also hints at concerns which some Indian REALM respondents have about the changing face of the Indian state.

I hope you get something out of reading the story –  ‘Who Are Your Friends?’


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