Translating Ethical Gestures: Notes on Language from Ethnographic Practice
This is an academic talk hosted online by the JHI Working Group on Tamil Studies at the University of Toronto.
Important ethical acts are often accomplished in short stretches of language. In interactional settings, word choices, substitutions, juxtapositions, and avoidances can perform acts of care, signal inclusion, communicate ethical stances, and keep open or foreclose possibilities for relationality. This talk explores the pleasures and challenges of getting at the ethical surround of such interactional speech in ethnographic settings. Based on his ethnographic fieldwork with thirunangai-maruladis (thirunangai trans women committed to ecstatic devotion to the goddess) in Chennai, India, Vasudevan’s talk will explore both the ethical accomplishments of everyday Tamil speech among his thirunangai interlocutors as well as the scales of social context that come into play. How do people seize the ethical affordances of situations they encounter and the language that is available to them? What happens when they fail to do so, or think they have failed to do so? Do particular words and expressions shimmer with ethical significance? What kinds of translation can help us see the ethical labor our interlocutors do with language? The talk will explore such questions through ethnographic vignettes.
Dr. Aniruddhan Vasudevan is a sociocultural anthropologist whose research focuses on the intersections of gender and sexuality, religion, and ethics of relationality and care. He is also a translator of celebrated works of fiction by Tamil authors Ambai and Perumal Murugan. He is currently a Link-Cotsen Postdoctoral Fellow in the Society of Fellows and Lecturer in the Council of the Humanities and Anthropology at Princeton University.
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