Enduring Cancer (Duke University Press, forthcoming July 2020)
My book manuscript - Concealing Cancer - explores the experience of cancer amongst the urban poor in India. Unfinished Lives develops a year of ethnographic fieldwork in hospitals, NGOs and the homes of patients in and around Delhi. Building on this fieldwork, I show how practices of concealments, secrecy and silence fold cancer into pre-existing vulnerabilities of poverty, fractured kinship and a failing public health system.
Cancer, when it appears in conditions of precarity, puts further pressure on already strained social relations, testing its already frayed edges for strength. Consequently, living with cancer entails living with a pervasive doubt and skepticism about the viability of social relations within which the disease is embedded. In this space, my interlocutors experimented with multiple, even contradictory strategies to negotiate this doubt, never quite dispelling it, but aiming to keep at bay its capacity to overwhelm.
The concern of this book then is to describe such experiments with doubt and skepticism to make cancer livable, even for a short while, under conditions of pre-existing duress. In the chapters that follow, I thematize this doubt immanent to the experience of cancer across three social fields: the problem of cancer pain, the imperative to conceal cancer diagnoses, and the disease’s aesthetic narrativization in Indian films and memoir.
Across each of these fields, I describe the strategies of those living with or alongside the disease to manage these deficits in trust. When successful, these strategies to overcome such deficits led to expansive possibilities of empathy. When doubt proved too resilient to overcome, it clouded social relations with threats of misrecognition. Most often however, doubts and skepticisms were rarely ever fully resolved. Consequently, empathy and misrecognition, tended to follow each other closely in their tracks, braiding together care and violence to the point of their indistinguishability.
(w. Jacob Copeman, Cornell University Press, 2019)
Hematologies examines how the giving and receiving of blood has shaped social and political life in north India in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
Across a range of field sites, we trace how the substance congeals political ideologies, biomedical rationalities and activist practice. From anti-colonial appeals to blood sacrifice as a political philosophy to contemporary portraits of political leaders drawn with blood, from the use of the substance by Bhopali children as activist material to biomedical anxieties and aporias about the excess and lack of donation, we show how tracing a 'bloodscape of difference' in the Indian body politic offers new entryways into thinking about politics and economy: different sovereignties, different proportionalities, different temporalities.
In a new project, I continue to examine the sociopolitical life of postcolonial India, while shifting my focus away from health and medicine and towards computing technoscience. This project is supported by the SHASS Levitan Prize.
Contemporary scholarly and popular narratives about computing in India suggest that even as India supplies cheap IT labor to the rest of the world, the country lags behind in basic computing research and development. The more generous of these accounts suggest that India is beginning to ‘catch up’ with the developed world. This perception fuels two further assumptions. First, that Indian technology workers are low-skilled and not innovative, leading to fears that Indian firms are abusing visa programs. Second, that for decades India has been stealing rather than developing computing-related intellectual property. My new project challenges these representations by exploring a long-ignored postcolonial history of indigenous computing in India from the 1950s to the present.In presenting this account, I urge social science research to take account of global histories of computing, which have predominantly focused on Europe and the United States.
The project traces major shifts in the relation between the Indian state and computing research and practice. In the first decades after India’s independence, the postcolonial state sought to develop indigenous computing expertise and infrastructure by creating public institutions of research and education, simultaneously limiting private enterprise. When IBM bypassed some of these barriers and became a dominant firm in the region, it was expelled for a brief period by the Indian government. However, after economic liberalization in the 1980s, a transformed Indian state gave up its protectionist outlook and began to court global corporations, giving rise to the new paradigm of ‘outsourcing’.
Why and how did the early postcolonial vision of publicly driven computing research and development decline? What were the historical processes that led to a present in which the Indian government sees its role as brokering the entry of global firms, a move that has led to growing fears of a new ‘tech colonization’ amongst activist critics? More broadly, if the early postcolonial state imagined development through the state-sponsored growth of indigenous computing, the contemporary state imagines development through a diffusion of Silicon Valley corporations. What have been the successes and failures of each vision of mobilizing technoscience for national development?