Meet the Fellows: 2015 Newcombe Fellow Sean Dowdy

field work

This is one of a series of posts featuring Fellows from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation network.

Sean Dowdy grew up on a small farm in central Illinois where, he says, he and his brother had to get creative in order to make the dull prairie life interesting. The new Newcombe Fellow and University of Chicago anthropology doctoral candidate is now applying that creative delight to his research:

Anthropologists like to talk about how boring ethnographic fieldwork can be… I have to confess that my fieldwork was anything but. … My dissertation—and mLondon1y participation in the Society for Ethnographic Theory—are informed, in part, by a joy of enchantment. Such a joy is not driven by the romantic or exotic imagination, but by the need to look beyond the narrow expectations of human activity, beyond utility and strategies for survival, in order to allow the world to surprise us in all of its weirdness and complexity… [This photo comes from] the 2014 Guxai Uliuwa (“Coming out of the Gods”) ritual of the Mayong kingdom in Assam—here on the 3rd and final day in Burha Mayong village. Among other things, this is an annual three-day rite of kingship occurring in coincidence with the Assamese New Year (Bohag Bihu). Over the three days, the king of Mayong—and his four junior kings—are deified and worshipped as they bring out the five tutelary deities of Mayong for processions throughout the kingdom and all of its ethnic enclaves. I am marching/dancing with the Karbi community of Burha Mayong who I lived with when I conducted my research… My own description and analysis of the ritual takes up the first 50 pages of my dissertation. This ritual not only illuminates features of kingship and sorcery at the heart of my ethnography, but also grounds my analysis by dramatically exemplifying the multi-ethnic history of the Mayong kingdom.

Mr. Dowdy’s dissertation explores kingship, sorcery, and the ethical arts of account keeping in Mayong (Assam, Northeast India).


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