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Unfinished Yarn: Work, Technology, and the Ethical Subject in Kolkata


This dissertation explores jute life and community through the repair and reworking of old and analog machines. This, I claim, has given rise to particular brands of microlocal or community practices and politics, including craft revival, tensions between the “body mechanic” and the “fragmented mechanic,” repair and reuse as ethical work, strategies of dealing with “gray” infrastructure, “proverbial ethics,” and “pension politics,” which are different from the politics of unions and the “seamless” production theories of industrial capitalism as well as global capitalism. In short, the dissertation uses the idea of the local, tied to vernacular forms of thought, action, interaction, and interruption, to give a sense of shared values and tensions between individuals and the community in working neighborhoods. The community adapts to the ideas of recycling, flexibility, improvisation, and mobility, redefining the “fields of practice” in the domain of work and everyday life.

The five chapters of the dissertation trace the material culture of jute from medieval to neoliberal times. I begin with the many local narratives of raw jute or pāṭ and jute handicrafts or pāṭshilpa, overlooked in most studies of jute. This grounds the ethnography of (machine)-woven jute or choṭ and the jute industry or choṭshilpa in the first section, “Jute Works.” The section begin with the total works, then moves in to focus on one machine, the hāti kal (elephant machine), and finally one tiny pinion of this machine. Moving out again from the jute works to “Jute Publics,” the last two chapters explore the spaces and circuits of the mohallā (neighborhood/community) bazaar and mohallā politics in the context of nonelite globalizations.

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