Skip to content Skip to navigation

Aaron Hopes

Aaron Hopes

Second Year Cohort
Research Interests: 
multispecies ethnography, the anthropology and history of science and technology, religion, theories of modernity, anthropology of the state, vigilantism and communal violence, industrialization of biological life and food-ways; veterinary biotechnology and vigilante cow protection groups in India


Across India, organize acts of violence and murder against Muslims and low-caste Hindus occur over the rumored trafficking, slaughter, and consumption of cows, practices which remain illegal throughout most of the country. The research for my dissertation focuses on people entangled in the lives and deaths of Hinduism's most taboo creature. To clarify, I am not interested in the legal apparatus and judicial system through which different ways of living with cows shift in legality or become illicit; rather I hope to learn from groups fixed to the margins of the Indian state, yet emerge as an important part of the present dictum of what can and cannot be done with cows in India. Do certain, extra-judicial, milieus of the cow more thoroughly accommodate Hindutva (Hindu orthodoxy) than the state of India’s legal/judicial apparatus?

To date, most of my focus on this project has coalesced around India's National Dairy Research Institute (NDRI), located in Haryana in north India. For scientists at NDRI the successful, repeatable, cloning of buffalo for dairy continues to be celebrated as a major benchmark in India’s state-driven plan to increase the country’s stockpile of "elite germplasm”, a feat which would ultimately mean the distribution of reproductive material to rural dairy farmers and would herald positive health outcomes for India’s growing population. At NDRI, buffalo cloning and genetics research are each viewed as an imminent panacea that will lead to the industrialization of India’s dairy as well as quietly solve the problem of cows by supplanting the critter holding religious taboo with a killable alternative whose meat can be sold to market.

In my work at NDRI, I am primarily concerned with the narrative of veterinary biotechnologists working to perfect the process of cloning buffalo through “India’s Hand-guided Cloning Technique”. In the coming years, veterinary researchers at NDRI hope to bring the viability rate of cloned buffalo embryos up from 1% to 15% in order to have a substantial impact on the nation’s dairy production. Which laboratory and research practices articulate the subjectivities of these state-mandated, secular veterinary biotechnologists whose science that works to industrialize the buffalo for dairy and meat is also always a science that devalues the cow as a producer of dairy?

A second group of actors similarly responsible for the shifting precarity around cows in India operates on a much different register; I have recently begun to look at India’s regionally based cow protection (gauraksha) groups. By giving ethnographic focus to India’s gauraksha entities, I hope to bring into relief regionalism and authority as crucial components of the bio/zoo-political accommodation and fierce protection Hinduism’s cow presently finds within India’s tumultuous modernity. Most states in India have a gauraksha group, and in some cases they perform as vigilantes committing violence against Muslims and low-caste Hindus thought to be trafficking cows or beef. These are events some journalistic outlets in India have referred to as troubling instances of “kangaroo justice”. Through what practices do gauraksha members fashion themselves as arbiters of Indian law and the state, which are also akin to performing a violent Hindutva?

In my research, I am deeply concerned with the role affect plays for both members of gauraksha groups who save cows at the cost of human life, and members of veterinary biotechnology research labs whose lives and livelihoods are committed to supplanting the cow as India’s preferred beast for industrial milk production.

As of September 2016 I have visited India’s National Dairy Research Institute (NDRI) in Haryana, India twice. During Summer 2017, I hope to continue preliminary fieldwork in Haryana and west Uttar Pradesh, India.

Before joining the Anthropology Department at Stanford, I lived in Lucknow and Jaipur, India as an Urdu/Hindi Language Fellow with the American Institute of India Studies (AIIS). I earned my bachelor’s degree in cultural anthropology and environmental studies at Emory University in Atlanta. I earned the M.A. in Social Sciences from The University of Chicago.

Additional research interests not mentioned here are inspired by time I have spent on organic farms, in carpentry workshops, and greenhouses in Chiba, Oita, Fukuoka, and Miyagi Prefectures in Japan.