Migrants in and after empire: India, Africa, and the Middle East

Migrants in and after empire: India, Africa, and the Middle East

Friday, 14 May 2010 - 11:30am
Venue: 
Dahrendorf Room, Founders' Building, St Antony's College
Convenor: 
Dr Faisal Devji
Series: 
Asian Studies Seminar

While the remarkable networks of trade and labour that link India to Kenya, Senegal to Lebanon and Eritrea to Saudi Arabia are well known to economists, anthropologists and historians, as well as being of great interest to policymakers, their analysis tends to be conducted within fairly narrow parameters. On the one hand such movements are studied in terms of the paradigm set by post-war immigration to Western Europe and North America. This brings to the fore issues related to the erection of legal barriers against migration in the wake of decolonization, the rise of racism and xenophobia in so-called host societies and the politics of multiculturalism. On the other hand there is the paradigm set by the much longer histories of Atlantic slavery and colonial indenture, for which the major issues have to do with transnational regimes of exploitation and the development of capitalism. And in between these two blocs lies the scholarship on diasporas that takes its cue from the study of itinerant groups such as the Jews and Armenians, concerned with even longer histories of exile and practices of exclusion.

Such paradigms of scholarship have together produced a rich literature on commerce and migration in many parts of the world, but in casting their material within the genealogies of exile, indenture and immigration, these studies have also prevented us from addressing the particularities of mobility in the Afro-Asian world. The task before this workshop, then, is to describe the links of trade and labour created by migrant populations between the different and connected worlds of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East since the era of European imperialism without subscribing to deterministic theories of economy or society, and considering instead the novel forms of wealth and belonging produced in such movements, and their multiple and possibly unpredictable effects on normative conceptions of state and capital. Indeed, these mobile networks can arguably be seen as existing slightly in advance of such normative categories and being capable, therefore, of constituting their futures in arenas as diverse as the creation of post-Soviet economies (in which the tiny UAE plays an inordinately large role) and the refashioning of Africa as a site of Chinese and Indian investment. This one-day workshop will bring together contributions by historians, political scientists and anthropologists to discuss both historical and contemporary aspects of transnational migration patterns between India, Africa and the Middle East. To connect historical and critical social-scientific approaches with policy debates, the workshop will conclude with a keynote address by a prominent diplomat who deals professionally with many of the questions at issue.