ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Doctoral Journeys

From Field Diaries to Institutional(ised) Authorship

The ways in which three doctoral scholars engaged in ethnographic research in differing social worlds are explored here. Accounting for the ethical–political dilemmas engendered by “fieldwork” and the ways in which we grappled with them, this paper reflects upon methodology and questions of power pertaining to disciplinary boundaries, social identities, and researcher–practitioner binaries that have marked key debates within scholarship on the Indian social. This reflection draws from our vantage point as doctoral students, particularly addressing our preparedness for the messiness of field participation and converting field notes into authorial accounts. The arguments in the paper feed into larger conversations around representation in the social sciences. By foregrounding our ethical–moral positions and the institutional spaces (or the lack thereof) to act upon such imperatives, the paper raises important questions about the dilemmas of authoring social worlds.

This paper is an outcome of conversations that commenced during Sundar Sarukkai’s course titled “Reading the Field” at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru. We are grateful to him for his support in bringing this paper to its current form, as also the anonymous reviewer for their insightful comments and feedback.

This paper is an exploration of ethical and political1 ­tensions engendered by institutional(ised) hierarchies in knowledge production. We specifically investigate our own experience of field-based research undertaken as doctoral scholars at an interdisciplinary research institute. We ­articulate these tensions in conversation with a long history of scholarship from India that has sought to discuss the hierarchies in academic engagements on the social, ranging from the forceful argument of “theoretical Brahmins and empirical Shudras” (Guru 2002) to a more recent piece by doctoral scholars critiquing the normative understanding of “students” as consumers rather than producers of knowledge (Reddy et al 2019); a discussion on questions of social power and hierarchy in academic practices, including doctoral supervision, forms of mentoring, and publication channels; the ethics of theorising the “lived experiences” of others, particularly socially underprivileged others (Sarukkai 2007), and politics, as the power dynamics underlying such theorisations (Satyanarayana 2013). 

In this paper, we call to attention what it means to be in the “field,” recognising a long history of debates in ethnographic research on ethnography as both field method and interpretive writing (Geertz 1973; Ghodsee 2016; Gupta and Ferguson 1997; Narayan 1993; Srinivas 2002; van Maanen 2011). Such attention is necessary, we believe, at a time when “fieldwork” as a form of academic labour, involving observations and ­interviews with specific social groups (more often, “studying down”) marks the majority of knowledge production within the social sciences. Such fieldwork in the Indian social sciences is performed most often by research associates and doctoral students.

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Updated On : 2nd Jun, 2020
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