Muscular India: Masculinity, Mobility and the New Middle Class

My current research at the Max Planck Institute stems from my most recent book, Muscular India: Masculinity, Mobility and the New Middle Class (2020), an ethnographic study of lower-middle-class men who, employed as fitness trainers and competing in bodybuilding and modeling competitions, use their bodies to muscle their way up the middle-class ladder. Muscular India explores this topic with a focus on caste and class, changing gender relations in urban space, new ideals of the male body and its associated masculinity, and desire and sexuality. At the MPI, I will continue working on this topic, focusing specifically on new middle-class formations in urban India, the growth of the male sex work and pornography industries in India, and current developments of Indian masculinities.

Muscular India draws inspiration from various other research projects. The first examined skilled migrants from India in Singapore and explored the way they engage with and negotiate the structural constraints imposed by Singapore’s migration regime. A related project looked at the migration industry in India itself and the way agents and brokers facilitate an outflow of skilled workers to the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Both projects took inspiration from my doctoral research, which mapped the trajectories of Indian student-migrants in Australia. These projects share a concern with new forms of migration that often represent a confluence of various life objectives, something that skilled migration programs in receiving countries profit from but also struggle to regulate, as the cases of Australia, Singapore, South Korea, and more recently Japan show.

Future Project: CrAItivity: Towards an Anthropology of Artificial Intelligence

Moving forward, my latest project will return the site of my field research on the local and global intersections in the lives of IT professionals in Bangalore, India. Through multi-sited fieldwork in India and Sri Lanka, I aim to develop an anthropology of artificial intelligence (AI). Taking into account the overwhelming tech-driven approach to AI-technologies, their funding through transnationally operating companies, and the underlying physics, this project will explore the impact of AI on human-centered agency and creativity.

Based on ethnographic fieldwork among programmers/developers, artists and activists, the project will investigate what artificial intelligence entails for actors, agency, and creativity. Taking up the long-standing structure–agency debate in anthropology, a key question of this research will be how different actors engage with questions of cultural/social bias. The envisaged anthropological field of this project will comprise both offline (non-tech) and online (tech) spheres.

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