Belonging Across the Bay of Bengal: Migrations, Networks, Circulations
This project reframing conventional area studies divides in two ways. By encompassing South and Western India, Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia within a common frame, it challenges the artificiality of a South Asia-Southeast Asia divide. Moreover in giving the Bay of Bengal a central place it will redress the prevailing imbalance of attention on the Western half of the Indian Ocean, and thereby open new perspectives on long-overlooked processes that contributed to the shaping of an interactive zone that now involves some five hundred million people.
Building on a May 2011 discussion at Princeton University with colleagues, focusing on the Tamil diaspora, Buddhist circulations, and national politics, this workshop will focus on contested notions of belonging across the Bay of Bengal that were fashioned by moving ideas, peoples and things. We see this as having transpired over three key moments: (1) a long 19th-century moment that shaped the re-conception of ‘traditional’ Asian belongings; (2) the crisis of the late 1920s in which tensions between ‘rival’ communities came to a head under global economic pressures; and (3) the decolonizations (or impending de-colonizations) of the 1950s and 1960s, in which particular communities were assigned their definitive spaces based on various mixes of the colonial-cum-nationalist narrative and ‘fixed’ religious affiliation rather than traditionally circulatory practices. The workshop will be held at Princeton University in October 2014 with twelve participants who will present work in progress.