2/17/23 – Shruti Vaidya “The function of fun: An ethnographic study of the role of “fun” in special education and vocational training spaces in India”

The function of fun: An ethnographic study of the role of “fun” in special education and vocational training spaces in India.

Shruti Vaidya

Friday, February 17th, 3:30pm – Rosenwald 329

Refreshments will be provided

Abstract: In this dissertation chapter, I analyze the role of fun in special education and vocational training spaces in India and explore how it does or does not weave into everyday and exceptional institutional practices. I specifically focus on the relational dynamic that emerges between special educators and intellectually disabled adults at Udaan, a new arts and vocational center in Pune that prioritizes principles of fun and pleasure. Based on ethnographic research conducted between 2021-22, I explore how moving away from the objectives of learning and productivity, and enabling fun and pleasurable experiences, can lead to the creation of “new worlds,” (Anjaria & Anjaria 2020, 234) and new social opportunities for intellectually disabled adults. I argue that by adopting a playful stance, the founders of Udaan break the monotony so deeply associated with special schools and vocational centers that cater to intellectually disabled people, and make otherwise mundane activities “fun”. Finally, I consider the issue of teasing or “making fun” as it came up repeatedly at Udaan. Moments of joy and teasing often co-existed, overlapped, but sometimes diverged- especially if it led to feelings of upset and hurt. By talking about practices of “making fun” and their ability to charge the atmosphere with negative or uncomfortable feelings, I want to make note of how complicated scenes of fun and laughter are, depending on who is in charge, who gets to say what, and at whose expense. Lastly, I also reflect on how I, as the ethnographer, was drawn into scenes of fun, laughter, as well as uncomfortable teasing, which affected my stance as a researcher and made me a participant in ways different from my other field-sites, which were more regulated and disciplined in nature. Instead of answering whether a focus on fun at Udaan unsettles the hierarchical relationship between educators and intellectually disabled people, I background (not ignore) unequal relational dynamics and foreground moments of joy. I do so not because power and control are absent in such moments, but because the presence of fun may produce affinities and intimacies (however temporary) that need to be attended to on their own accord.

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