Charles Goodwin’s Reflections upon Retirement

SLA Interview with Charles Goodwin

Image result for charles goodwin

What article or book that you wrote are you most pleased with?  Could you talk about the story behind writing it?

While “Professional Vision” is perhaps the article that anthropologists know best, what pleases me most in my career is my work on the social life of Aphasia. With that, I (and others) have been able to change the way that people encounter and think about not only people with aphasia, but, more generally, others who differ from themselves.

The person whom I write about is my father who had a stroke in his early 60’s that left him with a three-word vocabulary: Yes, No and And. He nonetheless remained for the rest of his life an incredibly powerful speaker. Because of my interest in the embodied actions of hearers I immediately saw that while he could not speak, he understood in fine detail what others were saying. For several years I avoided taping him, because I felt I did not want to take advantage of his tragic situation for research. However, at a certain point I realized that it was incredibly important that others see what he could do, rather than assuming someone with a three word vocabulary was almost mute and incapable of complex ideas and language use. He was very enthusiastic about this. I began to videotape his daily interactions whenever I visited him. I feel that, independently of analysis, vividly showing audiences who he was actually was, and what he could do, has been incredibly important for opening people’s minds to the varieties of ways of being human. It has also been important theoretically. First, this work (and that of colleagues) opened a social, rather than psychological or neurological, perspective on aphasia, and brain damage more generally, as something manifested moment by moment in the lived world. Seeing aphasia in this light has consequences for not only the aphasic person, but also those share their lives with him or her. My mother’s life was changed by my father’s stroke at least as much as his. With our continuing state of war, aphasia and other severe consequences of injury to the brain affect not only those at the end of the life cycle, but also our soldiers who frequently return to families, as well as young spouses and partners, with a lifelong condition. Research on the social life of aphasia has led to important changes in therapy. Instead of trying to change what is a chronic condition, one can focus on patterns of interaction.

Basically my father became a powerful speaker by guiding others to produce the words he needed. This radically changed my view of human language, forcing me to see sentences, utterances, and speakers as distributed phenomena. We inhabit each other’s actions. This insight is central to my current work on co-operative action.


What article or book was hardest for you to write, and why?

“Action and Embodiment.” Here I show formal similarities in the work of archaeologists classifying color, and preadolescent girls playing hopscotch. The hopscotch sequence is less than 15 seconds long, but it took me years to analyze and describe it. Slowly I came to see how human action is built by bringing together different kinds of semiotic materials — language structure, prosody, gesture, embodied postures, frameworks of mutual orientation constituted through the alignment of multiple bodies, etc., and material structure in the environment, such as the hopscotch grid (or the Munsell chart for the archaeologists), sedimented history as we re-use with transformation what we have inherited from our predecessors, etc. The boundaries between the interests of linguistic anthropologists, social anthropologists and archaeologists begin to disappear. It is impossible to analyze what is occurring from any of these perspectives in isolation. It took me a long time to figure out how to conceptualize this.


Which class did you most enjoy teaching, and why?

My absolute joy throughout forty years of teaching has been my seminars, these are really chances to explore analysis with whole cohorts of incredibly interesting people — both students and years of visitors. I have learned so much from all of these colleagues and it has really led to important changes in my thinking (for example being introduced to biosemiotics), and the kinds of phenomena I investigate. This applies as well to those who have invited me to enter their worlds though fieldwork. I see being a professor as one moment in a long chain of intergenerational exchanges, in which I gain much from my mentors, while having my mind continuously opened by new students, while, I hope, helping to stimulate them. In the current economic and political climate it is hopeful to recognize that forms of life that are both profoundly ethical, and genuinely exciting, continue to exist, at least for the moment.

Charles Goodwin is a professor of applied linguistics at UCLA.

Please send your comments, contributions, news and announcements to SLA contributing editors Anna Babel ( or Ilana Gershon (

Cite as: Gershon, Ilana and Charles Goodwin. 2017. “Charles Goodwin’s Reflections upon Retirement.” Anthropology News website, April 7. 2017. doi: 10.1111/AN.400

Rick Parmentier’s Reflections upon Retirement

SLA interview with Rick Parmentier

Rick Parmentier
Rick Parmentier

What article or book that you wrote are you most pleased with?  Could you talk about the story behind writing it?

The principal argument of my paper “Diagrammatic Icons and Historical Processes in Belau” (American Anthropologist, 1985) was scribbled on a three-by-five card while in an ambulance taking me to the hospital after a massive injections of epinephrine. I did not know at the time that I have a fatal allergy to black hornets.  While I have never again written anything “on drugs,” I still compose all my writing in my head.

What article or book was hardest for you to write, and why?

Transforming my dissertation (1981) into The Sacred Remains (1985) was extremely difficult. I spent several years trying to answer a question put to me by George Stocking, Jr. during my dissertation defense: Why this particular set of signs?

What moment of fieldwork interaction do you still think about, amazed that you got to witness it and/or record it?

The powerful piece of political oratory delivered by Ngiraklang Malsol, which I was lucky to tape, was one of the highlights of my fieldwork. My students enjoy my more recent conclusion, that my original published analysis (in Lucy, ed., Reflexive Language) failed to take into account my role as the recorder of the speech. The inspiration for my rethinking the analysis is Michael Silverstein’s paper “The Secret Life of Texts” on Edward Sapir’s analysis of “Winter Bathing.”

What is one of your favorite fieldwork stories to tell?

I like to tell the story about when, back in 1979, I got lost on a mountaintop looking for megalithic ruins in the forest at Ngeremeskang, about five miles from my home village. After making five passes straight down the mountain and then back up, marking the trees with a knife, I finally intersected the path. I did leave a note at the top of the mountain, willing my library to fellow graduate student Nina Kammerer.

Which class did you most enjoy teaching, and why?

I taught an advanced seminar on cultural semiotics for about 20 years that was always fun. I only spent one session on anthropological/archaeological papers, focusing, rather, on disciplines like art history, musicology, philosophy, linguistics, and literary theory. One student told me that, many years after she took the course, she could not remember anything but that she would never forget that she took the course.

How has teaching changed for you over the years?

For the first 15 years I enjoyed giving—that is, performing—formal lectures in large lecture halls. Then I cancelled all of those courses and began teaching a series of seminars or discussion classes in which my twin goals were never to perform and never to waste class time transmitting information. In the years just prior to retirement I did add a series of PowerPoint lectures in one of my classes, inspired by the lectures of my departmental colleague Javier Urcid, who is a master of this technology.

What book do you think people would be surprised to know is on your bookshelf?

Friends who know me are not surprised to see nine bookcases filled with CDs of Renaissance and Baroque sacred music, including every choral composition of, for example, Tallis, Gibbons, Byrd, Purcell, Handel, and Bach. I have a bookcase in the living room not easily visible from the sofa that contains my large collection of books on ancient aliens, Atlantis, the Kennedy assassination, global conspiracies, and fantastic archaeology. Next to my reading chair, not surprisingly, are the works of C. S. Peirce in both the eight-volume Harvard edition and the Indiana chronological series.

What is your favorite language, and why?

My field language, Palauan, is extremely complicated (especially the verb system) and was very difficult for me to learn. But I still enjoy listening to my field tapes from 37 years ago, especially the esoteric chants that were such a challenge to master. Several years ago a native speaker attended Brandeis as an undergraduate physics major, and we enjoyed chatting most Friday afternoons. I can still speak Palauan, but only while dreaming.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Perhaps it’s not too late to go to law school and to become, like my co-editor Beth Mertz, a law professor. I am lucky to be able remember spoken language (and music) from decades past, and I enjoy carefully constructed arguments. I did once teach a course on contemporary social theory at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, in which the students were the members of the law faculty.

Richard Parmentier is a professor at Brandeis University.

William Leap’s Reflections upon Retirement

William Leap is retiring after being a professor of anthropology at American University for 46 years. Ilana Gershon asks him to reflect on his career.

What article or book that you wrote are you most pleased with?  Could you talk about the story behind writing it?

Easier than citing a single book or article, I’d prefer to talk about how I am most pleased to find how I have maintained certain consistencies of argument over several years of inquiry, despite my changes in research topics and theoretical paradigms and despite academic and broader politics.

For example, my current studies of language and sexuality have moved far from the ideas outlined in Word’s Out , but one issue addressed there still haunts my research and writing:  how do people learn to talk about same-sex desires, practices, and sexual sameness when such talk is so often assigned negative values by peers, parents, news media, political officials, officer co-workers, department chairs, and other regulatory sources.

I addressed similar regulatory questions in my earlier studies of American Indian English (AIE), when I suggested that AIE fluencies helped maintain ancestral language receptive competence in settings where ancestral language fluency (and fluent speakers) were widely despised. The parallels between AIE and the discussion in Word’s Out were not exact, but the processes of overhearing, and the ensuing accumulations and conditions of hyperdiversity were similar.

I did not pursue those parallels in Word’s Out, but I began to do that in subsequent writing, beginning with “Language socialization and silence in gay adolescence,” a revision of a (truly dreadful) article that first appeared in a special issue of The High School Journal. Thinking about gay language learning as language socialization prompted further thoughts about processes of linguistic accumulationtextual refusalaudience reception as well as the global circulations of North Atlantic gay language(s)  and their impacts on localized sexual discourse(s).

So how did your research in Cape Town fit into these continuities?

I revised the “language socialization paper” while in residence at the Centre for Rhetoric Studies at University of Cape Town. I heard many stories about language/sexuality socialization from people living in Cape Town’s City Center and in the nearby Coloured and Black townships, thanks to the support of the Triangle Project, a Cape Town area AIDS advocacy group. This was my introduction to the uneven inflections of language, sexuality, gender, race, and class that were reshaping sexualities as apartheid transitioned to representative democracy in the western Cape. I was tracing how those inflections impacted sexual language learning in the late apartheid period and this disclosed details of Cape Town area sexual geography. I could locate moments that language shift exposed competing loyalties between sexuality and place. The book project I am now finishing explores the not-so-secret “secret codes” linked to homosexuality before the Stonewall moment in the US, and was inspired in part by the Cape Town research, especially its demand that linguistic history engages with racial and class diversities and the material conditions that sustain them, instead of ignoring these diversities.

What article or book was hardest for you to write, and why?

Every article and book has been difficult for me to write. I grew up in a small town in North Florida in the early 1950s, so Standard English was not my first language, either for speaking or for writing. Many of the conventions of standard speech still elude me. Plus, what might fashionably be termed late-onset dyslexia ensures that revising, editing and proof-reading become time-consuming tasks. But even if writing takes much longer to complete than the assigned deadline allows, writing is still an exciting activity. Writing gives me a chance to experiment with ideas and it always leads to unexpected outcomes. I learned long ago to stop trying to create a detailed outline in advance of the first draft: I sketch out three or four intended themes, assemble some data, and see where it leads—hopefully to successful, if at times unexpected, outcomes.

 You started the Lavender Languages Conference in 1993 and are the founding co-editor of the Journal of Language & Sexuality. What motivated you to do this important organizational labor?

The Lavender Languages Conference has been creating space for conversations about language and sexuality since 1993, and it still does as, I explained elsewhere. We named this event “Lavender Languages” to avoid taking sides with people doing “lesbian/gay studies” or “queer theory,” a hot-button issue in the 1990s that probably doesn’t matter so much anymore. The phrase remains because of name recognition, but that too might change as time passes. The point is to maintain a space where people can discuss language and sexuality without fear of risk or retaliation. People already face enough of that in everyday settings, inside and outside of the classroom.

The Journal of Language & Sexuality is “indebted to queer linguistics” as an orienting theme, as my co-editor (Heiko Motschenbacher) and I explain in the journal’s mission statement. And queerness is always about messiness and irregularity. The Journal is a site where discussions of language and sexuality need not be contained within traditional disciplinary (or similar) boundaries. Our reviewers draw heavily on those criteria as they read and evaluate manuscripts, and so do the editors as we make final decisions regarding the contents for each issue.

What moment of fieldwork interaction do you still think about, amazed that you got to witness it and/or record it?

Doing linguistic fieldwork in sex clubs in the 1980 and 1990s. There were those (in anthropology and in the federal government) who said such work could not be done; and even if it were attempted, the results could not have any claim to scientific validity, and thus no impact on AIDS-related (or other) policy-making. Following ethnographic work of Ralph Bolton and Michael Clatz, I insisted that there had to be ways to conduct linguistic research in the erotic moment, a point which a group of us confirmed in the publication of Public Sex, Gay Space. For me, this meant conducting linguistic fieldwork at cruising sites, although as always, linguistic inquiry soon moved far beyond the scope of the linguistic moment.

In one instance, the cruising site data provided a basis for expert witness court testimony on behalf of a bath house which local government had designated as a health hazard and was seeking to close. My field data demonstrated that activities at this site were no more a “threat” to public health than were activities in the saunas and steam rooms in the area’s upscale health clubs and gyms, sites which local government had never attempted to raid or regulate. Why, I asked, was the category “health hazard” being applied so selectively to the health club I was defending? And whose long-term real estate investments were being secured as the uneven inflections were applied?

What piece of furniture do you most often talk to or about?

My swimming pool. This was my retirement gift to my partner and me. There are no Esther Williams-type water features or Olympics-like illuminations. This is a simple 25’x16’, cobalt blue-tiled, heated structure, providing room to float on a buoyant raft while enjoying the south Florida sun and listening to thematically appropriate CDs.

Cite as: Leap, William. 2018. “William Leap’s Reflections upon Retirement.” Anthropology News website, August 13, 2018. DOI: 10.1111/AN.943

Bonnie Urciuoli’s Reflections on Retirement


August 15, 2017

Bonnie Urciuoli. Nancy L. Ford

What article or book that you wrote are you most pleased with?  Could you talk about the story behind writing it?   Or: What article or book was hardest for you to write, and why?

These two questions have the same answer, “Skills and Selves in the New Workplace,” published in AE in 2008. It took years and I sweated blood writing and rewriting and rewriting it, probably because I tried to pack way too much into each draft. I had long been thinking about how the word skill got thrown around as a count noun denoting some kind of plug-in. I was also having an extension on my house built by a very skilled contractor working pretty much by himself. By ‘skilled’ I mean he had been doing this work for decades and knew exactly what he was doing. I wanted to contrast this with the idea of workers and students as future workers imagined as bundles of skills like Lego pieces or Tinkertoys. What kind of corporate ethos comes up with the notion that ‘skills’ as the (supposed) outcome of workshops on ‘leadership’ or ‘communication’ could discursively parallel ‘skill’ as the (concrete) result of years of experience? Who was making money off this? Nor was I thrilled at how students were getting inculcated with this, especially students of color. (Diversity skills? Really?) After starting a draft in 2002, I played with it until 2004 when I figured I might as well send it in and get some useful feedback which I did (including “you’re going where with this now?”). It took a few more revisions over a few more years, not to mention a lot of help (big shout-out to Chaise LaDousa, Ilana Gershon, Virginia Dominguez, and the AE reviewers), to get it over the final hump. But the article was one of the most productive things I ever did, pulling together many many threads for me and apparently for quite a few other people as well.

What is one of your favorite fieldwork stories to tell?

During my first fieldwork on the Lower East Side in Manhattan in 1978–79, I spent a lot of time being a sort of fictive aunt to kids on the block where I did most of my research. I tutored and taught arts and crafts and took kids on various outings. Taking a bunch of 8-10 year old boys to and from Yankee Stadium by subway was some experience—amazing how five or six boys can seem like a dozen. Still, bleacher seats cost $1.50 and you could bring your own food and maybe see a Reggie Jackson home run.

Which class did you most enjoy teaching, and why?

I’ve enjoyed them all but my favorites were Phonetics/phonologySemiotics, and US Discourses: Gender and Technology. All of them, in different ways, allowed students to see the familiar or taken-for-granted in different and creative ways plus Semiotics gave many students excuses to write about college branding and analyze the hell out of their experience as tour guides. And Gender and Technology gave me all kinds of excuses to talk about Barbie, Disney, the Mercury program, tail fins on cars, two-tone refrigerators, and being a middle-class American kid in the 1950s.

How has teaching changed for you over the years?

I’ve always enjoyed teaching but I think I’ve especially enjoyed it over the past decade, when my research and teaching came together, even in my introductory courses, in all kinds of surprising and productive ways. The longer I’ve taught the more I’ve seen my students as co-participants in some kind of enterprise I’m not sure I can define. OK, not all of them and not in every class and maybe more in my 200-level and up classes that get a lot of repeaters. But I think I’ve become more aware of what I can learn from the process of teaching—talking with students, reading their stuff.  Can I take this opportunity for a big shout-out to my students? They have just been so much fun.

Over the years, who has been your favorite politician to teach with (or against)?

I got a lot of use out of John Boehner when he chaired the House Committee on Education and the Workforce in the 2000s. I could always count on him to issue statements clearly illustrating a model of education that had zip to do with liberal arts values.

What book do you think people would be surprised to know is on your bookshelf?

There are a couple of authors I dearly love that probably qualify as guilty pleasures (“you read them?”): Angela Thirkell and Georgette Heyer. I suppose they are considered lightweight romance authors with iffy politics. But they also create detailed worlds that are interesting and amusing. Adjacent on my bookshelves are the complete (and often re-read) works of Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett (the latter thanks to Ilana) which actually wouldn’t surprise anyone who really knows me.

Do you speak for your pets, and if so, when or how?

I don’t have a lot of luck speaking for my (currently three) cats, though I try. Mostly I voice for them things like “of course we can put that vet bill on my VISA card” or “I’m so sorry I threw up on your shoe.” It so doesn’t work. For starters they expect me to pay their credit card bills.

What is your favorite curse word?

The f-word. It may be unoriginal and overused but it certainly works for me, especially when I’m screaming at the political news.

What is the worst piece of advice you have ever gotten?

The worst advice (received in the mid 1980s) was to change my research area to a topic that would serve me better on the job market by fitting established categories of anthropological research. I thanked the people who offered the advice and completely ignored it.

Bonnie Urciuoli is a professor of anthropology at Hamilton College.

Ilana Gershon curated this article.

Cite as: Gershon, Ilana. 2017. “Bonnie Urciuoli’s Reflections upon Retirement.” Anthropology News website, August 15, 2017. doi: 10.1111/AN.533

Carrie Clanton takes the page 99 test

My PhD thesis, Uncanny Others: Hauntology, Ethnography, Media, started out as an ethnographic study of people who pursue ghosts as a hobby in the U.K. As a visual anthropologist, I was interested that the methodologies of ghosthunters mirror the work of some anthropologists who have taken up media; both aspire to use audio-visual recording media in an almost scientific fashion to “capture” their respective, and at times elusive, Other.

Page 99 of my thesis falls in the middle of a fieldwork narrative in which I am establishing ghosthunters as a metaphor to critique how anthropologists have tended to incorporate media into their work. In the excerpt below I am detailing a commercial ghosthunting weekend (GhostCon), organized by a group called Ghost Research Foundation International (GRFI), that I attended in Nottingham; I had encountered events such as water-divining and séances, each accompanied by rigourous pseudo-scientific methodology and audio-visual recording equipment, as well as by more esoteric tools such spirit mediums:

I am surprised at this most unscientific way to gain knowledge—is this what GRFI means by its research “evolving”? To what degree have ghost hunters really taken up science, and where does this merging of science with so-called New Age practices fit in? I had recently been told by a ghosthunter, who also happened to be a physicist, that sometimes a good medium is needed to get results. He was referring to his use of quality recording equipment to capture supposed voices of the dead; but at GhostCon, and at quite a few other ghost hunts I attend, a living, psychic medium seems to be an accepted and indeed sought-after piece of “equipment” to have around, and somehow not at all contrary to the scientifically based methods also being employed.

A break from my PhD to have two babies (and subsequently too many middle-of-the night readings of Derrida) saw me return to academia in the field of cultural studies and focus in on the concept of hauntology. I ultimately argued that media is hauntological in nature—it is able to freeze and manipulate time–to evoke and conjure other people, times, and places–offering a potentially critical approach to representation that differs from traditional ethnography.

Few anthropologists today would aspire to the sort of wholesale salvage and archival tasks originally touted as the great promise of media recording devices in the field. But few have embraced media and its uncanny temporality as a way of producing cultural representations that are more on par with James Clifford’s notion of surreal anthropology than the outputs suggested by the early manuals on visual anthropology–and their very similar counterparts, the how-to guides for ghosthunting that I encountered in my fieldwork.

Carrie Clanton completed her PhD at the Centre for Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths College, University of London in 2017. She lives in Melbourne, Australia, and is currently writing a monograph about soundtracks. 

Carrie Clanton. 2017. Uncanny Others: Hauntology, Ethnography, Media. Goldsmiths College, University of London. Phd dissertation.


Beata Jungselius takes the Page 99 test

My page 99 is found within the chapter ”Summary of findings and contribution of thesis”
of my thesis ”Using social media” in which I explore social media use (especially social
photography) in a permanently online, permanently connected world (Vorderer et al.,
2017). The aim of my thesis is to describe what constitutes social media use in a world of
smartphones with cameras, why and how social media use is meaningful as a category of
activity, and to contribute with new insights on how social media skills and perceptions
change as practices and platforms develop. Conveniently, the very first sentence leads us
right into one of my main findings:

”activities ranging from active involvement with producing content as well as managing relationships and time, to more passive ways of planning and monitoring social media activities.”

This sentence concerns different levels of engagement in social media use and the need to acknowledge a broader variety of activities when aiming to conceptualize social media use.   People engage in social media use with different levels of engagement. When using social media, people negotiate between multiple kinds of use and activities. Social media users both passively consume content in social media, but they engage in
production and management of their content as well. Apart from editing pictures, writing tweets and posting stories, they plan their activities, they monitor the activities of others and they orient towards social media, even when not actively involved with their phones.

This kind of negotiating and interplay between the many elements and socially regulated practices sheds light on the complexity of social media use. Page 99 in my thesis mainly refers to one of the papers included in my thesis, ”Same same but different. Changes in social media practices over time” (2019). In this paper, my colleague and I present examples of social media use on different levels of engagement and describe how
numerous aspects, such as lifestyle, disposable time and technical capabilities shape social media use. By comparing data from interviews conducted with the same informants in 2012 as in 2017, we were able to show how social media use has changed over time.

Users are involved in a number of practices when using social media. However, the levels of involvement vary and therefor, there is no consensus on what constitutes social media use. Because of this, I argue that it is problematic to measure social media use in terms of time spent online, simply because it is difficult, both for users as well as researchers, to describe what social media use is. However, as pointed out in the final sentence of the page, I am neither arguing for equating using social media with simply being online:

”Although arguing for a widening of the definition of social media use, we suggest that care be taken not to widen the definition too much, as in equating social media use with “being online.”  Social media use still relies upon specific practices, and we argue that both those practices that are more active and those that are more passive, need more attention within the social media studies field.”

Rather, based on my findings, I suggest that social media use is: ”to engage in social practices such as planning, monitoring, producing, consuming, sharing and interacting around content. It is to make use of affordances to produce, share and interact in social media, to engage in a community of practice, to be familiar with idioms of practice, and to act according to the social rules that regulate those practices. Social media consists of users, shaping the platform vernacular and the idioms of practice within their communities of practice. These evolve over time; they are not static. Social media use is shaped both by design and technical capabilities as well as by the social practices
that users engage in. Habits, aesthetic preferences and social concerns are as involved in shaping the use of a social technology as technical capabilities are.” (Jungselius, 2019)

Jungselius, B. (2019). Using social media. Doctoral dissertation. Department of Applied IT.
University of Gothenburg. Thesis defended October 25th, 2019. Opponent: Professor
Richard Seyler Ling.

Jungselius, B., Weilenmann, A. (2019). Same Same But Different. Changes in Social Media
Practices Over Time. Proceedings of 10th International Conference on Social Media and
Society (SMSociety ’19) Toronto, Canada: ACM Press.

Vorderer, P., Krömer, N., & Schneider, F. M. (2016). Permanently online, permanently
connected: Explorations into university students’ use of social media and mobile smart
devices. Computers in Human Behavior, 63(October), 694–703.

Rahul Advani on page 99 of his dissertation

Page 99 of my dissertation is the first time in the dissertation that I provide an ethnographic example of how marginalized educated young men native to Pune assert their masculinity. My dissertation is an anthropological study of lower-middle class, college-going men in Pune, India, and the means by which they use Facebook to construct and rehearse their aspirational selves.

Though the passage does not mention Facebook in detail, the example that appears here of how young men comport themselves and display a masculine aggression in the city points to the continuities between their lives on and off-screen. Specifically, it alerts the reader to the kinds of techniques these men develop on Facebook to craft their masculine selves in order to accumulate and display social capital.

The passage appears towards the end of the dissertation’s first substantive ethnographic chapter, titled ‘Checking-in’ at another city, in which I examine how young men creatively subvert Facebook’s ‘check-in’ feature. Rather than using the feature as a recommendation service or pretending to ‘check-in’ at the city’s new spaces of urban leisure, they instead make visible the cartography of their lives. In doing so, they insist that the city they know on an intimate level is not erased from the Pune that appears on Facebook’s list of popular ‘check-in’ locations, one that is populated by trendy coffee shops, exclusive nightclubs and gleaming shopping malls:

I contend that the lines young men map on Facebook represent their desire to experience the city as a site of both pleasure and danger, as a place to be rebellious and be recognised, and ultimately belong, but on their own terms. On one occasion, as we were driving through the city, Rakesh revved up the engine of his Royal Enfield to produce a loud sound:

“Do you hear that? That is the sound of attraction! Everyone watches us. Even though making this sound is now banned in Pune, we do not care. We do not follow the rules.”

For Virat, his identity as a Punekar was articulated in relation to his knowledge of the urban terrain, for he knew exactly which chai tapri would be open at a particular time as well as the exact route to get there. This was a skill he described as lacking amongst other youth whose migration to the city had caused living in Pune to “become very expensive” in recent years:

“Most people who go to reputable colleges like BMCC, Symbiosis, Fergusson…are from outside Maharashtra. They are usually from places like Delhi, Bangalore. They have only been in Pune for two or three years. They do not know the roads like we do. We have been here all our lives.”

The processes of movement across the city through which young men assert their visibility and invite danger are tied not only to discourses of belonging but also masculinity. As mentioned earlier, this kind of propulsion of the body across the city was almost exclusively performed by men. According to Whitehead (2002), dominant notions of embodied masculinity emphasise “the ability to exercise control over space” (189).

The ways in which lower-middle class young men move through the city and the routes of their journeys – though not made explicitly visible on their Facebook pages – I suggest, are not disentangled from the map of Pune they inscribe onto the platform through their ‘check-in’ locations. Whilst ‘checking-in’ and moving from one place to another, they simultaneously draw out a specific way of being young characterized by pleasure and carefreeness; this stands in opposition to the lifestyles, new forms of consumption and academic ambition that upper-middle class and elite youth can afford.

My two interlocuters who feature in this passage, like many of the men who form the protagonists of my dissertation, are undergraduates enrolled in government colleges with dreams of obtaining IT jobs but limited means of achieving their aspirations. Their assertion for visibility takes a number of forms, including the selfies they post in which they make themselves singular, their strategies for acquiring Facebook Friends and ‘Likes’ through which they lay claim to large social networks, and as I discuss here, the city they make legible online.

Furthermore, this passage gives a sense of how the desire for recognition and respect among my interlocuters are tied to the physical environments they inhabit. Instead of seeking to escape reality or reach global networks through Facebook, I argue that they use the platform to enhance their local authority and make sense of their class positions in the city. This points to how their practices on Facebook are not formed in a vacuum. Rather, they are constituted by an interplay between the digital and the physical, with the intention that young mens’ performances of status-raising on Facebook ultimately leak back into their place-bound lives.

Cited References:

Whitehead, Stephen M. 2002. Men and Masculinities: Key Themes and New Directions. Cambridge: Polity Press.


Rahul Advani. 2019. Online and ‘real’ lives: The anthropology of Facebook and friendship among middle class young men in an Indian city.  King’s College London, Phd.