Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

Living and Praying in the Code: The Flexibility and Discipline of Indian Information Technology Workers (ITers) in a Global Economy

Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

Living and Praying in the Code: The Flexibility and Discipline of Indian Information Technology Workers (ITers) in a Global Economy

Article excerpt

Abstract

This paper uses Jean Comoroff's argument in Body of Power, Spirit of Resistance to reflect on the changing nature of religious practice in the contemporary world. It draws on Comaroff's method, which situates "religion" in a complex social, economic, and political field that is itself in the process of unfolding. Using Hindu practices among Indian IT workers in the diaspora as a case in point, the paper suggests that the forms of techo-scientific labor that IT workers are involved in demands certain types of religious practice that discipline mind and body. At the same time, engaging in those practices opens up challenges to dominant tropes around religious belief and worker disposition, since it creates critical spaces for reflection in the gap between religious practices, technological work, and the ideologies of transnational and national technological economies. [Keywords: India, Germany, Hinduism, Information Technology, practice]

The rhythm of Jean Comaroff's Body of Power, Spirit of Resistance is given by the and, the not only, the also; the book follows a mode of inquiry that refuses binaries, instead seeking to examine cultural conjunctions. The and marks the measure of the argument, allowing analyses to build on one another, avoiding origins and endpoints, and instead emphasizing how, in all social life, we take what is given us and re-form it, we make " reconstructions of existing reconstructions" (1985:214). Indeed, Body of Power offers us reconstruction in a double sense-it is both what Tshidi practitioners do when they remake orthodox Christianity within colonialism's contours, and it is what Comaroff is doing when she shapes the historical and ethnographic record to show how Zionism comes over time now to reinforce, now to upend colonial domination.

Though mine is a study of Hindu religious worship among Indian Information Technology workers employed abroad, I have found the method of historical, ethnographic and political analysis that Comaroff develops useful in making my arguments. It allows me to shift from thinking about the conjunction between " religion" and programming to focus on religious practices and discourses as sites where diasporic and transnational Indian IT work is embodied. I focus on how Hindu religious traditions become available to ongoing reconstruction, continually subject to reinterpretation and new mobilizations within prevailing economic and social forces as "Hindu" coders shift from one place to another.

In what follows, an historical argument shows how programming is attached to the developmental discourses of the Indian nation and how Hinduism is re-imagined as part of, rather than preceding, the identity of the nation-state. These two sets of relations, one between national identity and science and technology, and the other between national and religious identity, form the nexus in which programmers remake and reimagine Hindu practices. Most of the programmers who work in IT both in India and abroad are Hindu, upper caste, and upper class, a sociological fact that can be traced to the prevalence of elite groups in India's Institutes of Technology (IITs) and on the whole, across the university system, itself a legacy of postcolonial national policies that privileged tech- no-scientific advancement over redistribution of opportunities as the motor which would allow India to " catch up" with the west (Deshpande 2004). At the same time, in the United States and in Europe, Indian IT workers are sought-after because they can fill gaps in domestic labor markets and provide just-in-time labor for industries organized around project-based work. The labor of Indian IT workers is often understood in relation to inherited Orientalist tropes around Hindus (Inden 1990) as capable of abstraction and asceticism. From both the vector of their integration in global economies and their attachment to the Indian nation through developmentalist discourses, IT workers find that Hindu practices become sites of embodiment for both discipline within and critiques of these discourses. …

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