‘Discontinuous Interruptions’: bodiliness and pluralities in histories of the Indian Army, 1914–1918
The existing scholarship on the histories of the Indian Army in the First World War offers limited sustained engagement with material culture. This is in part due to the value placed by war historians on first-hand written testimony, one result of which is that the histories of these men’s experiences – to the extent their experiences are recorded in the (public) archive – are monopolised by a Western epistemic lens. Katie’s research instead takes as its starting point the notion of bodiliness: a sense of self that is multi-sensorial, incorporates a spiritual wholeness, and that is embedded in a wider pluriverse that maintains one’s interconnectedness with and indivisibility from the natural world. Drawing on photographs, film, sound, and object analysis, her doctorate project explores how bodiliness was enunciated across plural registers in material culture as a way of researching histories of the experiences of Indian Army recruits during the World War. In order to do this, the project expands the idea of what design historians regard as material culture and how design historians approach material culture as a research category. By incorporating indigenous ontologies that resist the European conceptualisation of the body that dominates design history discourse, and that locate agency beyond the anthropocene, definitions of material culture grounded in objecthood become unstable. For example, primary sources defined by absence – like photographs that illustrate the lack of a built environment, or the absence of certain elements of dress – become relevant, and physical artefacts demand engagement for the intra-active, generative role they play as agentive forces in shaping the experiences of soldiers.
The development of new critical lenses for this project’s methodology is approached by incorporating postcolonial and decolonial scholarship into its analytical framework. It responds to calls for border thinking in academic onto-epistemologies by thinking with otherwise worldviews that are marked by epistemic and ontological difference to the dominant views in the Global North. Drawing on existing research around the notion of individual world-making and bodiliness, the thesis proposes a new conceptual framework of heterobodiliness: the enunciation of plural identities and senses of self within the same body. Katie’s research embraces pluralities and ambiguities, by exploring the potential for material culture (in the expanded sense described above) to contain registers that the historian cannot and should not seek to fully pin down, but which can gesture to the embodied articulation of plural selfhoods. By allowing space for ambiguity, her research begins to address the concern in decolonial work of imposing tropes of subjectivities that do not reflect the lived experience of the people centred in one’s writing. She does not claim to overcome this, but rather sits with the discomfort and challenges this poses to its methodology in researching and writing with decolonial objectives. In this way, the work becomes as much a meditation on the nature of decoloniality as a project with decolonial objectives.
More about Katie
Katie Irani is a LAHP-funded, final-year PhD candidate in design history at the Royal College of Art and V&A Museum, London, Associate Lecturer at the London College of Fashion, and Administrator for the AHRC-funded Frozen Futures research project. She is a member of OPEN, a research initiative initiated at the London Royal College of Art that draws on decolonial methods to develop art and design practices with transformational capabilities, inclusive of emotional work, self-care, respect and positionality. She has previously worked as Visiting Lecturer at the RCA/V&A on the MA History of Design programme.
Katie's research explores the histories of the Indian Army in the First World War; it interrogates the nature and function of material culture as a research category within design history and considers the enunciations of bodiliness by Indian Army soldiers across shifting, plural registers of materiality. Her research is heavily informed by decolonial theory and seeks to develop new critical lenses with which to research and write material culture and design histories.
Katie received an MA in History of Design at the RCA/V&A (Distinction, 2018), following a Graduate Diploma in History of Art at the Courtauld Institute of Art (Dean's Award for Achievement, 2017). Between her MA and PhD, she worked as Curatorial Researcher at the Design Museum, assisting in the conceptualisation, research and curation of two exhibitions, and as Researcher for Harvard Business Review tech podcast 'Exponential View'. Before returning to academia, Katie trained and qualified as a solicitor at Linklaters LLP, London. She completed a BA in Jurisprudence at the University of Oxford (2010–13).
PhD History of Design, RCA/V&A Museum (in progress, 2019-present)
MA History of Design, RCA/V&A Museum, 2017-2018
GradDip History of Art, Courtauld Institute of Art, 2016–2017
LPC (Graduate Diploma Legal Practice), University of Law, 2014
BA Jurisprudence, University of Oxford, 2010–2013
Administrator, Frozen Futures (2023-present)
Researcher, Yinka Shonibare Foundation (April 2023-July 2023)
Associate Lecturer, Cultural & Historical Studies, London College of Fashion, UAL (2022-present)
Independent Consultant for Bristol Museums Development Trust (2022)
Visiting Lecturer, MA History of Design, Royal College of Art/Victoria & Albert Museum (2020-2022)
Administrator, Hong Kong Design Trust/RCA Fellowship in Design Curation (2020-2021)
Researcher, OPEN (2018-present)
Researcher, Exponential View(2018-2020)
Curatorial Researcher, Design Museum, London (2019)
Speaker Bursary for Annual Conference (Student), Design History Society (September 2022)
London Arts & Humanities Partnership (LAHP) PhD Studentship, 2019-2023
Distinction, 2018 (MA History of Design, RCA/V&A Museum)
Dean's Award, 2017 (GradDip History of Art, Courtauld Institute of Art)
In Conversation, Gallery 76 (Sydney, Australia) and Louis Joel Gallery (Melbourn), Australia (May-late 2023)
Semiotics of Sewing (Colectivo Malvestidas), MODUS: hosts exhibition, London (October to January 2023)
Tiny Gallery, OPEN, Ransomes Docks, London (April 2022 - July 2022)
Paper titled ‘Tawiz, talismans and tiny texts: miniaturized holy books as folklorised agents in design history’, Design History Society Seminar Series, ‘Folk’ Cultures in everyday Objects, online (November 2022)
Paper titled ‘“I am not what I was”: Examining the relationship between transience and the (im)materialities of the bodily’, Design History Society Annual Conference, ‘Design and Transience’, Izmir Institute of Technology, Izmir (September 2022)
Co-presenter, 'OPEN: Memories, Stories and Recipes for Otherwise Design Histories', Design History Society Annual Conference 'Memory Full?' (September 2021)
Essay Sprint workshop for Ella Britton’s Collective Design School at the V&A Museum, London Design Festival (September 2019)