Expect the unexpected - that is research, and that is, of course, India. What the hell is happening in the picture to the right, for instance?! A farmer, at a gas station, with his purse out. But no agricultural vehicle, just a bicycle, not even a gas container, just a breakfast tiffin. Originally, I intended today's post to be about epistemological assumptions and analytical strategies: how to explore, how to generate new insights, and how to know if what we do is scientific? I intended to argue that we know it if it disturbs our everyday assumptions and commonplace knowledge, in particular commonplace knowledge of scholars. That being scientific is, at its core, being critical. Well, I can assure you: this picture disturbed my commonplace knowledge about gas stations thoroughly. But I can't make sense of it. I am sure I could write a rant about modernization theory, but to be honest, this seems unfair. The real world got me, I guess - it got me dumbfounded and silenced for today. Feel free to interpret the picture for me, in the comments box below - but I am off until next week, with a fresh attempt at understanding what is going on around me...

To continue the series on my PhD project, today's post sketches my methodological plans. Like all research plans in decent disciplines, this one is bound to be changed. Indeed, this post might well turn out as a reminder of what I thought at my naive beginnings, very much like today's picture, which shows me - naively - in Jaipur three years ago, starting my first fieldwork ever...

Apart from this post on my methodology, there are:
An introductory post to my topic
A post on my conceptual framework
Finally a post on why I chose Lucknow as a fieldsite

What I thought so far is to explore the two sets of questions guiding my research - about discourses of belonging and their navigation through individual persons - in three major steps. Each step is distinct in its goals, methods of data collection, logic of inquiry, sampling strategy, and writing schedule. The first phase concentrates on participant and non-participant observation and network mapping to sketch the discursive landscape of Muslim belonging in Lucknow, the second phase uses walking interviews to grasp personal experiences of belonging, and the third phase reintroduces normative discourse to these experiences through group discussions. All three phases share the heuristic definition of religious belonging developed in my last post.

Almost eight month after my application, I finally received my Indian research visa these days (proudly pictured to the right). I can assure you: the process is a very Indian one. Polite persistence, personal contact, and calling in favours from influential people works - shouting, being formalistic, or going on holiday in the meantime rather doesn't. Most importantly, it helps to know as much as possible about how the procedure should be - even if it invariably will turn out differently. Since there is very little information out there, however (I still remember how lost I felt when I started out), and a good bunch of outdated rumours abound (supervisors' tales from the early 70s etc), I decided to abstract from my experiences, readings, and conversations with colleagues - and to write this blog post. Consider it a return favour to the academic community for the tremendous help I received along the way, but don't take it as a definite guideline (in addition, read through here, here, and there, ask colleagues, and talk to your consulate, embassy and/or visa agency).

The other day, I had a rather heated dispute about the usefulness of "the everyday" as a focus of anthropological enquiry. It felt exactly like a conversation two weeks ago, and quite similar to another one the weeks before that. Anthropologists who don't consider the everyday a particularly useful category (like me) seem to become an exception in the discipline. And I honestly wonder why...

Of course, anthropologists' emphasis on long-term field exposure, on "going native and livin' their life" might have led to this fascination with "the everyday". Increasing attention to ordinary people and their histories, practices and voices rather than merely reinforcing perspectives of the powerful might be another reason (even though I wonder why whe should think that ordinary people somehow live more in "the everyday"). Yet these two factors have been there ever since Malinowski (and the Subaltern Studies Group, respectively). They can not explain why "the everyday" is on the rise now, as evinced in all frequency indicators which I found - be it according to crowd-sourced Mendeley tags or according to the more established Social Science Citation Index (whose results are reflected in the chart to the right, which shows the number anthropological articles with the topic "everyday" over time).

Today ends the pity state of this blog as a convenient dump for preprints of book reviews, since today starts a new bi-weekly series of posts on my PhD project. The series will include empirical vignettes from Lucknow, an introduction to theoretical and methodological aspects of my research, and more general musings about academic life. I begin with a post of the latter type and address the core of what I do as an academic: writing. Writing papers, chapters, articles, reviews, that dreaded book - and now a blog as well...

To be sure: I also "do research", read, and occasionally teach. But I mostly read to ground my writing, I teach topics on which I also write (occasionally, I even teach students how to write), and I spend most of my time during field research locked in a chamber - trying to write. Unfortunately, nobody really taught me three rather important points about (academic) writing: why it is crucial, that it is hard work, and how to get started. This I had to find out on my own. Here is what I discovered: