Reimagining Livelihoods: An Ethnographic Inquiry into Anticipation, Agency, and Reflexivity as India’s Impact Ecosystem Responds to Post-Pandemic Rebuilding

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The COVID19 induced lockdown in India and consequent migration of workers severely affected the economy. When the migrants returned to urban areas, newer challenges surfaced around the scale and nature of jobs on offer, as well as the skills and aspirations of workers. In this paper, we follow a social impact project focused on livelihoods and post pandemic rebuilding, to explore the trails of ethnography and how its engagement along multiple networks shapes its possibilities as a research method that helps foreground emic perspectives. In doing so, we analyse agencies and social relations from the field, and their role in shaping project imaginaries. Anchored in original, long-term participatory ethnographic research, our paper thinks alongside Appadurai (2013) to surmise that anticipation is imbricated in the coming together of a grounds-up ‘ethics of possibility’ and a top-down ‘ethics of probability’. Importantly, we turn to Actor-Network Theory as a framework to understand the multiple assemblages in our research field which (continue to) challenge existing knowledge practices and open up new lines of inquiry for ascertaining emergent areas of research and innovation. Such coeval realisations of aspirations and resources are evidenced on multiple occasions as we engage with designers, skilling experts, entrepreneurs, and technologists. These range from beauticians in peri urban areas following the country's leading Instagram influencers to keep themselves abreast of the latest trends in metropolitan cities as a way of compressing spatial and temporal barriers (Field Notes 2020), to delivery boys who found meaning in working as gig-workers even though it implied precarity, and telemedicine entrepreneurs who realized that factoring in the social (of community health workers who they worked with) in the sense of integrating biomedical responses to the pandemic was essential for the success of their technological interventions (Field Notes 2021; Burgess and Horii 2012). Thus, our paper argues that future making as at once a means and an end is ‘not just a technical or neutral space’ but a ‘cultural fact’ (Appadurai 2013). Article citation: 2021 EPIC Proceedings pp 259–281, ISSN 1559-8918,

Keywords: Livelihoods, Anticipation, Reflexivity, Ethnography, Emic, Future-making

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