CISA Feature Speaker: Dr. Dolly Kikon on ““Are you still studying?” Anthropology, Decolonization, and Practice

CISA Feature Speaker: Dr. Dolly Kikon on ““Are you still studying?” Anthropology, Decolonization, and Practice

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

3:00 PM - 4:00 PM (Pacific Time)

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My mother left her village in the Naga Hills as a young girl. She walked for two days to enroll in an American missionary school in Assam. During the holidays, she worked as a nanny in her aunty’s home. Eventually, she dropped out of college to raise her family. She has always been curious about the academic world I navigate. Blending an account of my mother’s life with my own relationship to human rights movements in India, this talk situates how our life experiences shape the kind of anthropology we do. I explore the actions, duties, and ethics of anthropology and dwell on what it means to be accountable while reproducing entitlement and privilege as anthropological knowledge? 

In recent years, graduate students have asked me how I connect my research work with ‘other things.’ There is a particular tone of urgency to this question in these times. How do we situate anthropological experiences such that they can make an ‘impact’ during precarious times? Conversations and engagement with ‘other things’ like human rights movement and the anti-racist/anti-casteist movement in India made me aware about caste, race, and power. Adivasi/indigenous and Dalit scholars represents the margins, worlds on the edges. What happens when their knowledge and intimate experience of violence are devalued and categorized as a minority experience? What do we erase, reject, and silence, and why? Are anthropology and the academy in general accomplices in rationalizing epistemic violence? What does it mean to “observe” today? What tools and ethnographic methods allow us to grief, rage, and heal?  

My mother sees my life as intertwined with anthropology. Fifteen years ago, I left her behind and set off for my ethnographic fieldwork. It became a journey to create something - perhaps a collaborative inclusive world - to call and cite names, spirits, and truths from a past long forgotten, and claim their relevance today. In search of new ethnographic forms, I join fellow anthropologists and other scholars who are experimenting and meditating to adopt emancipatory pedagogical approaches. By dwelling on my mother’s query, “Are you still studying?”, I offer my reflections on the limits, visions, and ability of the ethnographer to create and participate in productive actions and debates.   


Dr. Dolly Kikon, is a Senior Lecturer in the Anthropology and Development Studies Program at the University of Melbourne. She received my PhD from the Department of Anthropology at Stanford University in 2013, and was a Post-Doctoral fellow at the Department of Social Anthropology at Stockholm University from 2013-2015. Prior to that she received my Bachelors in Law (LLB) from the Faculty of Law at University of Delhi in 2001 and practised in the Supreme Court of India and the Gauhati High Court in Assam. Her legal advocacy work and research continue to focus on land ownership and resource management in Northeast India, including extra constitutional regulations like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (1958).

She is the Senior Research Associate (SRA) at the Australia India Institute and host the Melbourne Researchers in Focus Conversation series. She also serve on the Council of Advisors for The India Forum.

Her research focuses on resource extraction, militarisation, development, human rights, migration, gender, and political economy.





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Sponsor(s): Center for India and South Asia

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