BIO: Veena Das is an anthropologist and gender theorist. She has written extensively on violence, particularly with regard to the generative nature of the discourse (both academic and colloquial) around violence. Her ethnographic work is considered ‘autoethnographic’ to the extent that it is largely based in her native India. Das’ ethnography, Life and Words, considers the relationship between gender and political violence, and the formation of subjectivities. Rather than analyze ‘spectacular’ or extra-ordinary locations of dialectical relations in India and Pakistan, she focuses on everyday lived experiences and their influences in moving ethnography away from binary discussions of victims and perpetrators. Instead, this descent into the ordinary lived experiences of her interlocutors encourages theoreticians to consider subjects as simultaneously powerful and vulnerable.
Das has been Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of Anthropology at the John Hopkins University since 2000, and she serves on the Executive Board of the Institute of Socio-Economic Research on Development and Democracy in India. She has also taught at the University of Delhi and at the New School for Social Research.
Violence, Language, Body, Voice, Suffering, Pain, Witnessing, Sovereignty, and Nationalism.
Some questions to help us critically engage our reading of Life and Words:
1. What form(s) of “resistance” does Das explicate in this text?
2. How does the act of “witnessing” relate to notions of “voice” and “silence” in the text in relation to Das’ experiences attempting to document the narratives of women affected by the Partition?
3. What is the significance of Fatherhood, Husbandry in the formations of India and Pakistan—and to a larger extent, the nature of Sovereignty, according to Das?
4. Is violence always gendered? What different forms of violence does Das bring to bear in her ethnography?
5. What is “pain” or the experiences of “pain” in the context of imagination and corporeality (i.e., Chapter 3)? Is there a gendered division of these experiences?