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When Work is Worship: Technology, Labor and the Figure of Vishwakarma—“Maker of the Universe”
March 5, 2019 @ 5:00 pm - 7:00 pm
Although Vishwakarma worship in India has long been associated with hereditary artisan castes and their hand tools, his presence has moved beyond crafts workshops and into workplaces associated with the country’s infrastructural systems and networks: factories, engineering schools, design studios, IT firms, public works departments, and industrial parks. The unprecedented growth and visibility of Vishwakarma worship across India since 1900—and thus during the rise of industrial capitalism in that country—show unmistakable ties to the building of infrastructural projects and to promulgating an ethos of technological skill and craftsmanship among the broad workforce. In this context, the figure of Vishwakarma is part of an ethical armature for contemporary techno-economic systems. At the same time, this god has figured, too, in scholarly critiques and arguments pitching him against industrial capitalism. What makes this god so amenable to ideological and practical capture by divergent perspectives? A look at work and workplaces as gestures and scenes of religiosity may offer some answers.
Ken George (Ph.D., Michigan) is currently Professor of Anthropology at the Australian National University, having served previously at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Harvard University, and as Editor of the Journal of Asian Studies (2005-2008). Ken’s ethnographic and art historical research in Asia began with a decade of work on the cultural politics of ritual violence in highland Sulawesi,Indonesia. He subsequently conducted a long-term collaborative project on contemporary Islamic art and art publics across Southeast Asia. His research has been supported by the Social Science Research Council, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. Ken’s books include the prize-winning Showing Signs of Violence: The Cultural Politics of a Twentieth Century Headhunting Ritual (1996);Spirited Politics: Religion and Public Life in Contemporary Southeast Asia (2005, coeditor);and Picturing Islam: Art and Ethics in a Muslim Life world (2010). His current research (with Kirin Narayan) explores the intermingling of religion, artisanship,image, ethics, and infrastructure in India. He is also gathering materials for a book on the theo politics of art in object-oriented life worlds and public spheres.
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