Accepted Paper:

Front-line ethnography: Provisional notes, partial practices  


Proshant Chakraborty (Society for Nutrition, Education and Health Action (SNEHA))

Paper short abstract:

This paper engages with the practice of, and challenges to, ethnographic research in non-governmental spaces of intervention and advocacy work in the bastis (informal communities) of Dharavi in Mumbai, India.

Paper long abstract:

Anthropologists and ethnographers have increasingly been working in contexts and spaces outside the "traditional" domains of research on indigeneity, culture and otherness. This includes working professionally with non-governmental, governmental, and local and international organizations. Such collaborations involve creating new spaces and topics of engagement for anthropologists, but also challenge certain practical and epistemological groundings of the discipline. This essay draws from such engagements with social organizations, what I call "front-line" spaces, and engages with questions relevant to the professional practice of anthropology. My ethnographic research focuses on the everyday workings of women front-line workers in the bastis (informal communities) in Dharavi, Mumbai. I explore their relationship with the NGO, their communities, and the state. While I am concerned with certain "classical" questions of epistemology and power in anthropology (e.g., representation, Otherness), I also underscore and present new questions regarding the role and relevance of anthropology among other social sciences and the communities we work with. Particularly, this essay aims to tease out the nuances of collaborative work in spaces that are increasingly configured by neoliberal policies of NGO work. I seek to ask (and address) the question of how anthropology can contribute to grassroots social action, and yet remain critical of the contexts and modalities in, and through which, such action takes place.

Panel Plenary C
Early Career Scholars Forum: anthropology in interdisciplinary settings