When I began to blog regularly a year ago with a post on academic writing, I wasn't quite sure about this experiment: will anybody read what I have to say? Will I have enough to say? And the less obvious nags: how will it feel to be a public frog, and will people accuse me of shameless self-promotion?

An anniversary is a good time to reflect. Nobody has accused me of shamelessness so far, and being a frog feels nice enough (though I would prefer to think of myself as a buffalo, or indeed as one of those most anthropological goats). More importantly, and more surprisingly, I also had indeed something to say every week - and found readers for it! Around 15 readers on an average day, to be precise, mostly from India, the US and the UK (and more, sometimes considerably more, on Mondays, when I put a new piece online). According to my stats, these readers - you - found the following posts most interesting:

Questions for better research (impressive, given that it's fairly recent)
Muslim belonging in Lucknow (kind of expected)
How to get an Indian research visa (a true surprise, see below)
Academic writing (which is also the oldest post, and still one of the best)

I always wanted to blog about academic attire - every time I returned from a sartorially desastrous conference (frequently), every time I saw a colleague who knows how to dress without being arrogant (once in a while), every time I received comments on my own attire - appreciative (occasionally) or otherwise (rarely). A recent post on the Thesis Whisperer, and the ensuing discussion on #phdchat gave me the last necessary kick to finally write down my two cents. While doing so, I again realized that most commentary and advice out there is for women - arguably because female academics tend to be under much more scrutiny in these matters. For men, I only came across a classic rant at Inside Higher Ed - and a piece in the Chronicle which asks all the right questions - about geography, discipline, campus and role - but provides no answers.

Without claiming exemplarity, I thus decided to flung open my wardrobe and assemble all those things I wore during the last couple of months in official academic contexts (except fieldwork - where I tend to wear a simple trouser-shirt-combo - but the same rules apply there, too). The collection is pictured to the right - and I will go through three classic occasions to explain what I wear, and more importantly my reasoning behind it. These occasions are teaching in the classroom, presenting and networking at a conference, and making the best out of professional meetings.

Last week, I went to New Delhi to attend an ICSSR strategy workshop on improving social science research in India (set up in the wake of this report and shortly before the new budget year starts). After an early morning arrival and the disillusion that the only breakfast option at Connaught Place at such an early hour is McDonalds, I waived down an Auto Rickshaw to proceed straight to the conference hotel - The Ashok, a Government of India enterprise of the surprisingly efficient sort. Somehow, breakfast at McDonalds insulted my Indian sensibilities. But little did I know about the Ashok!

Social science in the Indian province

Social science in the Indian capital

The story began at the outermost gate, where the guards were rather bemused to see a Gora arrive in a humble three-wheeled conveyance. My Auto Rickshaw was not allowed on the driveway, so I got down, paid my 50 Rs, and turned to the guards to ask whether they want to x-ray my suitcase. That the Gora was speaking Hindi turned their bemusement into somewhat more ambivalent bewilderment: surely they wanted to check this fellow rather thoroughly. After five minutes of x-ray, questioning and body search, they were however convinced that I am indeed only an anthropologist.

Those of you patiently reading my blog every week know that I try since weeks to write a follow-up on the Rifah-e-Aam Club - and yet, I don't seem to find the time to even sort my thoughts. I guess it's called the fieldwork overdose - a disease particularly rampant these days that Muharram began...

So rather than thinking things through til the end, I find myself busy with frantic note-taking on anything that is available - be it napkins in a restaurant, visiting cards of people I just met, a recording on my tape recorder or mobile, or even a text message to my wife if all these options prove impractical because I sit in a noisy Rickshaw, or lost my wallet (as I did last week), or am in midst of a meeting. On good days, I might still find enough energy during late evenings to consolidate these scribblings in the actual field journal, maybe even to save (and subsequently backup) images, recordings and GPS tracks from at least four different gadgets. But I find that these good days are an increasingly rare occurance. And then there was this other guy whom I have to meet, the publication contract which awaits posting since a week, an overdue abstract and of course the everyday pains of running a household in India. And I did not even have Chai with the local boys for three days in a row!

In sum: I would love to write about something more meaningful, yet I am terribly caught up in work these days. Please forgive my brevity today - and to all colleagues on a similar mission: tell me, how do you manage the overdose?

With much curiosity, I participated in a national seminar on "Communal harmony and secularism: Indian experiences" in Allahabad last week. I heard very promising papers on the Muslim middle class in Kerala (following up on Ashutosh Varshney's seminal work1), on gender in communal violence (rather surprisingly delivered by a male colleague), and on the ups and downs of Hindu communalism in Kashmir. 2 For those three papers alone it was worth attending the seminar. I also heard, however, a good many opinionated and sloppily presented rants, often by senior faculty who took the opportunity to "float some ideas" at the expense of valuable discussion time. Apart from debates on reservations, Pakistan, and "balance"3 - the major points which emerged for discussion -, the seminar thus provided a revealing glimpse into the thick mainstream of Indian social science. Some observations:

Social science in the Indian province

Social science in the Indian capital

  • 1. Varshney, A. (2002). Ethnic conflict and civic life. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press.
  • 2. My own, rather inferior, paper is here should you be interested
  • 3. i.e. the assumption that blame and praise for all communities should be equal, irrespective of empirical distributions - a view very much confirming my concerns voiced last week...