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2017 | Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 7 (1): 327352

Press one for POTUS, two

for the German chancellor
Humor, race, and rematerialization
in the Indian tech diaspora

Sareeta Amrute, University of Washington

In some ways, there is nothing worse than academizing humor. But what happens when
jokes are the vehicle for reconciling precarious economies? Anthropological attention
has examined humor as a means of nonideological political critique, and as a means of
maintaining social relations. Building on these traditions, I explore the jokes that Indian
transnational migrant programmers tell about outsourcing and call center worksuch as
envisioning a world in which presidents are replaced by call center workerswhich parody
the palpable contradictions of knowledge economies. Humor can be a tool to disrupt what
Autonomist Marxists have described as the incorporation of the soul into the heart of
cognitive labor. It can also police the boundaries of acceptable behavior. This article uses
accounts of the lives of Indian programmers, particularly those for whom Berlin provided
passage into the middle class, to closely analyze how Indian programmers maneuver
between the roles of racialized, backend, grunt coder and of upwardly mobile global Indian
citizen. In examining the joke, this article will show how transnational knowledge work, as
a relatively novel economic formation, intersects with recent concern with the ontological
status of objects and machines. This article argues that a rigorous understanding of human
nonhuman relationships needs to take into account the interstitial forms of connectivity
that explain how these relations involve the ordering of people and things against the
texture of economic change.
Keywords: software work, cognitive labor, humor, race, India

A joke . . . and like any other injury, you watch it rupture along its
suddenly exposed suture.
 Claudia Rankine

 his work is licensed under the Creative Commons | Sareeta Amrute.

ISSN 2049-1115 (Online). DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14318/hau7.1.023
Sareeta Amrute 328

Meenakshi, bug squasher

Meenakshi was a bug tester, finding and fixing places where code was malfunc-
tioning, preventing a software package from being rolled out on time, making cus-
tomers angry. It was 2004; she had been hired as a temporary programmer on the
German Green Card by Dash Technologies, a business-processing software com-
pany with offices across Europe.
Late afternoon deepened into a Berlin night. On her screen, yellow lines of code
against a black background scrolled from top to bottom, while she opened three,
then four other windows, copying and pasting snippets of code from one into the
other. Her computer dinged loudly and she stopped the roll. Meenakshi was about
to squash a bug.
She opened a program called Sublime text, which represents parts of code in
different colors to make it easier to spot problems, and pasted a snippet of code into
its waiting window. Commands, or directions, displayed in red, strings, or written
text, appeared in yellow, and operators, which modify specific inputs, stood out in
violet. She scanned the Technicolor snippet, zeroing in on a missing single clos-
ing quotation mark. Adding the closing quote allowed the compiler to recognize a
series of letters, numbers, and punctuation marks as a string. The quote would tell
the compiler to treat what it enclosed as text rather than as command. Meenakshi
entered in the missing quotation mark, which directed the program to a URL, and
began running the bug-testing sequence again.
Though Meenakshi loved debugging, she knew that testing was not a prestigious
job in software worlds. She and other software engineers from India were most often
slotted into such backend, non-client-facing jobs when they worked in Germany, the
United States, and elsewhere on short-term, project-based visas. Later that evening,
Meenakshi recalibrated her relationship to her position as a grunt, backend worker.
She was boiling tea spiced with cardamom, ginger, and anise seeds in the
kitchen of the apartment she shared with Rajeshwari in a working-class neighbor-
hood a few U-Bahn stops north of her office. Meenakshi tried to explain to me what
being a programmer was all about. Programming is like cooking, she said. You give
the computer a recipe, and it follows it. Surprised at the analogy, I exclaimed, but you
never use a recipe when you cook. Thats different, she added with a wry grin. The
computer is a very stupid cook.
The computer simply follows the directions, but Meenakshi can look at a line of
code and realize the syntax is wrong. In her retort, she cut away the binds that tie her
to the computer, asserting her clever superiority. Though not valued as creative in
the software firm in which she works, Meenakshi feels when she is bug testing as
she does when she is cooking. In these moments, she is in control, knowledgeable,
and practiced. She uses all her skills to do what the computer cannot, namely parse
lines of texts from commands, ingredient lists from directions. Meenakshi is the
clever cook, the computer the unthinking automaton.
Fleshy entanglements between human and machine lead in multiple directions.
Short-term programmers from India both join and split from the lines of code they
write and repair. In this essay, I follow the entanglements and disentanglements
between humans and machines that unfold as coding work is materialized in bod-
ies and things.

2017 | Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 7 (1): 327352

329 Press one for POTUS, two for the German chancellor

Materialization describes how actions are congealed. In any given entangle-

ment between humans and things, some aspects of this relationship are materi-
alized while other aspects are dematerialized, that is, taken and made to appear
as natural and lacking material substrate. Materialization, dematerialization, and
rematerialization happen as action in a social world makes bodies and things. To
show how these processes congeal and become undone in the relationship between
programming machines and migrant bodies from India, I follow caricatures of
Indian programmers circulating in the German-language public sphere, and the
jokes Indian programmers tell to talk back to these depictions of Indian coders as
machine-like executors of low-level commands (Chun 2009). By putting humor at
the center of the analysis of digital technologies, I turn analytical attention towards
the connective tissue between the immaterial and the material, the human and the
In an extended analysis of the way images (such as the pixels on a computer
screen) render, Georges Didi-Huberman (2005: 271) suggests that pictures both
symbolize and disturb. Images display a version of the world, but they also can rend,
or tear, a previously given construction of that world. Renderings provide a specific
analytic of the way race and technical labor intersect by showing how social and
technical articulations are enacted in a particular scene. I take on Didi-Hubermans
dialectical understanding of rendering to track the work humor can do. Meenakshis
joke, an example of what Glenda R. Carpio (2017) calls immigrant black humor,
rends a particular software world that uses technical affordances such as text edi-
tors to reinforce divides between creative coding and repetitive bug squashing. She
opens that world up for continual disfiguration.
Analyzing the process by which software work is materialized and demateri-
alized leads to an analysis of humannonhuman relationships that can account
for relationships that reduce some humans to machines through the racialization
of their bodies even as they gather humans and machines together in new ways
(Amrute 2016). Taken together, rendering encapsulates several levels of analysis:
how economic forces are made tangible, how human and nonhuman relation-
ships develop through interstitial forms which distill the multiplicities of bodies
and things into valuable qualities, and the ability of such intermediate forms to
tear a hole in, or rend, a normative construct. As Lauren Berlant (2016) writes of
her project on flat affect, humor and humorlessness reflect and stubbornly resist

1. Most theorists of technology and economy fail to notice the processes by which the
relationship is mediated. Christian Fuchs (2002), for example, admits that immaterial
mental, and knowledge labor are becoming more and more important, but they are dia-
lectically related to material-substantial production, yet goes on to define this material
level as infrastructures, modems, computers, fibre optical cables, networks, circuits,
wires, data carriers. The short circuit between the immateriality of labor and the obvi-
ous materiality of wires without recognition of what mediates between the two allows
for the conclusion that information as a creator of surplus value produces almost
no reproduction costs. Yet the reproduction costs are borne by the raced bodies who
have to produce themselves in particular ways. Approaches to the materialization of
computing technologies across power-laden geographies can be found in Philip, Irani,
and Dourish (2012). Nardi (2015) discusses the ideology of virtuality.

2017 | Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 7 (1): 327352

Sareeta Amrute 330

capitalist discipline. But, though humor is central to this essay, it is not my only
quarry. I attempt here an investigation of humor as a connective tissue. In other
words, I use humor to make sense of what Stuart Hall ([1980] 1996) calls the ar-
ticulations between economies and subjects, on the one hand, and persons and
things, on the other (see also Amrute 2014a).
To analyze humor as articulation, I discuss materializations as making and un-
making kinds of relations among humans and things. Then, I look at caricature to
understand how humor renders racialized bodies as natural carriers of value even
while Indian IT worker humor talks back to such renderings. Finally, I explore the
kinds of rends to the social fabric that these instances of humor accomplish.

Can a computer have caste?

My findings are based on ongoing research on Indian programmers in the United
States, Germany, and India. Both Germany and the United States operate similar
temporary visa programs for IT labor. The German version of this program, offi-
cially termed the Regulation of Work Permits for Highly Qualified Foreign Labor-
ers in Information and Communications Technology, known more generally as the
German Green Card, was passed in 2000 and allowed to expire in 2005. It enabled
foreign workers with skills in code writing, software testing, debugging, and IT
management to enter Germany for one to five years on job-dependent visas. Over
the course of its validity, the German Green Card brought in 14,000 IT specialists,
over one-quarter of whom were from India.
In my research, I found (perhaps unsurprisingly) that the majority of Indians
who worked on short-term programming jobs in Germany were Hindu, upper
caste, and from South India.2 The humor they deploy, which divorces them from
the machines they operate, also consolidates their upper-class and upper-caste po-
sition. Dividing oneself from a dumb machine is also a way of producing expertise
over inexpert laborers as if the machine itself had caste. The machines low caste
sets off through opposition the high caste of the programmer herself. While in
moments of comedy these programmers refuse their racialization as being ma-
chine-like, they also consolidate their superiority through tropes that differentiate
creative and professional work from unthinking manual labor.
Students of contemporary capitalism often describe the software economies in
which Meenakshi, Rajeshwari, and others work as immaterial because they pro-
duce packets of communication rather than physical objects. Nonmaterial prod-
ucts indicate a broader economic shift in the structure of capitalism from labor on
machines in a factory to labor in offices making information, in stores producing
smiles for waiting customers, and online building systems for companies digital
products (Lazzarato 1996; Hardt and Negri 2000; Virno 2004; Dyer-Witherford
2005; Berardi 2009; ). Though these theorists identify an important reformulation
of value under capitalism, the immaterial labor hypothesis also constructs a false

2. Several theorists show that the IT sector is dominated by upper-caste subjects. See
C. Fuller and Narasimhan (2007), Adjit, Donker, and Saxena (2012), and Thorat and
Newman (2012).

2017 | Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 7 (1): 327352

331 Press one for POTUS, two for the German chancellor

dichotomy between complex human actions involved in productive processes, all of

which entail mental processes and require knowledge, communication, and affect
(Yanagisako 2012: 19). I argue that immateriality and materiality are connected as
moments of a process. In other words, rather than classifying software work as im-
material, I analyze how making software seem (and be) immaterial helps solidify
the technologies and assumptions that make the industry work across domains.3 It
leaves the material to one side, existing as antecedent to software economies, and
present only in particular kinds of (raced, classed, gendered, and disabled) bodies.
Jokes that make certain kinds of work appear natural do so by materializing such
work in bodies that seem thereby suited to do such work. Jokes that confront this
naturalization instead work to unpack the structuring conditions of coding as labor
in corporate environments.

Dematerialization and rematerialization

Polemics about how to understand nonhuman others, whether organic or inor-
ganic, seem mired in one-upmanship, each thinker outdoing the other in granting
the nonhuman agentive dignity. The scholarly hoax in which an invented article
about the effects of totalitarianism on German Shephards was retracted after publi-
cation in a peer-reviewed journal is surely the apotheosis of this trend (Oltermann
2016; Schulte und Freundinnen 2016). This rivalry to acknowledge the nonhu-
man often neglects careful attention to the means through which such human
nonhuman interactions unfold.4 One way to refocus these energies is to follow how
humans and nonhumans are produced through kinds of action in the world (Barad
2003). Attention to how things are materially anchored and are decoupled, and for
whom, suggests a range of forms that are intermediate between the material and
nonmaterial and produce the conditions of possibility for human and nonhuman
intra-actions. Analytic attention to the space between humans and things is par-
ticularly crucial for discussions of immaterial economies.
At work, programmers transgress the boundaries between human, nature, and
machine as cyborg bodies (Haraway 1991) described as the cyborg body. But even
while short-term programmers from India are naturalized as a kind of machinic
intelligence, they work against their reduction to cognitive cogs in the machine of
late capitalism (Smith 2009). Comedy, through caricature and retort, joke and par-
ody, operates both to render software work legible through broad divisions among
kinds of workers, and to pixelate this work into granular moments that trouble easy

3. I am thinking here of Marxs statement on the fetishit expresses both the hidden
social relations that govern production, and what those social relations really are
(Marx [1887] 1982: 176).
4. Ingold (2012), for instance, takes the term multispecies to task for being bounded by
the idea of speciation. However, even banishing species from the critical lexicon will
not ipso facto force attention toward the means through which the living and the non-
living are conjoined.

2017 | Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 7 (1): 327352

Sareeta Amrute 332

Stuart Hall, Gayartri Spivak, and Alexander Weheliye elaborate on the term ar-
ticulation to analyze power relations as a contingent formation, which, they stress,
could be organized otherwise (Hall [1980] 1996; Spivak 1998; Weheliye 2014).
Adding articulation to the ontology of the nonhuman adds a third dimension to
this ontology, one that is sensitive to the tissues that connect humans, nonhumans,
and things. Renderings are a kind of articulation that can address the hierarchies
and resistances, accommodations and refusals within particular human and non-
human economies.

The ambiguous work of caricature

Anthropologists seem to be rediscovering comedy as a site for social analysis.5
Radcliffe Browns foundational study of the joking relationship between affines and
generations postulated teasing as a way to maintain alliances among groups with
diverging interests, where serious hostility is defused through socially appropriate
joking (Radcliffe-Brown 1940: 197). While Radcliffe-Brown focused on humor as a
means of maintaining social order, current anthropologists look to jokes to under-
stand how they destabilize certainty (de Vienne 2012; Bernal 2013: 300 Haugerud
2013; Yurchak 2013). These approaches follow Mary Douglas argument that jokes
connect widely differing fields in a way that destroys hierarchy and order (1975:
155) and from Mikhail Bakhtins understanding of carnivalesque parodies (Bakhtin
[1965] 2009). Comedy juxtaposes ideals and realities in existing social relations,
even while it exposes opportunities for imagining things otherwise (Bergson [1911]
1999; Basso 1979; Weidman 2005: 75152). Anthropologists draw increasingly on
theories of the comic that stress how slapstick, the gimmick, black humor, and irony
hold open a field of multiple affects and affiliations toward a given world (Freud
(1905) 1960; Berlant and Ngai 2017). An account of how humor intersects with
knowledge work requires that the multiple relationships between humor and norms
be kept in play, rather than be reduced to a position in structural opposition.
Caricatures of Indian IT workers began to appear in popular German newspa-
pers as the Green Card law was debated in the Bundestag. They iterated a tight bind
between the Indian body, the computer as machine, and exotic cultural practices,
while simultaneously articulating incredulity that a third world place like India
could produce digital technology. Even while they rend an ideal of European tech-
nical superiority, these cartoons make Indians safe by making them so foreign
that they lessen the threat to a thus stabilized German identity (Amrute 2016).
Such cartoons measured types of foreigners against one another, separating the
acceptable from the unacceptable, using German tolerance of Indian, implicitly
Hindu (or possibly Sikh), programmers as an alibi for the continued intolerance of
Muslim migrants.
The political cartoons, digital memes, and article illustrations I gathered from
internet sites, local magazines, and national newspapers exemplify the many ways

5. See for example, Anthropological Forum 18 (3) (2008), edited by John Carty and
Yasmine Musharbash, the May 2013 special issue of American Ethnologist on jokes and
humor, and de Vienne (2012).

2017 | Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 7 (1): 327352

333 Press one for POTUS, two for the German chancellor

that the migrant body is used to come to terms with new conditions of labor. Some
cartoons appeared as large, full-color, photographs in multipage articles about In-
dian IT. Others were printed in the blank space at the bottom of pages of movie
listings. Still more surfaced in the humor section of a website dedicated to Indians
in Germany. The caricatures depicted Indian programmers in three major ways: as
backward primitives, as ascetic world renouncers, and as sensualists. The images
concretized a welter of fears about how a globalized high-tech economy might un-
settle patterns of work and employment within the nation. They did this work by
rendering the Indian body hypervisible (Rankine 2014: 49).
Many Berliners whom I interviewed made the determination that these im-
ages represented the old-fashioned fears of out-of-date anti-immigrant Germans.
Showing them the cartoons, they abjured the sentiment they discerned in these im-
ages. A journalism student named Peter who described himself as pro-immigrant
said that the Green Card visa should be supported. He read most of these cari-
catures as mocking the technologically incompetent Germans and saw nothing
wrong in them. At the same time, Peter suggested that immigration was a prob-
lematic issue because of the ghettoization produced by the lack of education and
knowledge of German among Turkish Germans in large cities. His opinion indi-
cated the complicated calculations that divided high-tech from working-class mi-
grants. A Berliner named Aigul whose parents migrated to Germany from Turkey
before she was born believed that the Green Card debates would prove important
in changing governmental policy toward immigration. She was particularly heart-
ened by activists success in changing German immigration law to allow young
immigrants to choose German citizenship when they reached the age of majority.
When I discussed the cartoons with her, she readily recognized their stereotyp-
ing of the Indian programmers but thought it relatively rare. I enlisted her help
in collecting caricatures from newspapers and magazines. We were surprised that
in the end we gathered twenty-five of them, all playing on contrasts between the
this-worldly and otherworldliness, materiality and spirituality, advancement and
Another Berliner I interviewed, who was chief research officer at a European-
wide institute studying migration patterns, believed the debate on the German
Green Card was unimportant given the small numbers of migrants it would attract
in comparison with the much larger guest worker and asylum seeker populations.
This opinion framed immigration as a biopolitical question written in the language
of large-scale demographic shifts, and thereby discounted high-tech software work
from its proper domain. The research officer thought the caricatures a distraction
from the real work of integrating both immigrants and Islam.
I gather these images together not to index German racism, but to study mass-
mediated cartoon images ethnographicallythat is, by treating them as condensed
signs of anxiety and expectation. Doing so uncovers how the racial imaginary sur-
rounding the Indian programmer becomes a means to work through the problem
of neoliberal economies and migration in a liberal state that requires that these
problems be approached through displacement. What Freud ([1905] 1960) might
have described as an acceptable discharge of negative affect emerges here to inter-
rogate that which is outside the bounds of public humor (the Turkish migrant) and,

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Sareeta Amrute 334

at the same time, to produce a willing public that accepts a transnational, racialized
division of labor.6
The following caricature from the March 2000 issue of Titanic satirizes both
the Indian IT worker and anti-immigrant fear (fig. 1). The headline reads, The
Computer-Indians, how far ahead of us are they really? Beneath the title, the text
continues, Can Germany bear the Computer-Indians? Will they first take our jobs
and then our German women? In a series of exposs designed to mimic the con-
ventions of photojournalism, it showcases hard manual labor, old machines, and
barbaric practices to voice incredulityIndian are not ahead of Germans, but far
behind. Each picture is isolated from its context of production even while together
they create a collection that claims to represent the truth of the world (Stewart
1992: 162). Outlining each picture in black, the page juxtaposes scenes of back-
wardness with text that describes computer hardware manufacturing.
The image of the rock breakers in the upper left corner reads like a large-scale
painting, with the vanishing point receding into the distance, defining an expanse
of men and material set up in counterpoint to the caption, which describes a silicon
mine: All employees wear headscarves, since even the smallest hair can make a
[micro]chip useless. The pictures evoke traditions of European landscape paint-
ings of the Orient, which create sweeping visions of bodies in harems, at work, and
in battle. The Indians break rocks, carry boulders on their heads, and work at giant
turbines. In the text accompanying the pictures, the turbines are described as CD
ROMS and supercomputers. The figure in the bottom right corner is captioned as
the Bill Gates of Bangalore, who owns the license for the very successful operat-
ing system, Caste 2000. Such pictures extract Indian programmers from the con-
text of Indian higher education, middle-class expertise, and historical development
of the computer in India (Amrute 2010; Sen 2016). Instead, manual labor is framed
by cognitive value.
Such caricatures voice the racial threat that Indian programmers represent: that
they will bring with them to Germany primitive customs and ways of life that are
impossible to uphold in Europe. The image also mocks Germans who are xeno-
phobic. The titles and subtitles seem to raise questions about who might actually
worry about the Computer-Indians stealing German women. Titanic, as a satiri-
cal magazine, keeps the possibility open that people like the sociology student who
describe themselves as proimmigrant would see in this piece an exposure of the
untenable claims of anti-immigrant politics. Yet, under the cover of this mockery it
also renders a version of the Indian coder as a primitive individual who could not
possibly surpass Germans in technological acumen. As Achille Mbembe (2001)
writes in his discussion of Cameroonian political cartoons, caricature, through its
gesture toward comedy, masks the power of recursivity to solidify a negative image
of a population. This narrative helps naturalize divisions of labor in the office that
assign Indian coders backend grunt programming that is repetitive and is consid-
ered uncreative, like the software-testing work that Meenakshi does.

6. See, for comparison, Lilia Moritz Schwarczs penetrating analysis of Brazilian imperial
cartoon culture, where caricature reworked and revolutionized hitherto consensual
and naturalized public positions and images and gave form to major impasses and
contradictions (Moritz Schwarcz 2013: 31617).

2017 | Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 7 (1): 327352

335 Press one for POTUS, two for the German chancellor

Figure 1: The Computer-Indians: How far ahead of us are they? Titanic Magazine, 2000.
(Reproduced with permission.)

The second and third cartoons emphasize the otherworldly spirituality of the
Indian programmer. They compare Indian programmers as spiritual ascetics and
their hapless German employers. In the second image (fig. 2), the turbaned IT
worker tells the worried-looking German, The data havent disappearedtheyre
off wandering in a search for another computer. Also published in Zitty magazine
in 2000, the third image (fig. 3) shows a computer with a snake emerging out of a
basket as its screensaver. On top of the monitor sits a collection of small objects.
The caption reads, Because every monitor has to have figurines, soon there will
also be an Elephant God, a happy Buddha and Sikh Smurfs.

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Sareeta Amrute 336

Figure 2: The data havent disappearedtheyre off wandering in a search for another
computer. Bernd Zeller, Zitty, 2000. (Reproduced with permission.)

The second cartoon explicitly compares the Indian IT worker and the German
everyman by means of bodily contrasts. The German boss is small and confused
looking, the Indian worker is turbaned and inscrutable. Between the two figures
is the white space of a request, and of an answer. The Indian IT worker tells the
joke; the joke shows up the technical incapacities of the German manager. This
white space seems to indicate a permanent separation between the two. Firstly,
that the German, who is technically challenged, and the Indian, who is technically
adept, will be kept apart by their differences, and assigned different roles in an of-
fice division of labor. Secondly, that the technical answers the Indian will provide
will be enigmatic and spiritual, corresponding to an Orientalist fantasy of what the
German national cannot comprehend.
The computer is a mysterious object not easily understood. The computers opera-
tor is similarly mysterious. The third image displays the everyday ephemera of the of-
fice, monitor figurines, replaced by the recognizable tropes of India, gods with many
arms and elephant heads, the Buddha, and Sikh Smurfs. This collapse between the
programmer and the machine is accomplished almost fully by the screensaver, which
fuses the Indian as mysterious snake charmer with the machine as unknowable.

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337 Press one for POTUS, two for the German chancellor

Figure 3: Because every monitor has to have figurines, soon there will also be
an Elephant God, a happy Buddha, and Sikh Smurfs. Bernd Zeller, Zitty, 2000.
(Reproduced with permission.)

The interplay between the truth of the pictureswhich present India as defined
by manual labor and old machines, as well as fetish objects and spiritual enigmas
and the black and white spaces that enclose and enliven them suggests that the
value of Indian programmers (itself posed here as a contradiction) can be found
in the specialized labor they can do for a firm. While these caricatures destabilize
the true identity of Indian programmers, they also call into question the capabili-
ties of normative white (East) German male employers.
The final image (fig. 4) accompanies a four-page, full-color lifestyle article on
the prospect of Indian IT workers coming to Germany found in the national news-
paper Die Zeit. Surrounding a figurine of Apu, the Indian convenience store clerk
from the American cartoon The Simpsons, the text tells the reader, The first com-
puter experts are already here. But there is so much more that this far-off land can
teach us, finally to have good sex, ... to make more movies with happy ends, and
to stay calm through meditation regardless of what happens. The figure of Apu

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Sareeta Amrute 338

is a generic Indian immigrant who is highly educated yet employed in a working-

class position. He is capable of guile in overcharging his customers, yet regularly
dispenses wisdom about cultural tolerance (Dave 2013: 40).

Figure 4: Learning from the Indians: The first computer experts are already here.
But there is so much more that this far-off land can teach us. Die Zeit, April 6, 2000.
(Reproduced with permission.)

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Using this figureand the accompanying captionsto imagine the Indian

programmer extends the range of arguments for letting Indians into Germany.
The impressions of a West German neighbor of one of the software engineers
I regularly visited made this point particularly well. One afternoon, as we were
chatting about immigration, she said: In India spirituality just belongs to the
smallest things of everyday life. I have so often wished that here too the people
would not be so rootless and distanced from their souls. By pairing this India with
the Indian programmer, the image and its accompanying text defang the alien
threat of programmers taking away jobs by arguing that they bring with them a
sensuality that Germans lack.
Tolerating such cartoons often serves as a litmus test of one of the pillars of the
European Enlightenment: the right to free speech.7 Objecting to such humor can
place one outside the norms of Enlightenment rationality, even while the circula-
tion of such images as humor belies how they condense and make possible the
continued treatment of migrants as outsiders. But rather than weighing whether to
excuse or to ban such images, my concern is in following what such humor does:
how it sediments a particular idea of the Indian programmer, how it laminates
these programmers and the machines they program, and how it enunciates the
fears of contingency that cognitive economies bring with them.
It is worth reemphasizing that not all German-speaking Berliners found these
images funny; many were horrified. And these were not the only kinds of humor
that rendered the experience of Indian coders while they stayed in Berlin. The full
spectrum of humor lies outside the scope of this article, since my goal here is to
focus on satires and rejoinders to the racialization of Indians as technical workers.
I will briefly give a flavor of the wide range of humor I witnessed.
One particularly memorable outing took place at Sans Souci in Potsdam among
a group of Indian and German coworkers, all of whom were women. Neither of
the two jokes I recorded in my notebook had anything to do with technology. The
first was a joke about a naked statue at a fountain. Walking all the way around the
fountain, one of the German women, a thirty-year-old program manager originally
from Hamburg, quipped, I used to study medicine, and I can tell you, this statue
is not anatomically correct. They do not hang evenly like that in real life. The sec-
ond joke was told by another German woman, about fifty years of age, the wife of
a program manager, and interested in Indian culture. She did not speak very good
English, so she first told the joke in German and then I translated it into English.
Why do women have Tupperware parties? she asked, and then answered, So
they can show off their cans [die Dosen].8 When only half of the group laughed at
this last joke, she decided that those who did not laugh were simply not old or mar-
ried enough to get the joke. In other words, the joke was legible to those who were

7. Such a tendency is evidenced by the magazine Charlie Hebdo, which recently opened
a sister branch in Berlin. Countervailing this tendency is the German Volkerhetzung
(Incitement) law, which legislates imprisonment for those who incite hatred against
national, racial, religious, or ethnic groups or individuals, or assaults human dignity by
maligning such groups or those who belong to them.
8. Though more traditionally translated as can, as with the English box, die Dose can be
slang for vulva: http://www.duden.de/rechtschreibung/Dose.

2017 | Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 7 (1): 327352

Sareeta Amrute 340

sexually experienced, according to its teller. These moments illustrate another path
of commonality not stressed in this article, the space opened up among women
outside the regimes of difference that might divide them at work though ribaldry
and assertions of sexuality that are neither about reproduction nor about confes-
sion (Ramberg 2014). Such joking happens in the interstices within the consolida-
tion of the Indian programmer as the alter, effeminate, male automaton.

The unending spiral of outsourcing

Against the texture of such caricatures, Indian programmers mobilized humor to
sort themselves out from the calculating machine (Tsing 2013). The jokes told
by Indian programmers in private combat the public depictions of them in carica-
tures and political cartoons. Unlike the hacker wit discussed by Gabriella Coleman
(2013), which demonstrates the creative individual who sometimes writes conven-
tional code, programmers jokes take aim at the way they have to perform the role
of diligent, hardworking, and cheap migrant labor.
In corporate software work, programmers, project managers, and testers bring
their personalities to bear on production as resources for creative work. The prod-
uct of their labor is not easily separated from the act of production. As Franco
Bifo Berardi writes in his study of office labor The soul at work, corporations buy
packets of time rather than the labor of workers while at work, and demands on
that time can be mobilized in unpredictable ways (2009: 193). For Berardi, the
cell phone (which I return to) symbolizes this mobilization, since the ringtone of
the mobile phone calls the worker to reconnect with the office at any time (ibid.).
Scholars of digital technology emphasize the many ways that the incorporation
of personalities into production is mediated by material things, from the under-
sea cables that carry digital signals to the physical requirements that digital labor
demands of everyone from Uber drivers to late-night call center workers (Aneesh
2015; Starosielski 2015). Yet, while forms of hard materialization like cables and
wires or even biological materiality like the bodys need for sleep are readily recog-
nizable, those discursive infrastructures that connect wires and bodies in particular
ways are less apparent. Jokes demonstrate one such materialization, since humor
allows for the very idea that surplus value could arise from the semiotic properties
of communication to be made concrete, sometimes ridiculed, and always opened
up for examination. Moments of materialization that take place when telling jokes
often displace and thereby dematerialize other aspects of cognitive labor.
Programmers who were my interlocutors were often frustrated with the em-
phasis on creativity and yet the legal regimes that prevented their creativity from
being exercised. Adi, who at thirty-two was one of the older programmers I met
on the German Green Card, was talking about visa laws in various countries in late
August 2004. He was originally from the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh but was
planning to settle permanently either in Germany or in England. He had trained at
the University of Hyderabad and then earned a Masters degree in Computer Sci-
ence from the Technical University, Berlin.
One day, Adi received a letter from the German visa office. His project had
ended a few weeks earlier and he was looking for a new position. The letter detailed

2017 | Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 7 (1): 327352

341 Press one for POTUS, two for the German chancellor

the dates when Adi was issued a residence permit, when he became the responsibil-
ity of the case officer, when he lost he job, and when he was interviewed by the case
officer working on his visa. The letter went on to detail the extent of the rights to
which Adi was entitled to as a temporary tech worker in Germany. The bureaucrat
then wrote that Adis visa would not be renewed, and outlined the reasons why:
Because of the high population density and the duties of the Federal
Republic of Germany toward members of the states of the European
Union as well as members of other foreign states whot have taken up
permanent residence on federal territory, there is an official interest in
controlling the immigration and residence of members of foreign states.
Finally, the letter threatened Adi with extradition, and, in order to assure that the
German government was not putting him in any physical danger by returning him
to India, it noted that he could be extradited to another country that was bound
to accept him.
Adi and I parsed the official verbiage as we sat in the apartment he shared
with his wife Maya and their young son Krishna in a Berlin neighborhood called
Kreuzberg. We talked about the claims made by this particular bureaucrat. Adi was
irked by the power that this individual had over his case. Called Ermessensgerecht,
which could be glossed as discretionary authority, this provision of the law left
it up to the case officer to determine whether a visa would be issued.9 It was clear
from the language that the bureaucrat could have decided to extend his visa. We
focused on the reasons she had given, the high population density and the duties
of the Federal Republic of Germany toward members of the states of the European
Union as well as members of other foreign states.
There was no population density problem in Germany. Newspapers had been
reporting for years that the birth rate in Germany was sinking, to the detriment of
the country. Unless, of course, as Adi pointed out, she had meant that the immi-
grant population was too high in Germany. This was clearly a political issue, Adi
thought. He further opined that the letter revealed the anti-immigrant attitude of
most Germans. But he already knew this. He was most perplexed by the seemingly
arbitrary decision-making process. He thought that well-qualified technological
experts such as himself should be subject to a different, more logical, decision-
making process and not lumped together with all other immigrants.
After we finished talking about his letter, he thought for a while and with a quiet
smile hurried back over to his desk. He put into my hand a printout of an email he
received the previous week, and waited while I scanned its lines.
outsourcing announcement, Washington, D.C., read the byline:
Congress today announced that the Office of the President of the United
States will be outsourced to overseas as of August 30. The move is being
made to save $400K a year in salary, a record $521 billion in deficit
expenditures and related overhead.
The cost of savings will be quite significant, says Congressman
Adam Smith (R-Wash), who, with the aid of Congress research arm, the
General Accounting Office, has studied outsourcing of American jobs

9. Thanks to Kenneth McGill for this reference.

2017 | Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 7 (1): 327352

Sareeta Amrute 342

extensively. We simply can no longer afford this level of outlay and re-
main competitive on the world stage, Congressman Smith said. Mr. Bush
was informed by e-mail this morning of the termination of his position.
He will receive health coverage, expenses and salary until his final day
of employment. After that, with a two week waiting period, he will then
be eligible for $240 a week from unemployment insurance for 13 weeks.
Unfortunately he will not be able to receive state Medicaid health
insurance coverage as his unemployment benefits are over the required
limit. Im in shock, Mr. Bush stated, I thought for sure Id have some
job security around here. I have no idea what Ill do now, he further
Sanji Gurvinder Singh of Indus Teleservices, Mumbai, India, will be
assuming the Office of President of the United States as of September 1.
Mr. Singh was born in the United States while his parents were here on
student visas, thus making him eligible for the position. He will receive
a salary of $320 USD a month but with no health coverage or other
A Congressional Spokesman noted that Mr. Singh has been given
a script tree to follow which will allow him to respond to most topics
of concern. The Spokesperson further noted additional savings will be
realized as these scripting tools have already been used previously by
Mr. Bush here in the US. Such scripts will enable Mr. Singh to provide an
answer without having to fully understand the issue itself.
Congress continues to explore other outsourcing possibilities, includ-
ing that of Vice-President and most Cabinet positions.
Adi explained that, for him, the joke poked fun at all the bureaucratic nation-states
and greedy corporations and their obsession with the Indian IT worker. It was
about refusing to take the world that Indian programmers operate in too seriously.
Because of the hype about the political costs of outsourcing, Adi believed, he was
refused a visa extension. At the same time, because it is hype, Adi knew he could get
another job. Within two months, he, Maya, and Krishna pulled up stakes, moved to
London, and Adi started his own company based on a business-processing applica-
tion to help firms keep track of their long-term clients.
Adis outsourcing parody disfigures a social worldit both renders and it
rends, as Didi-Huberman suggestsby pushing to the limit what is possible
when value is produced through services rather than material production, and
in an economy where competitive advantage is produced by providing these ser-
vices as cheaply as possible. At a certain point, the joke seems to say, answering
a customer service complaint and answering the complaints of state will begin
to blur and look the same. This moment of comedy plays up the automation
of bureaucracy in its disregard for individual life (Bergson [1911] 1999), and
thus demonstrates the extent to which cognitive economies will go in the drive
toward lower costs and greater profit margins, making nation-states themselves
subject to the laws of surplus value. The formalism of Adis outsourcing an-
nouncement mimics the formal tone of the bureaucratic letter that threatened
him with extradition.
Using the genre of a newspaper article, the joke circulates in a parody of a piece
of authentic news; the writerly conventions of journalism produce tension between

2017 | Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 7 (1): 327352

343 Press one for POTUS, two for the German chancellor

the reality of the news report and its unbelievable content.10 The unknown author
interlards the faux article with knowing winks to the audience that heighten the
comedic tension in the text.11 The name of the congressman, Adam Smith, is a nod
to the author of The wealth of nations, one of the founding fathers of capitalism.
The copy also pays homage to the rules and regulations that affect nonnational la-
borers and have become a staple of the experience of diasporic Indian IT workers.
It points out why, for instance, the Indian worker is eligible to be president (he was
born in the United States while his parents were there on a student visa) and reveals
when President Bushs health care and unemployment benefits will expire (thirteen
weeks). The theme of cost saving surfaces throughout, including the small salary
($320) the Indian president will make.
For Adi, this materialized black comedy cancels out the sting of the letter from
the visa office. He is reassured that it is all just farce, the life of the IT worker is a
tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Adi uses the joke to
point out the absurdity of the very economy in which he works.
As in Angelique Haugerds study of satire in American anticapitalist activism
(Haugerd 2013), this hyperrealistic parody unearths the status quo and the rhetori-
cal tropes that undergird it. Imagining a world only slightly more absurd that the
one they inhabit, where stand-ins for POTUS and the German chancellor could be
reached via automated call scripts, uses this mode of parodic overidentification to
extend the logic of outsourcing, thus revealing its highly regimented ridiculousness
(Boyer and Yurchak 2010: 191; Yurchak 2013: 252). This sentiment is heightened
when Adi juxtaposes the joke with, in his opinion, the equally ridiculous letter
from the visa office. The strict adherence to the form of a newspaper article al-
lows for the content of the jokethe replacement of President Bush with an Indian
worker in Mumbaito appear credible and, in the process, reveals the petty injus-
tices (lack of benefits, race to the lowest wage) of the actual, everyday workings of
the software outsourcing industry. Unlike the public addresses in the Jon Stewart
and Stephen Colbert shows that Boyer and Yurchak analyze, this joke circulates
within a more limited counterpublic, where its ability to rupture the perceived way
of doing things confronts the need to find ways to thrive within the status quo.
Such humor operates on multiple fronts to create adjustments to the uneven
politics of the worlds that IT workers traverse. Within the world of corporate IT
labor, Indian programmers create their own value through the performance of
their future potential. Programmers produce surplus value for the companies who
employ them through their coding work. From their vantage point, they can also
recognize the devaluation of their labor as uncreative (Amrute 2014b).
Two further jokes explicitly made light of the immateriality of new economies
and the immoderate demands such economies make of migrant coders. On an eve-
ning after a long week of work in 2004, twelve young people between the ages
of twenty-five and thirty-two, some from Delhi, some from Mumbai, most from

10. For another instance of newspaper parody, see Bernal (2013).

11. The technique Adi uses of juxtaposing the serious and the parody responds to a long-
standing vein of humor in South Asia, found in both rasa and zarafat theories of com-
edy. For more on Indian modernity, colonial modernity, and satire, see Kaviraj (2014)
and Dubrow (n.d.). For a discussion of Sanskritic theories of humor, see Siegel (1987).

2017 | Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 7 (1): 327352

Sareeta Amrute 344

Hyderabad, sat in a semicircle in Meenakshi and Rajeshwaris apartment. Over pip-

ing hot tea served in flimsy plastic cups, everyone was talking about their jobs in
programming, and the conditions under which they worked.
These programmers were from different parts of India, though they mostly
came from southern and western states. All were upper caste and most were Hindu.
They were about evenly divided between men and women. Among this group, there
were significant differences in life course. All except for three returned to India af-
ter their short-term contracts were completed. Of the three who did not return, one
went to England and two stayed on in Germany. They also differed significantly in
their attitudes toward marriage, religious practice, and the future of India. Yet they
all came together almost every night to eat and talk together, spending their free
time in the meandering conversation Dipesh Chakrabarty (2000) calls adda, where
the question of what it means to live in a modern way can be brought to attention
and debated.
After a while, discussion turned to what country in the world is furthest ahead
in the race to the top. The conversation went back and forth, with people arguing
the relative technological and scientific achievements of Switzerland, the United
States, Germany, and India. The talk had come to a standstill when Mihir, a coder
from Mumbai, broke the silence with a joke. Three archeologists, he began, are
digging in the distant future. The first is Russian. He digs 50,000 feet down, finds
copper wires, and says, look, we had telephones! The second is American. The
American digs 60,000 feet down, finds cables, and says, look, we had fiber optics.
The third is Indian. He digs 100,000 feet, finds nothing, and says, look, we had cel-
lular phones!
The room erupted in laughter and the stalemate was broken. Even when the In-
dian archeologist digs down the farthest, he asserts that India had cellphones long
before any country could have had them. By transposing the solemnity of postco-
lonial economic and social development into the braggadocio of battling archeolo-
gists, this mode of joking reveals a kernel of truth within the humor, encapsulating
the ever-present competition to be the most technologically developed.
Within a milieu where the easiest course of action is to invest in competition
for the title of most developed nation, this joke refuses to participate; instead it
plays with a post-Fordist economys contradictions (Carpio 2017: 360). Program-
mers parody the rhetoric of Indian national advancement, which often explains
away Indias problems in the present by recourse to a deep Hindu past with original
knowledge of everything from atomic science to plastic surgery.12 The joke makes
fun of this Hindu fundamentalist line of reasoning and its relentlessness by quite
literally materializing in the dirt pretensions to past advancement, on the one hand,
and a cognitive capitalist present, on the other.
Programmers recognize that cognitive economies ask workers to continually
improvise with what is given to produce creative content for the firms that employ
them. The assertion that India had cellphones in the distant past satirizes an econ-
omy in which having nothing often seems to be the thing to have, since the absence
of a tangible artifact affords opportunity for unending financial speculation. The
Indian archeologist who finds nothing cannot but improvise a competitive answer.

12. Such assertions have only intensified in Modis India.

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345 Press one for POTUS, two for the German chancellor

Just as the Hindu patriot surveying India today turns to a scriptural past as an an-
tidote to historical belatedness, the programmer who is expected to squash bugs
or write code on time and on budget has to rationalize complications and missed
Another comedic interlude surfaced when a group of Indian IT workers who
had become close friends were on the way to one of their weekly expeditions to
different parts of the city. A programmer named Mayur Reddy was baptized dur-
ing a late-spring picnic in Berlins Treptower Park with a moniker he would never
be able to shed. His phone kept ringing. He was on call with his support team that
Sunday and had to be available to answer questions about his companys product
or come into the office if necessary. Each time his phone chirped, he picked it up
and walked a few feet away. By the third time, someone shouted out, Hey, Mobile
Ready, what are you answering the phone all the time for? Mobile Ready is a
pun on Reddy, his last name, and it became his permanent nickname. Each time
after this when he mentioned his job, he would be teased ruthlessly for always hav-
ing his mobile ready to be reconnected (Berardi 2009) to the siren song of his
office. Mobile Readys fellow programmers endorsed comedys demand to leave
work behind. As one final example shows, humor that provides a critique of work
is counterbalanced by humor that establishes the professional supremacy of Indian
programmers established through access to software work.

Of pots and parents

In the winter of 2010, I was visiting my aunt and uncle, Jyotimami and Vikrammama,
in the old part of Pune city, in the Indian state of Maharashtra. Their daughter-in-
laws brother and his wife had come for a visit. They were toting a suitcase full of
stuff they had brought back with them from the United States, where they live, for
family and extended kin in Pune. The contents of the suitcase tumbled out onto the
living room floor, prompting the brother-in-law to tell a joke. This gifting, he told
us, Goes too far sometimes. You know, he continued, parents sometimes ask
people to take big things in their suitcases, like kitchen utensils. And this was not
even the worst of it: Some families send a weekly package of food to their kids in
the US, by plane! He laughed, as he told me, These parents think their poor kids
will starve in the United States without their precious care packages. I asked how
this could be legal, and he riffed, They probably pay bribes at the airport to get
these packages on the planes.
About four weeks later, Jyotimami approached me as I was packing my suitcase,
preparing to fly back to the United States. In her hands was a smallish blue enam-
eled pressure cooker that she wanted me to pack and mail to her daughter when I
got stateside. As I made room for the pot, I recalled the joke. I thought now that the
brother-in-law may have told the joke in an anticipatory way to prevent Jyotimami
from asking him to take the pot in his suitcase. His joke suggested that Jyotimami
did not realize the opportunities for consumption her daughter had, and the re-
sponsibilities she had in her job as a software engineer that might prevent time-
consuming cooking.

2017 | Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 7 (1): 327352

Sareeta Amrute 346

Joking can be mobilized to curtail expectations. Parents who FedEx food or

push their pots on travelers go overboard from the opposite direction to Mobile
Reddy. They express their care in daily fussing, betraying at once their inability
to let their children be independent and get to work, and their ignorance about
how life in the global cognitive ecumene is truly lived. The brother-in-laws joke
at Jyotimamis expense acts as a limit on what she should expect of her diaspor-
ic, professional family members. Within a social world that makes and remakes
high-caste authority, such movesespecially those everyday situational comedies
that riff on foodreaffirm upper-caste authority by redefining how that authority
is expressed. Intergenerationally, comedy shifts the grounds of that identity from
such issues as food rituals to that of entrepreneurial expertise. Comedy here over-
writes the performance of upper-caste rituals with modern professional identities
of choice while remaindering lower-caste identity as a trait that supersedes choice
itself (Deshpande 2013: 32).
Jokes about work refute popular stereotypes of Indian programmers as high-
performing automata. They also dissect a cognitive economys demand for the
ceaseless time and creative improvisation of knowledge workers. Jokes about family,
on the other hand, materialize a kin network so that it will have limited sway over
cosmopolitan coders. They distance IT workers from a seemingly old-fashioned
national economy and the Indian middle-class family of the twentieth century that
supported it, even while envisioning the authority of middle-class coders through
the very mode of immaterial professionalism that in other scenes is so ridiculed.

The rendering and the rend

When scholars of materiality address the complicated relationships between hu-
mans and things, they often do so with an eye toward including things more fully
in the stories we tell about the world. Thinking through how to tell such stories,
scholars such as Bruno Latour (2005) argue, requires us to recognize the agency
of things in shaping life. While this recognition can provide a richer account of
human and object interactions, it cannot do so if, as Tim Ingold (2013) suggests,
object-oriented analysis focuses singularly on relationships between things and
thing-using humans. Ingolds solution to this dilemma eliminates the classificatory
schema between humans and other animals so as to not favor humans, instead
thinking of species as a verb that denote acts of living in the worldhumans hu-
man, baboons baboon (ibid.). Yet the solution to the imbalance between humans
and nonhumans will not reside in ceaselessly widening the scope of investigation
to include animals, microbes, fungi, and so on, and their independent relation-
ship to things. Such an approach cannot encompass the interstitial connections
between beings and things. In the interstices, processes of dematerialization ac-
company moments of materialization. To the extent that these two aspects can be
followed in analysis, they reveal the longue dure effects of object relations on the
landscape as well as the effect of longstanding configurations of power which work
through objectification.
Programming invokes these configurations as it moves between screens, views,
and functions. Vizualizations, the pixelated images that appear on screens, are

2017 | Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 7 (1): 327352

347 Press one for POTUS, two for the German chancellor

points where different bodies and machines meet. Pixelations describe, hide, and
condition the asymmetry between the elements conjoined, both representing and
distorting (M. Fuller 2008: 150). They provide simultaneously broadbrush and
granular visions about the connection between humans and things. By centering
these renderings in analysis, the ontological approach to humannonhuman rela-
tionships gains connective tissue. The renderings of these relationships on screen
show how humans and nonhumans are enrolled in creating particular orderings of
the world. Exploring how a humannonhuman relationship comes to support and
suspend a particular world adds a dimension to the otherwise flat relationship be-
tween human and nonhuman beings, which is necessary in addressing the ongoing
effects of power on bodies.
Jokes, parodies, and comedic ironies slow the rush of capitalist labor and make
concrete the logics that underpin it. As an affective, embodied practice, humor, like
music, provides a venue for shaping personhood and conduct in terms that grasp
both the ineffable nature of cognitive economies and the material embodiment of
economic form (Brennan forthcoming). Analytically, programmers jokes can both
be heard for the satirical critique they make of racialized migration regimes and
precarious labor conditions, and listened to for the space they clear that remains
undecided on how best to engage with these economies.13
Humor reveals the injuries of bodily labor in cognitive economies, where bod-
ies and machines are stitched together imperfectly. Along these sutures, humor
reveals a class of bodies that are created just like machines even as those very bod-
ies question the capitalist demand for the ceaseless valuation of their cognitive and
affective capabilities. Source code editors like the one programmers use when they
bug test render code visible. Retorts on clever and stupid cooks render one vision
of humans and things even while they materialize others. The toggle between these
renderings and the underlying code happens across a social field, as humans and
technologies in their particularity are entangled, disentangled, and fused.

Support for this research was provided by the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Simp-
son Center for the Humanities at the University of Washington, the Fulbright
Foundation and the Social Science Research Council. Special thanks go to Kathryn
Zykowski, Jennifer Dubrow, Vicki Brennan and the journals anonymous reviewers.

Adjit, Dayanandan, Han Donker, and Ravi Saxena. 2012. Corporate boardrooms blocked
by caste? Economic and Political Weekly 48(31):3943.

13. I analogize here Didi-Hubermans distinction between seeing and looking at, where the
former describes analyzing a paintings components, while the latter signifies allowing
something in the painting to leap into view that does not permit of identification or
closure (2005: 268).

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Sareeta Amrute 348

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Pour POTUS, tapez un, tapez deux pour la chancelire allemande:

humour, race et re-matrialisation parmi la diaspora indienne des
professionnels de linformatique
Rsum : Il ny a sans doute rien de pire que ltude universitaire de lhumour. Mais
que se passe-t-il quand lhumour devient le vhicule servant rconcilier des co-
nomies prcaires? Lanthropologue peut mettre son attention au service de ltude
de lhumour de manire produire une critique politique qui nest pas idologi-
quement marque, il peut galement avoir recours lhumour pour maintenir des
relations sociales. Suivant ces traditions, jtudie les plaisanteries que les migrants
transnationaux indiens travaillant dans la programmation changent propos de
la dlocalisation et des employs des centrales dappel - consistant par exemple
imaginer un monde dans lequel les prsidents sont remplacs par des centrales
dappel - qui parodient les contradictions palpables des conomies de la connais-
sance. Lhumour peut tre un outil qui drange ce que les Marxistes autonomistes
appelaient lincorporation de lme au coeur de travail cognitif. Il peut galement
ordonner les frontires de ce qui constitue un comportement acceptable. Cet ar-
ticle utilise les rcits des programmateurs indiens, en particulier ceux pour qui
un sjour Berlin a constitu un accs vers la classe moyenne, afin danalyser de
prs comment les programmateurs indiens concilient le rle racialis et dprci
de codeur pur et simple et celui de citoyen Indien cosmopolite. A travers les plai-
santeries, cet article montre que les professions transnationales de la connaissance,
en tant que formation conomique relativement rcente, ont des convergences avec
lintrt rcent pour le statut ontologique des objets et des machines. Cet article
suggre quune comprhension rigoureuse des rapports humains/non-humains
doit prendre en compte les formes de connectivit interstitielles qui positionnent
les personnes et les objets contre la texture du changement conomique.

Sareeta Amrute is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of

Washington, Seattle. Her scholarship investigates personhood and labor within
technological capital and throughout the South Asian diaspora. Her first book,

2017 | Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 7 (1): 327352

Sareeta Amrute 352

Encoding race, encoding class: Indian IT workers in Berlin, was published by Duke
University Press in 2016.
 Sareeta Amrute
 Department of Anthropology
 University of Washington
 314 Denny Hall
 Box 353100

2017 | Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 7 (1): 327352