That's it. I am leaving Lucknow. Well, not quite yet: I still have to get rid of a flat, and say good bye to all the good friends I met during the last 15 months. But in terms of fieldwork, and thus in terms of this blog, its time to wrap it up. Last week's map was a befitting ending, hard to trump. Anyway: it is too early to tell what I got from you, my dear field site. I will miss your Tehzeeb, hopefully soon forget some other facets of your culture - but certainly remember you for much more than powercuts. Over the next year and a half, I will try to write a book about you - till then, both of us have to be patient.

And while I transit back to Europe, this blog will see a series of posts on book publishing - since I did not only complete fieldwork, but also my first monograph, which is in press with Sage, New Delhi - and will reach Ram Advani's famed bookstore by end of the year, Inshallah...

One of the pleasures of Islamabad is to shop at Saeed Book Bank; and part of that pleasure is to marvel at the idiosyncratic filing approach through which they organize their offers: you find sound scholarly studies next to dusty volumes of oriental British officers, you find the latest epistemological critique of Hadith exegesis next to coffee-table selections of the "true sayings of the Prophet". What I found, among all this, is Sadaf Ahmad's study of Al-Huda and upper-class urban Pakistani women.1Much of what she wrote chimed well with my own project in Lucknow, but these lines in particular stuck (12f):

Rubina, whom I had known most of my life, listened as I told her about my research plans, and then quietly informed me that she had joined Al-Huda the month before. The time I spent in Islamabad was the time Rubina took the one-year diploma course there, which allowed me to get a very close look at the process she went through over time and to see what changes the Islam she learned about and engaged with at Al-Huda brought to her ideology, her behavior, and her relationships. one of the relationships that changes was our own. She was the only "subject" I allowed myself to argue with freely.

The following are notes from a lecture on fieldwork in conflict settings which I delivered last week at the School for Politics and International Relations, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad (my other lecture in Pakistan by the way resembled this talk, thus no separate notes). I am thankful for the invitation and the engaging discussion with fellow PhD candidates and MPhil students; some of the points they raised are included below.

Before I begin, however, a brief explanation of the picture for today's post: this ambiguously dapper and nonetheless threateningly armed fellow is depicted on the cover of Faisal Devji's highly recommended essay on terrorism and humanitarianism;1 it was originally collected by Thomas Dworzack in Kabul in 2001 (see here). Why do I put it here? Mainly because the picture is a good reminder that social scientists should do their best to refrain from the ready temptation to render those we dislike (such as violent Taliban) as the ultimate and essential other (forgetting, for instance, the same Talibans' aesthetic desires, which they share with all other human beings). Which, of course, leads straight into the thick of my lecture. Here you go:

This post concludes the tripartite series of lecture summaries from the fieldwork methods class which I co-teach this term at SIT New Delhi.1 It addresses several issues faced by foreigners who do research in India (or elsewhere) as opposed to domestic scholars who research their own culture - and simultaneously problematizes this terminology. The lecture moves from the practical to the conceptual, picking four potential trouble areas: language, field relations, othering, and categories. The remaining posts of this series are here:

Description, interpretation, evaluation
Research questions, interview questions
Doing research as a foreigner

  • 1. More on this class here...

This post is the second in a tripartite series of lecture summaries from the fieldwork methods class which I co-teach this term at SIT New Delhi.1 Before Azim Khan spoke about interviewing in more practical detail in the second half of our lecture, I framed the practical issues he raised by looking at the difference between research questions and interview questions. This post sums up my key points from this framing exercise; the rest of the series is here:

Description, interpretation, evaluation
Research questions, interview questions
Doing research as a foreigner

Let's first look at today's picture, taken at one of my earlier attempts to interview Maulana Khaled Rashid in Lucknow. All the practicalities are sorted: tea is being served, the Hadith commentaries provide a nice background, cameras and mikes are set up (the latter are not mine, of course - it was the time of the Salman Rushdie controversy, and I had to share my appointment with a dozen journalists). But the central piece is missing: the Maulana, with whom I hoped to have a conversation.

  • 1. More on this class here; this particular lecture (namely its emphasis on the advantage of clear epistemological bases) was inspired by Roulston, K, DeMarrais, K, Lewis, JB. (2003). Learning to interview in the social sciences. Qualitative Inquiry, 9(4), 643–668.