Affective Activism and Digital Archiving: Relief Work and Migrant Workers during the Covid-19 Lockdown in India

Sriraman, Tarangini. 2022. Affective Activism and Digital Archiving: Relief Work and Migrant Workers during the Covid-19 Lockdown in India. PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review, 45(2), pp. 224-239. ISSN 1081-6976 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

This article traces what I term the affective activism of volunteers, civil society organiza- tions, and lorry drivers engaged in relief work to assist stranded migrant workers wanting to travel home during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic and national lockdown in India. I define affective activism as an archival practice that is driven by relief figures’ af- fects of fear, anger, and aspirations—in this instance, toward their legal and administrative accountability to funders. Drawing on my ethnographic work in a relief network and using independent interviews I conducted, this article critically compares two modalities of dig- ital archiving conducted by relief figures: collecting migrant workers’ Aadhaar—unique biometric number identifiers issued to Indians—and digitally archiving their relief efforts through videos, voice-notes, and WhatsApp Messenger screenshots. I argue that relief fig- ures expressed their anxieties in the form of talismanic beliefs that records of Aadhaar and their material infrastructure would keep safe the migrant workers they were trying to help. Alternately, and sometimes, concomitantly, they performatively deployed Whatsapp artifacts to support their accountability in the face of bureaucratic and political specters. Both forms highlight the desire of relief figures to exceed paper forms and state practices in their archival impulses.

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affective activism, India relief work, Covid-19 lockdown, migrant workers, digital archiving, and visual politics

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28 September 2022Accepted
20 November 2022Published Online
November 2022Published

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Date Deposited:

21 Nov 2022 14:57

Last Modified:

12 Jan 2023 11:45

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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