Visualizing Migrant Labor Narratives
Project Director: Rupak Shrestha, Geography
Part of our 2022/2023 DLA Faculty Fellows Cohort
I conducted ethnographic research for this project from 2013 to 2015. This visual material that migrant workers collaboratively create in Kathmandu, Nepal, has remained mostly in my own archives so far. I propose to rethink this project so that the rich visual material from the project is available for public access. This project is pertinent in the contemporary moment – leading up to the World Cup in Qatar later this year – as many of the migrant laborers who I spoke to had dreams and hopes to migrate transnationally to the Arab states of the Persian Gulf for labor.
In short, the project studies the everyday social and political challenges faced by brick factory migrant workers who are continuously pushed through economic and extra-economic means towards the periphery of national and transnational spaces of labor. Uneven development compels people to migrate from rural parts of Nepal to urban spaces for employment. Such mobility – mostly conceived as economic, but also gendered, political and social – produces social, political and economic impacts on migrant livelihoods.
During field research, I employed ethnographic methods of semi-structured interviews and participant observation. In addition, migrants used disposable cameras to capture photos as a means of narrating their everyday lived experiences of belonging in the city.
As part of this year’s DLA fellowship, I plan to digitize the disposable camera photographs. I will then use either Adobe Illustrator (or another platform) to juxtapose the photographs that the migrants took with excerpts from their interviews. I will then collate the final products and critical reflections from this project into an interactive visual web-based platform. As such, the task is to reformulate the project by emphasizing on theory-making from the visual data itself.
I plan on integrating this research work into my pedagogy at Macalester by incorporating components of the research process in my Visual Storytelling and Politics of South Asia courses in the Fall 2022 and Borders and Belonging course in the Spring 2023. My training in DLA practices over the next year will prepare me well to facilitate student learning on the digital and visual ways in which to know about the world. This will provide an opportunity for students to engage in critical theory through digital learning practices. The learning objective is to have students engage in forms of data critique and analysis of secondary data. In that regard, in my Visual Storytelling course, I plan on workshopping these visual materials with my students to create codes and themes for further analysis.
At a larger scale, I am designing the Visual Storytelling course (ANTH/GEOG/MCST 394) where students can incorporate DLA components into their course projects. Students will primarily work on semester-long projects in the Twin Cities by making still or moving images which we will collaboratively publish for public access after the course is completed – and hopefully a pop-up exhibition at Mac.
I am excited to join the DLA Faculty Fellows 22/23 and learn from cohort conversations as well as tools and resources available through the DLA at Macalester to jumpstart my project and teaching practices.