Dr. Arnaud Kaba (Fellow, CeMIS, Göttingen )

Of Glass, Skills and Life: Representations of Work and Popular Urban Cultures Among Firozabad’s Glass Workers

9 September 2019 – 1 April 2020

The fellowship has been firstly used to put in motion the first phase of my research project on Firozabad’s glass workers. I did fieldwork in-between the colloquia and despise it got cut a little bit by the corona crisis, I was able to do a bit more than two months of fieldwork which were very intensive because thanks to the fellowship, I could hire Dr Shanka Gowda as a field assistant and also some transcribers, so we could focus on making contacts and making the maximum of interviews.

I may have been a little bit ambitious when I said in the project that I would collect around 100 life narratives. But we were able to collect at least 45 narratives, from which 35 only were really good. But we have continued the fieldwork during the Covid and made 16 additional interviews that are not really narratives, but helped us to understand better the setting and how people in Firozabad were facing the Covid crisis. Another 25 interviews have to be done between now and the month of September. We also did a lot of observation, I collected around 2500 pictures, from which around 500 are actually good, and dozens of videos. I also had a video project with Pascal Bernhart, a video maker from Genova. We wanted to make the movie on the two last weeks of my fellowship but he was blocked by the Italian lockdown. But in another hand, it is maybe good that the movie was postponed because I got much more references on how to visualize anthropology of techniques, and we are now contesting to a French fellowship for the documentaries, deadline September, the 15th, and making the 15 pages application project is forcing us to design the project in a much more structured fashion.

Regarding the proper scientific content of the project, this frst fieldwork was very encouraging, giving very good elements on:

  • The historical and technological setting of Firozabad’s glass industry, mixing low techs and high techs
  • The stakes of transmission and retention of knowledge between communities
  • The mapping of the city and even of connected cities like Purdil Nagar, Moradabad, Tundla, regarding glassworks as a socio technical system that connects places, people and interrelated but yet different types of glassworks
  • The first steps on an ethnohistory of glassworks in UP
  • The isolation of the free, traveling cartsman’s figure that can be found in Indian as well as in European contexts of glasswork
  • The idea, suggested by Shail, to make a global history of glass, which led me to change my topic to present, for the CNRS, a project on a eurasiatic anthropology of glass, by connecting diverse glass producting regions (North India, Istanbul, Venetto), by fluxes of capital and knowledge.
  • Another essential point was the richness of the colloquia, of the collaboration with the Thematic Module’s supervisors, especially Chitra Joshi and Prabhu Mohapatra which I would like to warmly thank, but also the very fruitful exchanges with all the other fellows.

Bio:

Arnaud Kaba After a Phd in social Anthropology at the EHESS on Bhopal’s metal workers and their working cultures, Arnaud Kaba did a DAAD post doc at the CeMIS, Göttingen,  continuated by a short-term fellowship at the ICAS:MP, extended at the Max-Weber Kolleg, Erfurt. He then turns on a South Asian and Eurasiatic anthropology of glass, exploring how fluxes of knowledge and capital are shaping the cultures of glassmakers within space and time. He is now keeping up with this project on a Fritz-Thyssen fellowship based at the CeMIS, Göttingen.

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