Topics for South Asia Conference 2017

The conference is divided into two panels. The first panel will explore South Asia as a site for research, with topics examining both how South Asia and its people have been imagined in discourses of development and how South Asia attempts to challenge these imaginaries. The second panel will explore South Asian worlding practices as methodology, with topics discussing how the method of worlding can travel beyond the confines of ‘traditional’ South Asian area studies.


Panel 1: Remapping Boundaries


Topic 1: The Innovation/Production of South Asian Capital

This topic explores the growing innovation and technological hubs in South Asia through processes of creating special zones such as “science parks”, “electronic cities”, “genome valley”. The topic aims to research the different sites of innovation in development in order to examine how these productive spaces are working to project alternate conceptions of South Asia. Rather than typical imaginations of South Asia as a world of factories for western clothing or consumer goods, these new spaces attempt to be productive sites of innovation and creation. Such innovation sites help to imagine South Asia as a site of active production beyond consumer manufacturing and consumption. At the same time, we aim to also problematize the notion that South Asia can only be valued for its ability to contribute to the capitalist neoliberal market system through its manufacturing or this emerging “innovation” market. In these projects of innovation, which aim to world South Asian space into global significance, how are other types of spaces, production or bodies being excluded from this narrative or rendered invisible?


Topic 2: Biopolitics of Poverty: Organ Trading and the Question of ‘Rights’

South Asia has been regarded as the ‘organs bazaar of the world’. The growing demand for organs and tissues has been matched by the commodification of certain bodies, mainly made up of vulnerable populations. As South Asia has been imagined as a ‘third world space’ in which less value has been placed in comparison to the Western world, what does it mean for organs and tissues from the Global South to be commissioned to move through transnational networks to the Global North? This very movement of ‘life’ can be conceptualized within the framework of biopolitics not only as a re-imagination of opportunity, but also value through the means of survival for both parties involved – organs for the recipient to live, and money for the donors to live. What we can see from the biopolitics of poverty is the ways in which certain bodies have been constituted to simply exist as ‘modes of production’ that also succumbs them to a set of practices that resides outside the periphery of the state. Thus, what does it mean to be valuable in relation to what you can produce – body parts, and in relation to how the West needs you, and places their on set of values on you? Therefore, as South Asia, becomes a literal ‘space of life’ that both challenges and reinforces the set values placed upon it. Thus, through the transnational nature of this practice, South Asia is placed directly into the capitalist, neoliberal market, in which its value is re-imagined and reconstituted throughout the world.


Topic 3: Breaking the Boundaries of Citizenship 

Based upon ethnic or civil/ liberal concepts of nationhood, many scholars assumed that the formation of citizenship in South Asia is based upon how states and institutions define it. This interpretation also emphasizes the guarantee of rights, full political participation and legality as key factors in making a citizen. However, this interpretation neglects a variety of factors. First and foremost, the concept of citizenship, which implies a “duality” of inclusion and exclusion as stated by Hae Yeon Choo, problematizes the positivist message that citizenship is a project to produce full equality. Secondly, as Benedict Anderson’s observed how nation states “produced citizens by constructing commonalities among its members as “imagined communities”, the association of citizenship with nationality is problematic when taking into the ongoing dynamic processes and diversity in South Asia. Thirdly, the assumption of the state as the main producer of citizenship clashes with dynamic global patterns such as the legacy of colonialism and the ongoing process of globalization. Therefore, how do we define citizenship? To respond to this question, this topic aims to approach citizenship through a decentered approach, removing the state’s role from the classical interpretation of citizenship as the end goal of a project to achieve full equality. Considering the significance of British colonial legacy on the social, cultural and economic attitudes of South Asians both within and abroad, this topic explores Hong Kong’s diverse South Asian community. A strong combination of colonial legacy on state institutions and globalization had shaped and curved the discourses of South Asians in the city. By looking into this unique community, this topic attempts to discuss and rethink what and how ‘citizenship’ means for South Asians, and whether or not there is a commonality to its interpretation.


Panel 2: Worlding Beyond borders


Topic 4: Acts of “Worlding” Re-appropriated

A reminder that even though worlding and its context largely derives from a state – level of implementation (Aihwa Ong), and it occurs to counter the present narrative of “developing countries” and “3rd world” and as a re-appropriation of the Worlding in colonial terms. Acts of Worlding, though state level, neglects the worlding that one should account for through individual subaltern narratives, and that worlding, while a consistent phenomenon throughout Asian temporalities suffer from generalization of just simply being physically identifiable, from an aerial lens, rather from daily occurrences. Worlding on an individual basis is constantly happening and has been a long part of diasporic narratives, although more surfaced now thanks to the internet and this platform should continue to be an outlet for worlding. It is not something that just occurs in the realms and regions that has left the most obvious colonial imprint. Re-appropriating late-capitalism might be the way to go – to be an active network and disseminate post-colonial, critical theory, queer theory as examples. An example of this already happening is on spaces like Tumblr where people actively talk and produce truths that are unstable, but on a constant basis and readiness to challenge. This level of activism is not traditional and un fitting of any historical event we’ve seen before but this should not dismiss it’s effectiveness and critical place in society as a, one might say, almost replacement to current news media outlets.


Topic 5: Beyond South Asia: how can ‘Worlding’ travel beyond borders?

The idea of worlding proposed by Aihwa Ong and Ananya Roy is a process of making claims to being global. In South Asia, this has been a method used to reimagine how the region is thought of spatially and temporally. From the urbanization practices to new technological innovations, practices in contemporary South Asia are demonstrating this process of worlding as they borrow, reinterpret, and generate alternative imaginaries of their world and their place in the “global”. This topic will explore the method of making claims to being ‘global’ and its contribution to dispelling notions of South Asia as a ‘third world’ space. In doing so, we introduce a destabilizing rupture into ways of understanding space through typical methods of maps and bordered geographic areas. We will take a deeper look at how worlding practices such as creating special economic zones are coming to question how spaces have been traditionally mapped and the saliency of borders. As these seemingly fixed conceptions of space are rethought in the context of South Asia, worlding raises new questions for other methods and discourses of understanding and managing space. From fields of geography, international relations, to international law, worlding methods are reshaping our thinking beyond the fixity of borders.


No need to hear your voice when I can talk about you better than you can speak about yourself. No need to hear your voice. Only tell me about your pain. I want to know your story. And then I will tell it back to you in a new way. Tell it back to you in such a way that it has become mine, my own. Re-writing you I write myself anew. I am still author, authority. I am still colonizer the speaking subject and you are now at the center of my talk.

from bell hooks, Marginality as a site of resistance, in R. Ferguson et al. (eds), Out There: Marginalization and contemporary Cultures