My research interests include climate change and the environment; the history of oceanic exploration and discovery; the anthropology of science; Nepal and the Himalaya; music and performance; and religious experience and religiosity in South Asia.
My doctoral research used the affect of hope to examine the lives of the Gāine, a community of traditionally itinerant musicians in Nepal who now engage in a variety of menial jobs and survival tactics to cope with financial hardship and political instability. This research culminated in "Hope's Harvest: Tactics of Survival Among the Gāine of Nepal," which I am now developing as a manuscript for publication. The Gāine were my primary collaborators for my films and videos, from Kāle and Kāle to MANAKAMANA, and their concerns guided much of my filmmaking practice. In Nepal the Gāine are prominent in urban tourist areas and bazaars, where they wander (ghumna jāne) in search of patrons while playing music. This movement through the city and market is routinized and structures their otherwise unstructured days as unemployed dalits (“untouchables”), and helps to create a sense of mobility, possibility, and change, in spite of the lack of opportunities for advancement.
My book-in-progress asks how hope sustains people when options and resources are limited, if not exhausted. Specifically, it examines how everyday rituals enact or embody hopefulness as the Gāine eke out a living and strive to maintain dignity in a state of long-term provisionality, uncertainty, and frequent humiliation. Hope is conceptualized as affect and method; a way of knowing, imagining, and re-envisioning present conditions. Collective as well as individual, it is a powerful undercurrent in social aesthetics, the sensuous and aesthetic environment that makes social life sensible. I am interested in how hopefulness and social aesthetics are embodied, improvised, and made legible in two categories of practice amongst the Gāine: wandering, the art of walking and playing music for potential patrons in urban Nepal; and what they call “time pass,” a category of activity that encompasses smoking cigarettes, playing cards, gossiping, and singing, to name a few. Mobility in my project is physically grounded in the micro-practice of urban wandering as it feeds the imagination and enables the Gāine to continue in spite of an inability to advance beyond their limited conditions. They frequently refer to the ground they tread as the āśakhetī, “hope’s harvest,” as a way of designating a realm of opportunity, in which to both make a living and make life worth living. I map the kinds of action that demonstrate how hope orients a people toward the future and the mechanisms — social, cultural, political, personal — that enable its persistence.
As a filmmaker I have sought to challenge perceptions of the exotic other through an approach to filmmaking that focuses on the grit of my film subjects’ everyday lives, an orientation that grows directly from my training in social anthropology. Drawing from many years of fieldwork, I have made five films in Nepal, frequently in demanding production conditions—shooting in rice paddies, mountainous environments, and the confines of small village homes, as well as a film ten weeks at sea in the Pacific and Indian Ocean aboard an industrial scientific drilling ship. I shoot and edit all of my films and, for conceptual as well as aesthetic reasons, often choose to construct them from long camera takes to evoke a sense of duration, restoring them to the fabric of the environments and temporality indexed in the original, unedited recordings. In my work I aim to draw the viewers’ attentions to the construction of the film while creating deeply empathetic portraits of my subjects, without resorting to idealization or generalization.