A Fox… Among Others

The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.

Greetings! I am Swati Chawla, a second year PhD student at the department of history. The question, “Can the masters’ tools dismantle the masters’ house?” posed at a dhpoco talk last year resonated with my work on Tibetan exile in India, and was the reason I applied for the Praxis fellowship. I am interested in better understanding technologies that help a homeless and stateless population create virtual homes in physical and digital spaces. As someone who worked at state museums and archives in Delhi, I am aware of the limitations of government-regulated brick-and-mortar institutions, and optimistic about the potential of digital spaces as collaborative, democratic and voluntary.

But what was that about foxes and hedgehogs, you might ask… The fragment quoted above is attributed to the Greek poet Archilochus. Isaiah Berlin uses it to distinguish between hedgehog-y thinkers who relate everything to a single organizing principle, and fox-y ones who pursue random, unrelated, and often contradictory ends, or seek a variety of experiences solely for what they are in themselves.  In an academic environment that organizes scholars around narrowly defined specializations (by geographical, temporal, and thematic focus in my discipline), I believe the Scholars’ Lab is one of those rare spaces that values fox-y skills. I am excited about working in the multi-disciplinary Praxis cohort, even as I am finding my way in the discipline of history after seven years of training in literary studies.

And finally, to quote the inimitable Andrew Ferguson— Let’s Play!

Swati Chawla is a 2014-15 Praxis Fellow and a Ph.D candidate in history at the University of Virginia. She has always been curious about how and why people make their homes in new places, and is currently pursuing this question through her research on Tibetan exile in India. She was trained in literary studies at…

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