Paper No. 1 (2015) 1-29

Submitted: Apr. 12, 2018
Accepted: Jun. 29, 2018
Posted: Jul. 01, 2018

Introspection in Fieldwork: Ethnographic Research in Chinatown, Kolkata

Diptra Nag, Department of Anthropology, University of Heidelberg, Germany

Abstract: This article presents my introspection as a researcher studying the Chinese community in Kolkata for my PhD Thesis (to be published), and being a Bengali myself - a stand which can be dichotomous or even contradictory. Doing fieldwork in one's own community appears to be one of the popular themes of current anthropology which assures a better and 'authentic' understanding of the community and does not seem to have the baggage of judgement of an outsider. The Chinese community has been part of the city which I have known since childhood. Being a Bengali gave me the comfort and confidence of being an insider. Yet, like the larger urban Bengali society, I was aware of the presence of these communities, but at the same time, was indifferent towards the particularities. We have shared the same neighbourhood space, however from two very different socio-cultural positions. The interactions between the Chinese and the Bengali community have been sporadic, probably insufficient to generate a true interest and compassion in each other. Even now, when the Chinese community is under the limelight of the media as a disappearing community and there are news reports and documentaries, most of these are based on evoking a sense of unfamiliarity. Hailing from the Bengali community, I had to confront the stereotypical ideas about both the communities during my fieldwork and yet again discover the inevitability of interactions shaping myriad forms of cultural practices. Moreover, though the commonality between myself and the community has been the city, I could not claim this community as my own. I invariably recognized that I belong to the majority and feared that I would never be able to understand this community from the community's perspective. However, I evolved as researcher in this period when I eventually learnt and accepted that my account of the narratives of the community would invariably reflect my unique stand. This article does not conclude any final view on any community. It is rather a monologue describing the fieldwork experience while understanding my positionality.

Keywords: Ethnographic fieldwork, diaspora, community, narrative, reflexivity

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