Mumbai slums and the search for 'a heart': ethics, ethnography and dilemmas of studying urban violence


  • Atreyee Sen SOAS, University of London



In this article, I have explored some of the methodological problems faced by anthropologists when they conduct fieldwork in volatile ethnographic settings. My own fieldwork was based in the slums of Mumbai, one of the commercial capitals of India, where working-class women had allied themselves with a violent, Hindu nationalist movement. The ‘fundamentalist’ women, who had organised themselves into a miltant, semi-religious task force, played a vital role in orchestrating urban riots. While living and working with these women, I found myself a helpless, often frightened bystander to various forms of factional ‘war’. Would, should, could I prevent this overt use of violence and threats? That was always my primary dilemma. The eerie spectre of ethics continued to haunt my work during the writing-up stage, even though I was far, far away from my killing fields. In this article, I have tried to highlight and address some of the dilemmas of studying urban conflict, in a bid to emotionally equip future research scholars studying the anthropology of violence.

Author Biography

Atreyee Sen, SOAS, University of London

Atreyee Sen is part-time lecturer and post-doctoral research assistant at SOAS, University of London. She has recently completed her PhD dissertation entitled ‘Women and Communal Violence in India: A Countervictimology; A Case Study of Hindu Fundamentalist Women in Maharashtra’. Her areas of interest are gender, children, migration and communal conflict in South Asia