Vithya Subramaniam

vithya subramaniam

DPhil Student

Linacre College

Thesis: The Thing about Being ‘Singaporean Indian’: Objects of Identity and Belonging

Research: I explore the work of objects in the material experience and development of 'Indian-ness' in Singapore. Following studies in the field of materiality, and the more-than-human, I recognise the social role of things in asking how objects enact, authorise, and perpetuate identities and a sense of belonging, specifically that of the evolving ‘Singaporean Indian’ identity. I am particularly keen on the assemblage of mundane objects and their everyday agency, and am thus exploring collaborative methods such as workshops and walking interviews. While this was a research topic change necessitated by the pandemic’s effects on border regimes and nationalising bodies, it is also proving a handy opportunity to think about what it means to be a ‘native anthropologist’.

While at Columbia University and the National University of Singapore previously, my study focused on Sikh mnemonic spaces and the work of cartography in remembering ‘Punjab’, grounded in in-person fieldwork in Indian Punjab. Before this doctoral programme, I had also lectured and tutored extensively in the field of South Asian Studies, including courses on Sikhism; modern history; culture; politics; and the Indian diaspora in Singapore.

Extending these interests and methods to creative pursuits beyond academia, I have produced ‘Tekka Food Steps’ (2021) an audio walk exploring food memory and place in Singapore’s Little India; ‘Thamizhachi: a digital museum of Tamil women under construction’ (2021) curated through a workshop process with subject-participants; and co-founded Sikh Heritage Trail, a mobile app mapping sites of Sikh history in Singapore. I am also the playwright behind Rasanai: an invitation to appreciate (2021); Coffee Maker (2019); and Sikhs of Serangoon (2016). I continue to explore materialities and the ethnographic method with these works, and see them as a practice in sharing anthropological inquiry with the public.

Research Interests: materiality; nation-state; identity- and community-making; walking as method; memory; cartography; Singapore; Punjab