Sympoetics of Place and the Red Dust of India

  • Alex Berry


Experimenting with forms that lie outside the boundaries of traditional ethnographic research, in this paper I think with Haraway’s (2016) notion of sympoiesis as a platform to reimagine my engagements with place after recently returning home from my pedagogical work as visiting artist-researcher-teacher at a school in Goa, India. I imagine sympoetics as methodological engagement that conceives poetry, not as a purely individual, reflective practice, but rather a co-compositional performance that attends to the polymorphic, often contradictory relations of humans and materials as they are entwined with place. Following the ephemeral movements of India’s red dust, I attend to the intersections of seemingly disparate materials, specifically a child’s pencil and waste materials, and the ways in which they gather meaning together/apart among local/global red dust assemblages. By highlighting and decentering colonial undertones in ethnographic methodology with children and attending closely to anticolonial stories told through my relations with the red dust of India, this paper works to both sit with—and stir up—discomfort, toward more complex, contentious, and responsive accountabilities with place. Using sympoetics to trace the movements and impermanence of red dust, this performance is intentionally partial and aims to situate research in the midst of “not yet” and unknowability.

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