From Crisis to Epiphany: What firing a Research Assistant helped me appreciate about Agency and Muslim Women in Howrah, West Bengal, India

Lorena Gibson


In this article I reflect on how a moment of crisis – having to fire a research assistant – became an epiphany that triggered my interest in agency, which ultimately became the focus for my doctoral dissertation. The aims of this article are twofold: first, to contribute to literature illustrating how serendipity and unexpected difficulties can shape ethnographic practice (e.g. Andrews, 2005; Cottle, 2001; Konecki, 2005; Pieke, 2000); and second, to describe how I came to appreciate the ways in which agency is embedded within and informed by the historical, sociocultural, and religious structures that shape the lives of Muslim women living in areas of urban poverty in Howrah.


agency; Muslim women; Howrah; research assistants; ethnography; fieldwork

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