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Accepted Contribution:

Producing ‘neoliberal subjects’ to study as ethnographic objects: reflections from fieldwork in Delhi’s education reform movement  
Rich Thornton (SOAS, University of London)

Contribution short abstract:

This paper explores my relationship with an education social entrepreneur in Delhi – a key ‘informant’ – and how, in my attempts to write a ‘valuable’ PhD thesis, I reshaped him into an ideal ‘neoliberal subject’ which I could analyse as an ethnographic object.

Contribution long abstract:

In this presentation I explore my relationship with an education social entrepreneur in Delhi who became a key research collaborator during my PhD fieldwork. My aim is to show that introspection and self-reflection – conducted both in the field and post-fieldwork – has been instrumental in the development of my conclusions and ethnographic contribution. This paper reveals how I, the anthropologist, produced Prashant as my ethnographic object par excellence, in part as a way of defending myself from doubt at career choice, and in part as a response to the academy’s demand to produce a ‘valuable’ thesis.

I provide an itinerary of my reflection that foregrounds how my ethico-political history as a subject of patriarchal schooling, and active critic of this discourse, oriented me to both identify with and abject Prashant as other. I conclude by suggesting that it is conceptually productive to position my ethnography as not one that studies Prashant, but instead the Prashant-I assemblage that has appeared as object produced by both my relationship with Prashant the person and with Prashant the ethnographic object in my mind’s-eye.

I argue that my introspective reflections on my own desire and subjectification have been crucial to developing this new framing of the production of ethnographic objects. I suggest that such sincere reflection on how ethnographers produce objects helps throw light back on the hierarchies that allow members of the academy to speak and write about others.

Roundtable RT01
Reflexivity, entrapment and exercises of imagination in research
  Session 1 Tuesday 26 July, 2022, -