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.

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