Making the ‘Other’ Visible in Ethnographic Research

Reflections through the Lens of Caste and Gender, from a Non-Metropolitan City in West Bengal, India

  • Ekata Bakshi PhD candidate, Jawaharlal Nehru University, India
Keywords: ethnography, visibilizing the Other, privilege, self-reflexivity, relational methodology


This paper is an attempt to reflect on my academic journey with regard to the ethico-political and methodological challenges in researching the ‘Other(s).’ The scholarship on the memories of Partition from West Bengal, India (1947) in particular and South Asia in general show that so far the dominant narrative erased markers such as caste, gender and so on in order to foreground a homogenous refugee identity. Thus, I took the hitherto ‘invisibilized’ lower-caste/outcaste (Dalit/Bahujan) women situated in Asansol—a non-metropolitan city in Bengal, where erstwhile rural, Partition-migrants from government camps were rehabilitated to support its industrial development by providing cheap labor—as my protagonists, to rethink the Partition.

However, for such an exercise, the question that became ethically and methodologically crucial was how an academic enterprise by an upper-caste woman, enabled by the consumption of devalued, feminized labor of mostly women from lower-caste/outcaste (Dalit/Bahujan) groups, can seek to ethically understand such lives. Subsequently, in tracing some of the possible answers, in this paper, I argue against a simplistic deployment of self-reflexivity as a method. I propose taking a relational approach that posits not only the upper-caste and lower/outcaste femininity as co-constituted but also the researcher–researched relationship as an extension of that co-constitution. Taking research work as labor that is enabled by other kinds of (in)visible, (un)paid, (de)valued, caste-based labor as an entry point, I seek to further unpack such co-constitution.