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...

With yesterday's Julus e Ashura, the first ten days of Muharram (the period of Shia mourning the death of Husain at Karbala which marks the sectarian split between Sunni and Shia Islam) came to an end. I say the first ten days, since Lucknow takes great pride in extending its Azadari activities for full two months and eight days. An important part of the commemoration are several processions or julus throughout these ten days in particular, but also at other times of the year. Due to several violent sectarian clashes throughout the last century, these were banned for two decades, and now only nine specific processions are allowed, mapped on top of last week's experimental Shia population map (as usual, you can also use a larger version of this map:

In my last post, I wrote that mapping Shia (and by inversion Sunni) Lucknow will be fairly difficult - and so it is. There surely are plenty of mental maps1 - an important part of my research (see my methodology) - and thinking about Shia or Sunni dominated areas is a favorite timepass for some of my contacts (especially Shia ones). But hard data? Almost impossible to find. It is thus befitting that it took me all my time in Lucknow - today being my second last post from the field - to come up with something seemingly as plebeian as even an experimental map of the Shia population of the city. In fact, I found only one single other such map in all of the material which I read about Lucknow - in a paper by Mushirul Hassan,2 based on a 1961 Census monograph3...:

  • 1. Gould, P, White, R. (1986). Mental maps. 2nd ed. Boston: Allen & UNWIN.
  • 2. Hasan, M. (1997). Traditional rites and contested meanings: Sectarian strife in colonial Lucknow. In V. Graff (Ed.), Lucknow: Memories of a city. Delhi: Oxford Univ. Press.
  • 3. ...which subsequently went missing from the Census library in Lucknow - at least they claimed that before they threw me out; the reference is Census of India. (1961). Moharram in two cities (Lucknow and Delhi). In: Census monograph series, part VII-B: Fairs and festivals.

Today, I follow up on my initial post on names ("What's in a name?"), which later inspired the map of Muslim Lucknow and my ongoing election analyses. The key idea back then was: if micro-level datasets on religion are unavailable, can we not create our own by making informed guesses about the religion of registered voters - lists of which are readily available? This methodology and its surprisingly high accuracy created quite some excitement over the last months, and a "research note" on it is on the way to publication (here). It thus seems to be about time to clarify the limits of this strategy: what is not in a name?

One thing that is not - or at least not clearly enough - is sectarian affiliation. Quite some people who got excited about my earlier posts asked whether the same strategy would also work to separate Shia and Sunni based on their names. This would open interesting analyses in the case of Lucknow in particular (see here), but I honestly did not think it would fly. People insisted, so I gave it a shot - which by and large confirmed my hesitation: inferring sectarian belonging from names is frought with difficulties. That much is clearly not in a name.

Once you have observed something, once you have interviewed somebody, how do you get from this pile of data to a compelling research report? Today's blog sums up the gist of a lecture I recently gave on this issue as part of my field methods teaching at SIT Study Abroad. It looks at four stages in turn: explorative analysis, draft writing, confirmative analysis and editing. These stages are, of course, most likely circular activities, through which you go back and forth until you a) arrive at a decent report or b) simply run out of time. Which is the chief reason why it is advisable to start the circle as soon as possible, not letting the pile of data become so scaringly tall in the first place...