Ruben Enrique Campos III takes the page 99 test

Destiny again. It had to be El Legendario Bombay. It had to be page 99.

Upon entering, I immediately saw why the place was called legendary. It oozed underground Hip Hop. Graffiti covered every wall. In the past, there had been a waist-high mural that wrapped around the bar featuring skeletons in fluffy rat costumes. Now most of it was covered over in aerosol paint, paint pen, postal stickers, and permanent ink throwies. The above-waist, mirrored walls were now covered over in tattered black plastic tarp, which was itself covered over in white mop paint pen tags. The tile floor was thick with dried beer and tracked-in road grime. Google Maps had not been wrong. The place had been permanently closed; but it was still quite active that night. A crew of two dozen men and a few women sat drinking beer, listening to the Chicano music of my youth. Most of the audience seemed to be in their late 30s. Their clothes were baggier than Heticko’s which was a sign of his relative youth at 25 and the changing trends of a scene. Most wore tan Dickies pants and either a plain white cotton tee-shirt, a tan khaki shirt, or a black one with La Sociedad Café printed in Old-English style font. Most wore thick löc-style sunglasses. The darkly lit scene could have passed as a sepia-toned photograph save for the glints of the deep red and thickly lined lipsticks of the women, and then there was the pop and lock dancer wearing the royal blue tracksuit and white gloves. Two beautifully maintained, chrome laden lowrider bicycles sat on the stage. Tomás, the owner of TT Caps arrived after me. He sat at the bar to chat with El Bombay’s owner. Both were in their late 50s and had invested in Hip Hop as more than a fad years prior. They had both given the youth culture space to flourish, but now had to watch as their business dried up.

My dissertation explores life in desmadre, or the overwhelming, noisy chaos that continually changes underfoot in the streets of the metropolitan valley surrounding Mexico City, the largest urban landscape within North America. I chronicle the experiences of contemporary rap artists as they move through the city, creating a Hip Hop scene in looped interconnectedness. And while my work is attuned to the Voice of these artists, it’s always grounded by my relationship to the streets and by that feeling of destiny I feel when I’m in the wrong place and the right time, when I encounter everything I need to be Hip Hop, to be ethnography. After weeks of futile attempts to find a Hip Hop scene by safe and traditional means, I found Bombay in a moment wondering aimlessly and dangerously down a dark alley in Tepito, a barrio born into its bad reputation. Following that moment, dedication and destiny launched me across the entire valley from La Paz, Iztapalapa and La Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl to Tacubaya, Colina Del Sur, and el Reclusorio Norte, all to find Hip Hop.

Ultimately, I find that by practicing their poetry and their breath control rappers learn to render the aural sensorium and echo the city itself through their bodies—from the noises of its mass transit to the acoustic registers of its ambulant vendors; from the sounds of familiar language games, poetics, and popular culture to appropriated Nahuatl vocabulary and place names. By learning to navigate through the city, flowing against its conservative logic for their own artistic and cultural purposes, rappers come to embody a difficult to explain yet deeply felt awareness of desmadre. Rather than seeing chaos as a source of frustration (to state control), as inefficient (to capitalist profit), or as unnecessary imperilment (to fearful citizens of the general public), rappers find direction and purpose in creativity and community. By engaging with others in desmadre they recognize their place, authenticate their experience, and overcome anonymity through the choral voice, hearing their own subjectivity echoed back and affirmed by others who have travelled a different route. …And so do anthropologists.

It had to be page 99. It had to be El Legendario Bombay. Desmadre again.

Ruben Enrique Campos III.  2020. Word To Desmadre: Hip Hop, Voice, and the Rhythm Of Chaos In México. University of Hawai’i, Phd.


Amy Binning takes the Page 99 test

Just clinging to the end of page 99 in my dissertation is a tentative question: “but should it really be that the presence of a model, even a very strict one, inhibits improvisation in the making process?” In this part of my dissertation I am in full swing unpacking the making process in a rather unique industrial space—a warehouse tucked into the Sonoma, California countryside that produces Tibetan Buddhist texts by the hundreds of thousands. On this and the surrounding pages I grapple with an anthropology of making that is deeply suspicious of the corresponsive capacities of machines and the stifling influence of models, both of which supposedly undermine the skill and creativity of the artisan. The making that takes place in the Sonoma bindery, however, is all at once thoroughly industrial and mechanized, governed by a strict, ritually dictated model, and enormously creative and skillful.

This particular thread about work, machines, making, and creativity is only one in my dissertation’s wider endeavor to follow the social and physical making of Tibetan sacred things across a community of Californian Nyingma Buddhists. In the months since I defended my work though, this question about making under strict parameters has lodged in my anthropological consciousness, spawning more about the nature of skill in labor, anthropology’s nostalgia for craft and its trappings, and perhaps the discipline’s broader nostalgic tendencies. These questions have taken hold of my work in a way I did not intend or expect.

What page 99 holds for me is a reminder that as authors we maintain only a measure of control over texts. The writing we deem finished may turn back toward us and accost us with the very questions we thought we were asking. This realization is not un-ironic for a dissertation about the social lives and agency of books. Page 99 of my dissertation may not encapsulate the whole especially well in terms of its arguments, but it does embody a reminder of the more central lesson my fieldwork held: that texts—even our own—have lives, power, and the chimeric ability to morph at every reading.

Amy Binning. 2019. Printing as Practice: Innovation and Imagination in the Making of Tibetan Buddhist sacred texts in California.
Cambridge University, Phd.

Hanwool Choe takes the page 99 test

My dissertation is about instant messages among Korean family(-in-law) members. I particularly focus on how families make strategic use of everyday photo-/video-sharing to construct and perform their familial identities, in relation to power and solidarity dynamics, while virtually interacting with each other. My study illuminates how technological affordances and multi-modalities contribute to making meanings and creating family via instant messages.

Page 99 of my dissertation is a part of Chapter 4 — it is the first data analysis chapter — where I examine how people use language and visuals to make meanings, especially when they share everyday photos and videos with or without captions. After introducing my analytical focus of Chapter 4 (Section 4.1), on page 99, I introduce the very first example of Section 4.2. When photos and videos are sent with captions: I first describe what is happening in an example that follows, as seen below.

4.2.1. Kihong at his great-grandfather’s birthday

In Sara’s family-in-law chatroom, Sara, her husband (Insung), his younger brother (Inseok), and his mother are present. One day, Sara sends two videos of her son, Kihong, that she recorded at her grandfather’s birthday party (that is, Kihong’s maternal great grandfather’s birthday). In the videos, Kihong was sitting next to his maternal great grandparents. While family members were singing the birthday song, Kihong was clapping and trying to sing along. Then, he blew out the birthday candles on his great grandfather’s cake, and the family was laughing. In the following interaction, Sara and her mother-in-law (that is., mother of Insung and Inseok) interact with each other.

After the description above, the excerpted instant messages begin. Two out of four instant messages are displayed in page 99. Those two messages are sent by Sara. She posts two videos (line 1) and then gives detailed captions of the videos (line 2). The rest of the messages, appearing in page 100, are sent by her mother-in-law and her brother-in-law, respectively, in response to the videos.

I would say page 99 of my dissertation is not representative of my dissertation because it merely shows a part of the example, which is one of many examples of my dissertation. If someone only reads page 99, I think it would be very hard for them to tell something about my dissertation. Possibly, they may not be able to know whether page 99 is a part of someone’s dissertation (!). My analysis starts in the next page. There, I show how 1) Sara’s captions provide focused attention and 2) the video receivers use her captions as guideposts to follow for meaning-making. I note the sender’s focused attention directs receiver participation toward a certain frame (following Goffman’s 1974 sense of frame, a definition of what is going on), from which meanings are gradually developed. This example presents how mutual participation between a sender and receivers accomplish making meanings.

Choe, H. (2020). Instant messaging in Korean families: Creating family through the interplay of photos, videos, and text. PhD Dissertation. Georgetown University.

Goffman, E. (1974). Frame analysis: An essay on the organization of experience. Harvard University Press.

Hanwool Choe received her PhD in Linguistics at Georgetown University in May 2020. As a discourse analyst, she is primarily interested in digital communication, language & food, multimodal interaction, and life stories. Her publications have appeared in journals such as Language in Society, Discourse Studies, and Journal of Pragmatics.

Lindsey Pullam takes the page 99 test

The 99th page of my dissertation goes into substantial detail about why military cemeteries exist for Israeli Druze IDF soldiers (when no such cemeteries exist for Druze civilians). Reincarnation is a fundamental tenet of the Druze religion, thus making graves superfluous as the body is unimportant in comparison to the soul. Conversely, Yad Labanim is a nationally sanctioned organization for fallen IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) soldiers, where graves have significance for the state and for individual families. With specific branches and museums in Druze villages, photographs and language (Hebrew and Arabic) are used to remediate Druze life and sacrifice to mostly Jewish audiences in ways that bridge two discourses of martyrdom.

I particularly enjoy my point:

In this way, the conservation and safeguarding of the Druze military cemetery serves as a reminder of the ultimate sacrifice Druze soldiers make to the country. One way to justify deviations from death practices set by the Druze religion is to signal religious cooperation and approval. This signal of religious compliance with soldier death practices (and Druze soldierhood more broadly) comes by way of photographs throughout the main sanctuary.

While I actually find the page quite boring in comparison to the ethnographic material presented in other chapters on food and sound, this page highlights the larger point of my dissertation. That is, Druze of Israel, a bilingual ethnoreligious minority, find themselves discursively bound by two national projects (Israeli and Palestinian). However, they constantly play (and perform) between the two using violence in its various sensorial forms as a resource. In the end, Druze performances of belonging showcase their attempts (successful or not) to claim a place in the Israeli nation for themselves.

This page also speaks to my direct participation in local tourism efforts by Druze. Tourism has long been seen in anthropology as a lesser form and site of analysis and yet it proved to be the best way to obtain innovative and substantial forms of data on an otherwise “secret society” within Israel. That being said, this page does well to advocate for the analysis of tourism’s production and consumption as it relates to national projects and the assimilation of marginalized groups to hegemonic discourse of the state.

Pullum, Lindsey. 2020. “Faithful/Traitor: Violence, Nationalism, and Performances of Druze Belonging.” PhD dissertation, Indiana University.



Shannon Ward takes the page 99 test

My dissertation, Learning Language, Transforming Knowledge: Language Socialization in Amdo, Tibet, examines young children’s social and linguistic development in China’s western borderlands. Based on fifteen months of language socialization research with infants and children aged three months to seven years old, Learning Language, Transforming Knowledge demonstrates the persistence of place-based linguistic diversity amidst rapid urbanization and the associated rise of standard language ideologies.

My dissertation “passes” Ford Madox Ford’s test because the ethnographic examples described on page 99 situate my research within broader anthropological discussions about cultural reproduction amidst linguistic change. In Amdo, kinship relationships and spiritual connections to the homeland constitute diverse mother tongues as indexes of place-based belonging. Despite an overt ideological emphasis on language standardization in greater Tibet and western China, Amdo children continue to acquire their family’s mother tongue (Tib. yul skad) as their first language.

Page ninety-nine summarizes place-making practices in young children’s play. These play routines emplace the yul skad in the village homeland and, at the same time, allow children to innovate in the yul skad. From the time they are mobile, children spend their days in groups of related peers, moving throughout the expanded space of the village. Children use movement alongside verbal interaction to embody a form of place-based belonging that is simultaneously social and spiritual. For example, in the peer group, “children invoke skora, or circular movement, in multiple spatial frameworks. Daily play at the mani khang [local temple]…unfolds alongside adults’ circumambulation…While adults perform skora, children mirror their movements through games, including hide and seek (Amdo: bi-ʱtsʰe, [a code-mixed word whose first syllable is borrowed] from the Chinese verb 蔽 [bi, ‘to conceal’])” (Ward 2019: 99). Through games such as bi-ʱtsʰe, children solidify their peer relationships by iconically reproducing spiritual practices linked to the village homeland. At the same time, they use their multilingual verbal repertoires to develop unique ways of speaking among the village peer group. Through this play routine, children therefore reconstitute affective ties between the mother tongue, the kin-based peer group, and the spiritual center of the village homeland.

Shannon Mary Ward. 2019. Learning Language, Transforming Knowledge: Language Socialization in Amdo, Tibet. New York University, Phd.

Guilherme Fians takes the Page 99 test

On page 99 of my dissertation, the reader finds themself in the middle of an ethnographic description of a heated political debate held during the 101st Universal Congress of Esperanto, in Nitra (Slovakia) in 2016. In this debate, members of the World Non-National Esperanto Association were reflecting on the aims of their activism: should this association use Esperanto to create inclusive, internationalist conversation spaces where people from different national and linguistic backgrounds could gather and meet halfway by speaking a non-national, non-ethnic language? Or should they adopt a more combative stance and use Esperanto as an anti-nationalist tool to fight the exclusionary and xenophobic aspects of nationalism?

Entrance of the congress venue, the Slovak University of Agriculture, where the 101st Universal Congress of Esperanto took place. The Esperanto flag between the Slovakian and EU flags helps to convey the internationalist atmosphere at stake in the Esperanto gathering [Photo: Guilherme Fians].

While page 99 brings us to a brief diversion to Slovakia, my doctoral fieldwork – which placed my dissertation as the first extensive ethnographic study of Esperanto speakers and activists – was carried out mostly in France.

Constructed in the late nineteenth century as an attempt to promote mutual understanding between peoples through language comprehension, Esperanto has been historically associated with internationalism, gathering a community of speakers and activists that strategically connect this language with diverse global political platforms. If, in France, Esperanto used to be particularly prominent among anarchists, communists and pacifists, what is this language’s current political relevance? What impacts have new communication technologies such as social media had on the organization of this community and language movement? Through participant observation – in French and Esperanto – and archival research concentrated in Paris, I mapped out how Esperanto activists use this language in online and face-to-face debates to question the post-political consensus about the use of national languages (such as English and French) for international communication.

Approaching a moment of significant changes in the way people communicate and mobilize politically, I found that Esperanto frequently works as a gateway for people to engage with other political causes, such as movements for open-source software and against neoliberal globalization (like the Gilets jaunes in France). Within these frameworks, Esperanto activists depart from the fight against linguistic discrimination and a preference for participatory over mass communication to re-politicize acts of communication and contribute to radical politics.

Reaching back to Nitra, where both this blog post and my fieldwork began, the outcome of that debate was that any form of internationalist or anti-nationalist stance can prove productive, as long as it fosters more egalitarian and inclusive communicative exchanges through the international circulation and co-production of information, ideas and knowledge.


Fians, Guilherme. 2019. Of revolutionaries and geeks: Mediation, space and time among Esperanto speakers. University of Manchester, PhD dissertation.

Lionel Wee and Robbie Goh on their book, Language, Space, and Cultural Play


Language, Space and Cultural Play

Interview by Ida Hoequist

Ida Hoequist:  In this book, you combine affect theory with an attention to the human built environment and a philosophy of meaning-making borrowed from linguistics, and the end result is the impressively seamless framework that you call “affect regimes”: ways that particular places structure the dispositions of people in them. Given that your framework is so eclectically sourced, which disciplines do you see this book speaking to and what do you hope it brings to those conversations?

Lionel Wee and Robbie Goh: This book hopes to speak to disciplines such as linguistics, sociology, and anthropology. For linguistics, the study of affect remains relatively new in spite of growing recognition of its importance, not least because language still tends to be conceptualized as a medium for cognition. Affect and cognition are often treated as separate phenomena, with the former working against the supposed proper functioning of the latter. At the same time, while disciplines such as sociology and anthropology have long given much emphasis to affect, the attention to how affect is materialized in the built environment remains a relatively new focus. In its study of semiotic landscapes, we try in the book to both accord greater recognition to the role of affect and to also show how that role can be theorized.

Ida Hoequist:   Affect theory is by no means a cohesive body of scholarship, so there is a wide and varied field of potential ways to understand what affect might be. Can you share with us how you came to the particular understanding of affect that you use for your book?

Lionel Wee and Robbie Goh: It is hard and sometimes misleading to try to go back and trace one’s scholarly influences, especially since one’s exposure to ideas and discussions with colleagues hardly ever follows a neat linear trajectory. However, works by Patricia Clough and Arlie Hochschild were important in initially shaping our ideas. These were further refined through further readings and discussions, and perhaps most importantly, our own experiences doing fieldwork as we collected data from actual landscapes.

Ida Hoequist:  Your title refers to cultural play; can you share with us how that ties into the landscapes in the book and the semiotic processes you describe?

Lionel Wee and Robbie Goh: This is an elaboration of some of the concepts commonly deployed in cultural studies, urban/cultural sociology and cultural geography.  One of the key ideas running through these fields is that space is never a blank slate, but rather the site of contestations, negotiations and influences.  These can take a myriad of forms, including spatial size, spatial design, signage, historical overtones, media representations, and so on.  Often, too, different groups will have different investments in the same site: for very young children a playground is for swinging or see-sawing, for teenagers it may be for practicing parkour moves, for pet owners it is for their pets to play, for foreign domestic workers it is a refuge from the regimentation of the households in which they work.  The play of these different structural/semiotic elements in combination with the interventions of different groups, is what creates affective regimes, and also what makes them so complex.

The bottom line is that affective regimes are not static and monologic, but rather the product of dialogical tensions and texts.

Ida Hoequist:  The concepts in this book are so eerily applicable to the currently ongoing coronavirus pandemic that they almost seem prescient. Many parts of the world right now could serve as stellar case studies for your framework — for example, the use of signs, floor markings, and barriers in grocery stores could be part of an attempt to construct an affective regime of caution. You also write about the effects of people increasingly leading their social lives in digital spaces, which people are doing now more than ever in places where social distancing is mandated. If you were to add a pandemic-focused section, what might be in it and would it prompt any changes in or expansions of your framework?

Lionel Wee and Robbie Goh: Yes, the restructuring of spaces (‘social distancing’), the introduction of fines and other penalties for non-compliance, the use of tracing apps (with concomitant privacy concerns), the gradual re-opening up of different sectors of the economy (since some spaces are more easily restructured to minimize the transmission of Covid-19 than others) – these are situations that call out for analyses along the lines we have discussed in our book. We would in any such discussion want to add a section of how to conceptualize a semiotic landscape that has been temporarily shut down or closed off. For example, a shop sign that says ‘Entrance’ is no longer operational if the entire site that the shop is part of has been shut down due to a citywide lockdown. But the sign cannot be said to have been discarded or abandoned (which would be the case if the site is slated for demolition). The communicative function of the ‘Entrance’ sign is in abeyance for the duration of the lockdown. Exactly how to theorize this is an interesting matter, and it is one that Lionel is pursuing in his latest book.

The digital mediations accelerated by Covid-19 certainly bear on many of the practices we discuss in the book, including travel, friendliness and public space, romance, and others.  One aspect that we would probably have expanded on in a pandemic-focused additional chapter, would probably be fear – how this is circulated and channeled in the absence of physical movement and a greater reliance on media.

Ida Hoequist:  It’s clear throughout the book that both of your ways of thinking, as scholars from different disciplines, are threaded through the material. Were there points that you see as being particularly enriched by your cross-disciplinary co-authorship, or points that were more complicated or challenging to work through together?

Lionel Wee and Robbie Goh: We work well together because of a mutual respect for our different disciplinary backgrounds (Lionel is a linguist and Robbie a scholar of literary/cultural studies). There was only one complication to really speak of, and that was in our different approaches to writing up the book. As a linguist, Lionel is more in the habit to constantly referring back to specific linguistic examples when discussing ideas. In contrast, Robbie is quite comfortable expounding without always making such references. This was never a major issue because drafts were being circulated back and forth between the two of us. This was a deliberate writing strategy to minimize having two otherwise distinct voices in a single book.  By the same token, it was enriching to benefit from a combination of the solid grounding in linguistic debates, with the wide range of examples and perspectives from popular culture, tourism studies and literary history (among others).

Elizabeth Fox takes the page 99 test

I have been fascinated by Mongolia’s capital city since my first visit in 2012. Despite my familiarity with the anthropological literature, on arrival in Ulaanbaatar I was utterly taken aback by the unique metropolis that greeted me, an architectural palimpsest of Mongolia’s history: steel and glass skyscrapers next to Soviet-era apartment blocks next to white felt-wrapped gers (yurts) enclosed in wooden fences. My first obsession was the footwear: every woman looked dressed to the nines, deftly navigating the pot-holed roads in heels of all heights, men striding confidently in polished leather cap toes. From that moment on, I felt driven to explore these untold aspects of Mongolia, to unearth their complexities and contradictions and to try to engage with the city as experienced by her residents.

Seven years and three degrees later I defended my PhD, a study of life in Ulaanbaatar’s “ger districts”. As I discuss on page 99 of my thesis, in 2007 the ger districts were classified by the UN as “informal settlements”. As ger districts have grown over the last thirty years to surround the city centre and spread out over the mountainsides that encircle the capital, the undeserved tag of informality – incorrectly designating the ger districts as being unplanned settlements where non-compliant housing is constructed on lands to which occupants have no legal claims (UN 2011) – has been accompanied by a scholarly approach that tends to focus on ‘lack’. Ger districts are thus usually described in terms of absent infrastructural amenities: running water, paved roads, central heating, a sewage system, effective refuse collection. Similarly, Ger district residents are often depicted as destitute, unemployed, and uneducated rural-urban migrants who have become detached from the countryside and, unable to integrate into the city, fall into a cultural and economic void.

My thesis challenges both narratives and represents the first book-length study of an Ulaanbaatar ger district based on long-term residential fieldwork. As the subheading on page 99 states, my ethnography drives the study of these areas “Beyond ‘Lack’” by engaging with the social, material, linguistic and bureaucratic infrastructures that do exist in the ger district. I explore ger district kinship networks and the enaction of relations through vocative kin term usage, I trace the flow of goods and people between country and city, the exchanges and consumption of countryside meat that connect ger district dwellers to their homelands, and I examine the daily work of local bureaucrats that render ger district lives legible to the state and define residents as deserving or not of welfare assistance. I argue that “ger districts are neither just the outcome of migration in ‘the age of the market’ [as Mongolians call the post-socialist era] nor the simple manifestation of a nomadic culture caught in the middle of a transition to urbanism” (Fox 2019: 99). Instead, I trace their peripheralization during socialism, and interweave the life histories of ger district residents with the histories of social change in Mongolia. Finally, “challenging standard conceptions of centres and peripheries by ‘thinking with’ the ger districts” (Ibid.), I disentangle approaches to urbanity that carry inherent sedentary biases from the discussion of the profound challenges ger district residents do face in their daily lives.

Fox, Elizabeth. (2019). “Between Iron and Coal: Enacting Kinship, Infrastructure and Bureaucracy in the Ger Districts of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia”. PhD Thesis. University College London.

Jasper Waugh-Quasebarth takes the p. 99 test

Opening to page 99 of Finding the Singing Spruce: Craft Labor, Global Forests, and Musical Instrument Makers in Appalachia, you’ll find my reflections on choosing apprenticeship as the ethnographic method that would fit my research questions exploring how craft labor was related to connections with forest landscapes in the mountain forests of West Virginia. While the page generally focuses on how I changed research topics to focus on the materials of craft as an entrance into the meaning of work and how I found makers (often locally famous and frequently interviewed) had ready-to-articulate ideas about their craft, one sentence stands out to speak to the whole of the dissertation.  


I found that verbal learning about the craft processes and the craft in general occurred more often in tandem with my kinesthetic, material, and temporal experience that inspired discussion not broached in our interviews.


Ethnographic apprenticeship is the methodological rock upon which the rest of the work unfolds, as the bulk of my argument is made through the narratives of building instruments with three makers. Learning the craft enabled me to feel the affect of the work: the compulsion to make despite adverse and anxiety-inducing economic conditions, the joy and frustration of intersubjective relationships emerging between skilled crafter and wood materials as successful instruments or dashed hopes, and living in the contradiction of the major paradoxes of musical instrument making. Working alongside makers enabled me to see how they live in the contradictory processes of bringing life to an instrument through the death of a tree and relying on the capitalist regimes of timber and factory production that elide the livelihoods and material necessities of craft makers. Working together on material objects also revealed other categories that rendered the work meaningful. Through long hours spent together in the shop, topics emerged that were not discussed in interviews guided by my research questions. Relationship building through apprenticeship revealed that religion was the main driver of meaning in work in one case and transnational connections between people and forest landscapes in another. While the presence of the forest and relationship to the materials was central in both cases, it was other relationships that foregrounded the meaning of the work. 


While these methods limited the scope of the dissertation, and made it difficult to speak to the extensive scale of instrument making in Appalachia, empirical discussion of the political economic context, and contrasting takes on the position of racialization and gendering, it did allow me to once explore the intricacies of the relationships between working humans and our environments, as well as position those uniquely human forms of relationship that enable us to make sense of the political, economic, and ecological webs we inhabit. 


Jasper Waugh-Quasebarth. 2019. Finding the Singing Spruce: Craft Labor, Global Forests, and Musical Instrument Makers in Appalachia. University of Kentucky, Phd.

Tanja Ahlin takes the pg. 99 test

Page 99 of my thesis is so short I can quote it here in its entirety. Here it goes:


My mother never told me
Love is a bottle of mango pickles
She used to put in my cotton bag
Every time I leave my home town

One day
Her season of mangoes ended
And never returned”


When I first read this, I thought well, this is certainly not representative of my thesis. After all, I didn’t spend the last several years analysing poetry to get a PhD in Indian literature. Rather, my study is about how care is ‘done’ in Indian transnational families. Specifically, I look at how nurses from Kerala, South India, who migrate abroad for work, take care of their aging parents who remain in India. I conducted ethnographic fieldwork by visiting Kerala and Oman as one of the nurses’ destination countries, and elsewhere via information and communication technologies (ICTs). I draw on material semiotics approach from Science and Technology Studies (STS) to analyse my data. According to this approach, ‘care’ is understood as something that people do within specific practices. Importantly, care includes not only people, but also non-human actors – in my case, everyday ICTs like mobile phones and webcams. However, these technologies are not only passive tools that people use for their own purposes; instead, they actively shape what care comes to mean and how it should be done to be considered good.

In my thesis, I show how adult children abroad, their parents in India, and various ICTs establish what I call transnational care collectives. The dynamic of these collectives (that is, which family members and which technologies are involved and how) depends on each family. Besides sending remittances to the parents, the main care practice within transnational care collectives is calling. But for this care to be considered good, some conditions have to be fulfilled: the calling needs to be frequent, too. Different devices shape frequent calling as a care practice differently: on the phone, people share everydayness by sharing the details of their everyday lives, while on the webcam, they can spend time together, sometimes by being silent. ICTs thus change what ‘good care’ comes to mean, but they further also influence how gender and kinship become enacted in new ways.

The care practices I describe are radically different from elder care that is normally considered good in India, such as living together and sharing food, practices which demand physical proximity. ICTs help to bridge geographic distance in some ways, but not in others; they may even bring about challenging situations and conflicting emotions. I felt my thesis didn’t quite do justice to the depth of experiences of the people I encountered in my fieldwork. By way of mitigating this, I added a poem as an introduction to each thesis chapter.

I now realize that no other page in my thesis could represent its core better than page 99.

Tanja Ahlin. 2020. Care through Digital Connections: Enacting Elder Care Through Everyday Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in Indian Transnational Families.  University of Amsterdam, Phd.