Poetic Arrivals and Departures: Bodying the Ethnographic Field in Verse

Devika Chawla


For decades, social research has engaged the "linguistic turn," which was considered revolutionary in the ways that scholars began to reframe reality, knowledge, and representation. Among ethnographers, this turn was robustly embraced, especially at the level of intersubjectivity, reflexivity, and positionality in field practices. More recently, the performance paradigm reframed the field, the ethnographer, and her participants as embodied persons and places with bodied terrains and topographies. In my recent ethnographic life history study about Indian women's experiences in Hindu arranged marriages, I entered my field equipped theoretically with some knowledge of and keen awareness about the positional and performative contingencies that would unravel in the field because I was working with women who had made very disparate choices from my own. However, when it arrived, my own crisis of representation was material, textual, epistemological, and theoretical. My experiences in the field radically reconfigured my relationship to ethnographic representation—the textual, the performed, and the performative. In this paper, I show my arrivals and departures in and out of theory, text, and performance as I re-envision my fieldwork as a site of bodied and embodied "material performances"—both my own and my participants'. I turn specifically to a symbolic analysis of a poem, which came upon me during fieldwork in the form of a performance text. I refer to this poem as a sideways mystory which in its poetic form allowed me to shift from an interpreter of tales to a cultural critic who wants to uncover hidden truths and provoke the audience to think about complex realities and act.
URN: urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0802248


performativity; ethno-poetics; performance ethnography; representation

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17169/fqs-9.2.382

Copyright (c) 2008 Devika Chawla

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