Searching for 'Pollok': anthropology in the footsteps of an ancestor
(London School of Economics)
Paper short abstract:
This paper reflects on the fortunes and challenges of working in the footsteps of an ancestor. It raises questions on anthropologists’ role in shaping the imagination, history and self-representation of a village or people, and on different styles and approaches to the discipline.
Paper long abstract:
This paper reflects on the fortunes and challenges of working in the footsteps of an ancestor, and raises questions on anthropologists' role in shaping the imagination, history and self-representation of a village or people. David Pocock, who worked in the village of Sundarana (Anand district, Gujarat) in the 1950's did not leave, beyond his publications, any record of his research. As I reached Sundarana 60 years later, there seemed to be no traces of his presence. His books, and especially the genealogical charts and ancestral names that it contains, served as a catalyst among residents of the village for memories and conversations, and for establishing my contemporary research agenda. These physical objects enabled access to the village, while also narrowing its boundaries to selected people - boundaries that have greatly expanded since the 1950s. With time, a few among the elders started remembering and Pocock's old research assistant who had left the village soon after the anthropologist, returned to his natal place to aid the memory process. From a distant author, Pocock grew into an ancestor and brother ('Davidbhai', 'Knocock', 'Pollok') that people spoke of with fondness, affection and admiration. He grew into a rounded character with strange habits and a professional research agenda. My research started being defined through what Pocock did, and what people thought and wished he did that I should pursue. This outlined not only different ideas of the past and the future, but also different styles and approaches to anthropology, on which the paper will reflect.
What to do with 'old' anthropology? Zeitgeist, knowledge and time