(Re)making community on Station Road : stories of masculinity and mobility among rickshaw drivers in postwar Jaffna, Sri Lanka

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2021-06-11

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Dillon, Daniel James

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Abstract

This dissertation represents twelve months of ethnographic research conducted in Jaffna, Sri Lanka with a group of rickshaw drivers who work on the street leading to the Railway Station, Station Road. In trying to understand the lives of these men, this research has focused on developing a collection of narratives of everyday experiences as told by the drivers and observed by the researcher. These stories, and therefore this dissertation, center around the promises and paradoxes of mobility and masculinity in postwar Jaffna through an examination of ordinary realities such as playing games, the struggle to earn hires, vehicle ornamentation, and experiences of militarized policing. These narratives are told situationally in an effort to keep the analysis grounded in the mundane and unexceptional even as it incorporates the extraordinary insights and implications of feminist, queer of color, and postcolonial theoretical frames. In weaving together ethnographic narratives of everyday life with a varied assemblage of disciplinary and methodological sensibilities, this dissertation works to evoke and interpret the unacknowledged complexity of that which is seen but unremarked. Doing so, this dissertation argues, is important in light of, and not despite, the understandable urge to simplify narratives of unfamiliar and/or distant peoples, places, and cultures. Thus, while it important to interrogate the causes and contexts of war and terrorism, which are necessarily macro and global concerns, it remains vitally important to give attention to small stories playing out in small places, without which it becomes impossible to grasp the nuances of larger events. This dissertation is therefore only indirectly about the tragedies that are often the focus of scholarly attention. War, trauma, and violence serve as background, but rarely ever as subject, for the routine, ordinary lives of the men of Station Road. This dissertation takes masculinity and mobility to be dominant themes in these lives, examining them according to the premise that prolonged engagement and attention to their everyday struggles and joys yields something worthwhile, something less than extraordinary but more than ordinary.

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