Regular readers of my blog will have noted my fascination with character-faced animals. Usually it's goats, but I am equally fond of water buffaloes. I was therefore very pleased when the Times of India put one magnificient exemplar on their "dance of democracy" pages yesterday, where they cover the upcoming state elections in Uttar Pradesh. Apparently, a certain Dinesh Yadav, candidate from Bakshi ka Talab constituency, went riding on the back of his favourite water buffalo to announce his candidacy do the general public (the full article, for those sharing my fondness of buffaloes, is here).

Once I think about it: Indian newspapers are full of such stories (though it's not always buffaloes). But here is the thing: I was not surprised in the slightest. An electioneering politician on top of a buffalo? But of course - what do you expect? It felt completely normal. Obviously, I have gotten used to the beasts over the last couple of months. As I got used to many other things: clerics screaming their voice out of their head, "Muslim parties" allying with the BJP, restaurants offering all kind of fare but nothing from their menu, and of course bureaucrats honking the soul out of their cars. You see: I even got used to the thought that cars have souls! Have I come to expect the unexpected a little too much? And would that be good or bad in terms of an epistemology of fieldwork?

These two lovely goats, hanging out close to our new home in Lucknow, got me thinking about epistemology again.1 Or rather of epistemologies, since there are at least two kinds: one is the thinking-inside-the-box variety, exemplified by the goat to the right. His head bumps against the wall, and he has no space to move. As a result, he can think as hard as he likes - it won't help him. Only stepping out of the box would help. Which incidentally his fellow goat to the left did. As a result, she relaxes comfortably, her thoughts can float freely, and her sight can glance over this world without obstruction.2

  • 1. Yes, you non-academic readers: that's how my mind works...
  • 2. I am, by the way, pretty sure she is an anthropologist - given that, as David Gellner once put it: anthropological method is not hanging out, as many believe - it's in fact deep hanging out...

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...