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...

Excited policemen increased the walkie-talkie chatter, tightened traffic rules and lost all sense of humour. Lathis were being drawn, our Rickshaw puller retracted way back in a small side alley, where he remained in an ambiguous state between tension and routine endurance. Within minutes, an eerie silence engulfed the central crossing. Only some birds were audible, and of course the omnipresent elephant-clad signboards of her party, fluttering in the wind. They announced in elaborate Hindi that it has pleased the most honorouble Madam Chief Minister to bestow upon the people of her province, on the occasion of her birthday, and in recognition of their suffering for the cause, a new law (the 2011 UP Right to Information Act). Then suddenly: laughter all around, tension being replaced by noise, traffic resuming. Her motorcade must have taken the other route. It still feels like we had (almost) met her...

This post concludes the sober series of introductions to my PhD project. One important question remained unanswered so far: why Lucknow? It has many answers, two of which I shall give today.

Apart from this post on my fieldsite, there are:
An introductory post to my topic
A post on my conceptual framework
Finally a post on my methodological approach

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.