South Asia is the world's largest and, perhaps, most significant region for migration studies. Its significance may be registered at a number of levels, both economically, politically and culturally. With a documented history of more than 4,000 years, migration from and within South Asia remains today at the heart of many contemporary global relationships and processes. Yet despite its multi-faceted origins and latter-day importance, South Asian migration has hitherto not received the type of theoretical-empirical study that its contradictory nature demands. This conference posits that South Asian migration has unique characteristics that necessitate a complimentary interdisciplinary and international approach to both conceptualisation and fieldwork. Three particular perspectives inform this call for papers:
First, South Asian migration studies traditionally has been dominated by neoclassical understandings of society. This is epitomised in the identification of various 'push and pull factors' that are judged to 'rationally' inform the decisions and movement of individuals. This approach is seen to have a number of limitations in the regional context. Particularly, downplayed is how (i) many inherently social and historical imperatives to migrate characterise different communities, imperatives that are not always common to all populations, or reducible to a-historical explanation; (ii) South Asian migration usually involves the transfer of populations from one sector of production to another, or from one economic system (e.g. pastoralism) or competing territorial unit (e.g. the Indian Union) into another (e.g. the waged sector, the Gulf economy), with systemic consequences that cannot be recognised through evaluating the benefits/drawbacks accruing to individual migrants; (iii) the heterogeneity of acts of migration in South Asia problematises the 'fetish of the spatial' and the 'fetish of the temporal' that afflicts migration studies, whereby more-or-less permanent movement across space is readily conceived as 'migration', yet seasonal rotating labour in industry and agriculture is not.
Second, many studies appear to operate with very linear understandings of the character of contemporary migration. In an attempt to counter the neoclassical tradition important works have sought to demonstrate the historical continuities of South Asian migration over time. Whilst the conference takes inspiration from these often textured studies, it also seeks to highlight that much discontinuity exists amongst (i) different practices of South Asian migration, and (ii) formally similar practices and/or paths in historically quite different circumstances (for example, migration in the mediaeval era, versus in colonial and post-1947 epochs). However, it seems not just that such discontinuities exist. Rather, different typologies of migration – different spaces and times – appear to elide, collide and inter-connect.
Third, the identity politics of South Asian migration has given rise to a number of paradoxes. This is seen clearly in how migration in certain quarters receives considerable patronage (e.g. with seasonal and foreign labour programmes), whilst other communities face state pressure to settle (e.g. nomadic castes/tribes). Similarly, just as some migrants are supported in their citizenship claims, basic rights are effectively denied to others. These contradictions, it is held, can be usefully evaluated in terms of the nature of post-1947 South Asian state formations, and processes of global labour migration.
Fourth, as cyclical migration in South Asia is group-based, a certain 'double-absence' pertains to migration to alien areas. Studies of how loss of a cohort is registered in the cultural calendar and in the community work calendar – both of which are required to adapt – appear, as yet, to be few in number. On the one hand, as powerful traditions (oral, financial, etc.) have evolved, migration appears directly to have influenced not only 'hegemonic' cultural traditions, but also radical movements. On the other hand, as labour-deficient communities are a significant feature of parts of South Asia, their perpetuation appears to indicate something conceptually important in theorising the contemporary wider economic scene, characteristically portrayed as with a labour-surplus.
In establishing these initial reference points, the conference as an event is seeking to make a theoretical intervention in South Asian migration studies that can also be practical. Thus, the conference aims particularly to initiate a constructive long-term research dialogue over these empirical-conceptual issues, and others, by providing a space conducive to discussion of appropriate pro-people research programmes, publications and possible institutional development/collaborations.
In light of the above, multi-disciplinary papers are encouraged, as based upon empirical research work. (Abstracts for non-South Asian papers will be considered for their comparative/conceptual merit.) Interested scholars should submit their work address, provisional paper title and one page abstract to the organising committee via firstname.lastname@example.org The deadline for abstracts is 20th September 2010.
All delegates with accepted papers have the option of staying without charge November 23rd to November 27th in clean and comfortable guesthouse accommodation adjacent to the conference venue. (N.B. This applies to South Asian and international delegates alike.)
Delegates employed/sponsored by institutions outside of South Asia will be required to pay a registration fee of 200 USD; some concessions may be granted, on application.
The conference finances will be available for inspection at the close of proceedings. Specific receipts for expenditures will be available on request.
The conference is organised as an interdisciplinary and politically independent gathering. The organisers are of the opinion that an open and democratic debate is necessary of the serious challenges faced by South Asian populations. The gathering builds upon the conference 'The Character & Trajectory of the Indian Economic Formation in an Era of Globalisation' (2008) and the conference 'Region Formation in Contemporary South Asia' (2009).
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