After four years of work and many unexpected twists and turns, I finally defended my dissertation on Muslim politics in North India last week and subsequently received the title of Dr. phil. (graded very good / magna cum laude). The dissertation consists of five refereed articles, a reprint, two published datasets and an overview essay that links them all together (the latter is published here):


Susewind, R. (2015). Spatial segregation, real estate markets and the political economy of corruption in Lucknow, India. Journal of South Asian Development, 10(3), 267-291. Abstract
Susewind, R. (2015). The "Wazirganj terror attack": Sectarian conflict and the middle classes. South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal, 11, 1-45 [gold OA]. Abstract
Susewind, R, Dhattiwala, R. (2014). Spatial variation in the "Muslim vote" in Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, 2014 (reprint). Internationales Asienforum, 45(3-4), 353-381. Abstract
Susewind, R, Dhattiwala, R. (2014). Spatial variation in the "Muslim vote" in Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, 2014. Economic & Political Weekly, 49(39), 99–110. Abstract
Susewind, R. (2011). "Opfer" und "Aktivistin": Zwei Muslima aus Gujarat ringen mit der Ambivalenz des Sakralen. Internationales Asienforum, 42(3-4), 299-317. Abstract

Looking back to my first blog posts in 2011, it was a truly amazing journey. For 17 months, it took me to Lucknow, and I am indebted to my friends and informants there for what all they taught me. It also took me, again, to the Contemporary South Asia Studies Program at Oxford, where I conducted the bulk of my analysis. And it took me to Bielefeld, a place I came to appreciate in rather unexpected ways. In retrospect, the biggest change to my original plan was the emergence of a whole second line of enquiry with my Big Data analyses based on namemtching. This side-project not least allowed me to publish quite a bit early on, and thus enabled me to shift to the cumulative PhD by publication format once funding ran out (did I mention somewhere that three years for an anthropological dissertation is pretty absurdly short?). I shall reflect on the considerable politics that this shift involved in a later post - "by publication" is still an unusual format in German sociology and social anthropology. For now, let me give you an idea what the dissertation is all about (and perhaps entice you to read parts of it in more detail). This section from my viva talk sums up how it all came together in the end:

What I try to do in my work is to trace the political context as well as consequences of a morality stripped of its ethical roots. With ethics, I mean a principled attitude to life - a Grundhaltung in German - that is anchored in personal experience, and hence in the ambiguity characteristic of such experience. Morality in contrast refers to a code of conduct that is at the same time more detailed and less personal. Both belong together - the principle and its codification, the personal and the social. Morality becomes problematic whenever it gets detached from personal ethics and hence from the ambiguity of experience and begins to obsess about absolute clarity instead. In my ethnographic observation, such clarity often fails and disintegrates into ambivalence, alienation from personal experience and potential violence. Like all morality, this dynamic is of course situational and relational - and I am specifically concerned with its political context.

The first two articles (here and here) establish an important precondition of this line of argument by showing that Muslim politics are indeed localized enough for morality to play a role. This is an argument ex negativo: the fact that electoral choices are spatially confined does not in itself prove that they are informed by equally narrow moral registers, such as the middle-class morality discussed in article four. But it does prove that national discourse or ideological party competition is not as decisive as we thought, certainly not in a uniform, unmediated way. To the contrary, spacial variation in electoral choices suggests Muslims' incorporation in India's regionalized patronage democracy, and hence in local concerns and configurations of power. My third article adds further weight to this assumption by taking up the complex social mechanisms that reinforce patronage relations on the micro level; I analyze the real estate market in Lucknow to argue that here, Muslims are not segregated because of social and political disenfranchisement, but quite to the opposite because of their inclusion in the political economy through religiously segmented networks of collusion.

So far, this is very much an argument in the domain of political science, about electoral behavior, patronage and ethnic coordination, and it largely rests on fairly abstract statistical data. In the final two articles, I then attempt to show that it is not merely plausible to assume that such localized, religiously segmented politics are also underpinned by a change in moral registers, and specifically by the trajectory from ambiguity via clarity into ambivalence that I sketched before - but that this is indeed the case.

This further argument is perhaps most developed in my fourth article on the 'Wazirganj Terror Attack', where I describe the exclusionary consequences of what I term, with Minna Saavala, 'middle-class morality': the reduction of an ethic of social justice that is so central to Islam into a mere code of propriety, a list of do's and dont's in individual conduct. Middle-class morality lives off an obsession with moral clarity, which arguably makes it so amenable to 'modern' aspirations, and links it to reformist projects of purification elsewhere.

The specificity of this moral register becomes apparent when I contrast it with the two alternatives of ambivalence and ambiguity that form the core of my fifth article. On one level, the opposite to such moral clarity seems to be moral ambivalence, a stance which holds a phenomenon to be simultaneously good and bad, true and false. On a deeper level, however, ambivalence also forms a continuum with univalence and multivalence: all three insist on clarity, and be it clarity in contradiction. In a sense this concern for clarity renders these registers moral in the first place. The real challenge to clarity is thus not ambivalence, I think, but ambiguity - an attitude that is decidedly unclear, holds phenomena to be neither clearly good nor clearly bad, is hence pre-categorical and experience-near.

From a few months' distance, I would thus say: what I experienced in Gujarat and Lucknow, and what inspired this dissertation, was on many different levels the observation that such an ethic of ambiguity tolerance is disappearing – while moral registers alienated from personal experience and obsessed with clarity and univalence are on the rise, and with them their dysfunctional and perhaps violent sibling ambivalence. Importantly, this broader change has a specific political context - for instance the heated groupist, communal atmosphere of post-conflict Gujarat - as well as specific political consequences - as seen in the micro-politics of my Lucknowi neighborhood, Wazirganj. I thus like to think that combining the study of morality and politics through multiple methodological strategies is my main contribution.

What's up next then? The PhD is certainly not the end of my academic journey, probably more of a beginning in many ways. Of course the thought of quitting academia did occur to me - as it does to most graduate students at some point - and when I consider the pity state of funding and the ridiculous family unfriendliness of German universities, I still have my doubts. But I also have a number of ideas that I am not yet ready to drop - and in the end, it's all about ideas, isn't it?

So I shall spend some time over the next months to attend to two special issues that I co-edit (on contemporary Lucknow and on young scholars' perspectives on Asia), give talks, draft a number of articles that I meant to write long ago but did not get around to yet, and of course continue to work on the originally planned book on Lucknow. As a working dad who currently shoulders the bulk of daycare for our son and lacks gainful employment, this might all take more time than the blaze of the past years - but you can expect an update now and then on this blog...