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The Immediacy of Broken Time:
Sensing the Self During COVID-19 Fieldwork

My name is Kim Fernandes, and I am a joint doctoral candidate in Education and Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. My dissertation research is centered on the practices and politics of quantification. In particular, I am interested in how disability comes to be quantified in India. By studying the processes of obtaining a document that certifies disability - such as the disability certificate, previously, or the unique disability ID, more recently - I am interested in how embodied experiences come to be made into data. Broadly, in my dissertation, I ask: who - or what - comes to count as data, and under what circumstances?

Over the course of the last year and some months, I have been conducting virtual fieldwork toward my dissertation. Every location - for work or otherwise - has merged into one, all on Zoom. Through this time, and over the course of the Feeling Digital workshop, I have thought a lot about what it means to be present over Zoom and how that differs from presence “in real life.” As a disabled person, some of the most frequent signs of presence - having one’s camera on or being asked to stay unmuted - are not the most accessible ways for me (and many others like me) to move through the world, or to continue being present. Undoubtedly, as the time we spend on Zoom increases, presence comes to look like a lot of different things, the line between ourselves and our devices constantly blurred. In particular, against the backdrop of constant fatigue, to be present fully often feels jumbled, with our minds stretched toward several dozen other things at once, too. And as an ethnographer, in reflecting on how presence is registered virtually, I often do not register my own presence, hiding myself from Zoom’s view so as to have one less thing to focus on in the moment.


In this brief presentation, I experimented with some ways to break up and mess with what can often feel like an endless engagement with words and other faces on Zoom. I exclude my own video as I share my screen, focusing instead on my audio presence and the video of the presentation. I took reflections from my own experiment participation, as well as experiences shared by other group members and turned them into three short poems. These poems reflect on what comes to count as being present and on some of the many ways in which we are able to be present. 

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