Faces of UMSI: Padma Chirumamilla
Where would a self-described “media anthropologist” choose to do her fieldwork? For doctoral student Padma Chirumamilla, the answer is a television repair shop in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India. She plans to work as an apprentice to the repairmen while exploring how the infrastructure of television developed in southern India. In doing so, she hopes to learn about media technology’s place in everyday life in rural and small-town India.
Padma chose Andhra Pradesh because of its “subtly weird and strangely persistent relationship with technology as a kind of promise that works its way through the ongoing puzzle of ordinary life, the need to get by and get through.”
“I’m interested in the tenor and constitution of everyday life,” she says. Other current interests include material culture, ordinary ethics, and science and technology studies. She finds inspiration and objects of study in all sorts of material, from film and literature, anthropological and historical work, to German theorists like Ernst Bloch and Walter Benjamin.
While her family is from southern India, Padma was born in Chicago and grew up in Atlanta. She earned her A.B. in English and South Asian Languages and Civilizations from the University of Chicago, where she wrote her thesis on contemporary Indian literature in English. She obtained a master’s degree in South and Southeast Asian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, where she wrote a thesis on the portrayal of technology in South Indian popular film.
In 2012, she was accepted into the doctoral programs of both the communication studies department and the School of Information at Michigan, but chose UMSI for the chance to work with Finn Brunton, who has since taken a position at New York University. Following Brunton’s departure, she took a number of history and anthropology courses at Michigan and says she appreciates the UMSI program for its leniency in permitting her to take a wide variety of courses outside the school. Her current committee members are Paul Edwards and Silvia Lindtner at UMSI, Aswin Punathambekar in communication studies and Matthew Hull in anthropology.
Following graduation, she hopes to find employment in either media studies or communications studies programs, with an emphasis on a critical, humanistic approach. “I’m not an interventionist,” she says. “My goal is to make the tenor of everyday life more known.”