Paper long abstract:
This paper assumes a historical anthropological method to question how Verrier Elwin attempted to harmonise ethnographic practice and Gandhian ideology before 1947. As a satyagrahi (practitioner of truth-force) and census ethnographer, Elwin occupied an authoritative position between the national-popular and the colonial/nation-state. I question how Elwin's ethnographic 'experiments with truth' articulated a subject-object patterning that would redefine the national imaginary. Unsettling the margins of colonial primitivism, Elwin focused on India's aboriginal/tribal/Adivasi peoples to test the visual, numinous and political potential of Indian anthropology. His documentary work on The Baiga (1939) and The Muria and Their Ghotul (1947) fashioned a tribal heritage paradigm that can be reviewed from a contemporary world anthropologies/world art position attentive to de-coloniality. How did Elwin's 'tribal' philosophy redefine the strategic and representational possibilities of the ethnographic present? The concept of truth-as-unknowing provides an engaging departure point for this analysis.
The state in the history of world anthropologies: disciplinary imaginaries at critical moments [AAA CWA panel]