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very little information out there, however (I still remember how lost I felt when I started out), and a good bunch of outdated rumours abound (supervisors' tales from the early 70s etc), I decided to abstract from my experiences, readings, and conversations with colleagues - and to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).

To continue the series on my PhD project, this post presents my heuristic framework and outlines what I mean by identity, belonging, and religious belonging. In fact, a fair junk of my interest in this project is theoretical (or conceptual, if you hate theory)... In two weeks, I shall add an overview of my methodology, and after that an introduction to my chosen field site: Lucknow. By then, the research visa should be issued, too - and more exciting stories form the field can be told...

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

Hindi and Urdu - the languages in which most of my fieldwork will take place - are at once playful and beautiful, and on top of that rather sophisticated carriers of cultural meaning. After all, which other language invents meaningless words only to sound funnier, which other script omits crucial signs only to improve its aesthetic appearance? And who else invented a dedicated grammatical form to express that a verb's action is ongoing, with increasing intensity, and for the agent's own benefit (as opposed to: "ongoing, with steady intensity, for the agent's own benefit", or "ongoing, with increasing intensity, but for someone else's benefit")? Only Hindi and Urdu do this, to the best of my (limited) knowledge. And since I just finished a three-week intensive language course to prep up my conversational skills, I figured: what better time to blog about language and fieldwork?

Back in the days when I called myself a political scientist, my colleagues were regularly astonished why I made an effort to speak and read Hindi/Urdu at all. Don't people speak English in India? Well, "people" do, but of course not all. And neither are Hindi-English-Mixers equally comfortable with English for all topics: they might well work in English, but prefer to talk about rather intimate topics (such as those central to my PhD project) in their mother tongue. Now that I am officially an anthropologist, speaking the language is of course part of that big rite de passage called fieldwork, but I always found it odd if political scientist deemed language skills unnecessary...

Every Indian knows whether he or she is a Muslim or not. But what it probably means to be one, in which contexts one chooses to identify oneself that way and whether being Muslim is one's sole religious identity remain very open questions. These questions constitute the core of my PhD project on Muslim belonging in contemporary Lucknow, and they are introduced in today's post.

Apart from this introductory post on my topic, there are:
A post on my conceptual framework
Another post on my methodological approach
Finally a post on why I chose Lucknow as a fieldsite

What puzzles me ever since I did my research among Muslim peace activists in Gujarat (and probably since long before, but that's another story) is how discursive attempts to delimit the substantive content, contextual relevance or exclusive status of Muslimness are taken up, digested, and at times resisted by individual Muslims. The ambivalences and ambiguities that shape Muslims' relations to other Muslims and to the numinous arguably depend on both discursive resources and personal experiences - but the latter rarely attract as much attention as the former. I thus not only want to understand how these two levels interact, but more specifically how processes of navigation and digestation of discourses work, in which social fields they take place and which various shapes they might take on the level of individual biographies.

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).