An interview with Radhika Govindrajan
Our guest this week is Radhika Govindrajan, Associate Professor in Anthropology at the University of Washington. Radhika’s research is motivated by a longstanding interest in understanding how human relationships with nonhumans in South Asia are variously drawn into and shape broader issues of cultural, political, and social relevance: religious nationalism; elite projects of environmental conservation and animal-rights; everyday ethical action in a time of environmental decline; and people’s struggle for social and political justice in the face of caste discrimination, patriarchal domination, and state violence and neglect. Radhika’s first book, Animal Intimacies (University of Chicago Press, 2018; Penguin Random House India 2019) is an ethnography of multispecies relatedness in the Central Himalayan state of Uttarakhand in India. It was awarded the 2017 American Institute of Indian Studies Edward Cameron Dimock Prize in the Indian Humanities and the 2019 Gregory Bateson Prize, by the Society for Cultural Anthropology. Radhika’s research has featured in anthropological and inter-disciplinary journals including HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, American Ethnologist, and Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Radhika received the Exemplary Cross-Field Scholarship Award in the General Anthropology Division for her article ““The Goat That Died for Family”: Animal Sacrifice and Interspecies Kinship in India's Central Himalayas” and the Junior Scholar Award from the Anthropology and Environment Society for her article “Monkey Business” in 2015.
Hello, Radhika, and thanks for joining me at morethanhumanworlds.com. As a cultural anthropologist, you work across the fields of multispecies ethnography, environmental anthropology, the anthropology of religion, South Asian Studies, and political anthropology. Could you tell us how you came to be interested in these domains and their intersections?
Your first book, Animal Intimacies (University of Chicago Press, 2018; Penguin Random House India 2019), builds on extensive ethnographic fieldwork in the mountain villages of India’s Central Himalayas and explores the number of ways that human and animal interact to cultivate relationships as interconnected, related beings. What insights and challenges did you encounter in researching and writing about human-animal relations in Uttarakhand –methodologically, empirically, and/or theoretically?
You are currently working on three research projects. One of these new projects draws on ethnographic and archival work in Uttarakhand to explore how democratic politics in contemporary India is being constituted anew through emergent discourses and practices of more-than-human sociality, relationality and responsibility. What cultural continuities and changes have you identified in these emergent discourses and practices, and to what extent do particular plants and animals figure within them?
In a recent Members’ Voices post in the Society for Cultural Anthropology’s Fieldsights, you reflect on the commitments to ethics, justice, and politics that undergird and drive your scholarship. In this reflection, you draw from the discourses and practices of plains people (Pahari) in Uttarakhand to foreground human-animal relations as “unjust, uninnocent, but also fractured, and open to contestation.” And yet love, intimacy, and care are also central to these relations. In this light, what insights do Pahari perspectives offer for imagining and enacting justice beyond the human, or multispecies justice?
Finally, Radhika, what advice would you give to scholars interested in studying more-than-human worlds?
“Through it all, don’t lose sight of power, where it is concentrated, and how it moves through and across species lines.”