Allocco presents “Shifting Technologies of Reflection” in the symposium that she co-convened at the Annual Conference on South Asia

Allocco worked with Dr. Jennifer Ortegren (Middlebury College) to organize the full-day symposium, “Shifting Sites, Spaces and Selves: Analyzing Ethnographic Practices in South Asia Over Time,” which included 13 presenters and attracted a robust audience.

Amy Allocco, an associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies and the director of Elon’s Multifaith Scholars program, recently co-convened a full-day symposium in Madison, Wisconsin, at the 48th Annual Conference on South Asia, an interdisciplinary South Asian studies conference that attracts 1100 scholars annually.

Amy Allocco, professor of religious studies and director of the Multifaith Scholars program

Allocco worked with Jennifer D. Ortegren of Middlebury College to organize the symposium, “Shifting Sites, Spaces and Selves: Analyzing Ethnographic Practices in South Asia Over Time,” which included 13 presenters and attracted a robust audience.

The daylong session brought together a diverse group of ethnographers of South Asian religions and cultures to present papers and engage in focused discussion about shifts in ethnographic methods over the past four decades. Comprised of scholars at different career stages, this symposium generated insights about the changing nature of ethnographic research in a rapidly developing South Asia. Particular attention was paid throughout the day to how different disciplinary emphases inform approaches to the “field;” the challenges posed by relocating to new fieldsites; the demands of defining, constructing, and representing one’s identity/identities in varied contexts; and the benefits and detriments of the increasing presence of technology, which mediate fieldwork situations, relationships, and reflections in and on the field.

Presenters raised questions about how gender, race, ethnicity, economic privilege, and other forms of difference shape positionality and the construction of a self-in-relation. Several addressed the ethical demands produced by interpenetrations of “home” and “the field,” analyzing how increasingly porous boundaries create both new opportunities and challenges. Multiple papers reflected on how technology both expands and constrains access to and the production of ethnographic knowledge in its embodied and written forms.

Central to these discussions was the role of new media in shaping objects of study (such as pilgrimage sites, religious communities, and textual traditions), catalyzing innovative field methodologies, and opening up possibilities for new ethnographic “texts,” such as virtual villages and real-time, collaborative, and open-access projects.

Allocco’s own paper, “Shifting Technologies of Reflection: Gendered Realities, Everyday Religion and Lessons for Feminist Mentoring,” surveyed the archive of field-writing that she has amassed during nearly 25 years of study and research in a single region of India, from traditional fieldnotes to handwritten letters, creative essays, emails, voice memos, and visual fieldnotes. Allocco analyzed these diverse sources—what she called the “technologies of reflection”—for the glimpses of everyday religion, urban life, and gendered social relations they offer and she read into their silences to contemplate the pedagogical and mentoring lessons they hold.

The symposium was honored to include the celebrated anthropologist, Ann Grodzins Gold, who recently retired from Syracuse University as Thomas J. Watson Professor of Religion and professor of anthropology. Gold’s paper, “Old Fieldwork, New Memories, Mixed Feelings,” reflected on letters written during her doctoral research in India between 1979 and 1981 and traced three themes: material that was utterly familiar because it found its way into Gold’s subsequent publications, matters that she had suppressed or forgotten, and discussions she described as “fieldwork as life itself,” brimming with ordinary and extraordinary everyday experiences. Allocco brought Gold to speak at Elon about her fieldwork in northwestern India in 2015 when Gold was a fellow at the National Humanities Center and a Guggenheim Fellow.

Allocco and Ortegren are now in conversation with several journal editors about publishing select papers from their recent symposium as part of a special, guest-edited issue.