The Traveling Diaper Bag: Gifts and Jokes as Materializing Immaterial Labor
This chapter analyzes two ways that Indian programmers materialize cognitive work—telling jokes and giving gifts. Though much anthropological attention has focused recently on the gift as a site to think through contemporary capitalism and its alternatives, jokes have been given less attention. Putting jokes and gifts together suggests another reading of the gift—as a material instantiation of the problem of commensuration. Both jokes and gifts help commensurate the dictates of work and the demands of middle-class identity. The chapter argues that jokes help ease the racial division of labor that Indian IT workers experience in the office by doing affective unwork, by loosening the investment in work. Gifts do the affective work of reinforcing cognitive economies by extending care across distance through significant objects (such as diaper bags and clothing for children). Such gifts make coding labor into a resource for securing a good life.
Sarkar Committee, Central Bureau of Education, India. “Development of Higher Technical Institutions in India (Interim Report of the Sarkar Committee),” 1946.