CFP “Regional Towns and Migration: Interrogating Transnationalism and Development in South Asia”, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands, 10-11 October 2013

Jointly organised by the Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR) and the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bangalore

Provincial Globalisation Programme
funded by WOTRO Science for Global Development, Netherlands Organisation of Scientific Research (NWO)

The Provincial Globalisation research programme explores transnational flows of migrant resources into India through a series of regional-level studies centred on ‘provincial’ towns and their rural hinterlands. By comparatively mapping transnational networks at the regional level, the research programme is developing a fresh perspective on questions of migration and development in contemporary India. Although there is a substantial literature on the ‘migration-development’ nexus focusing on remittances, few studies have attempted to capture the multiple scales at which transnational mobilities occur, in particular at the regional level. Our study of transnationalism fills this gap by interrogating the idea of region beyond its spatial boundaries and viewing it through a transnational lens. In this way we hope to revive the idea of region as a key locus of analysis and, thinking beyond questions of political boundaries, states and languages, examine how ‘region’ is imagined and produced in the contemporary context.

Conceptually, we view ‘region’ as constituted by particular kinds of mobilities – of people, trade and finance, or cultural flows. Conversely, the study of transnationalism may be enhanced through a regional focus, keeping in view the long histories of mobility that have created specific regional formations. We are especially interested in complicating the idea of towns as ‘provincial’ spaces, given their position as conduits of goods, ideas, migrants, and capital connecting their rural hinterlands with other parts of India and the world. As transnational and translocal connections intensify and multiply, many regional centres have become directly tethered to wider networks of mobility, capital flows, and international development agendas, bypassing the major ports and metro cities through which they were earlier connected to the ‘outside’. Diasporic groups also increasingly forge relations directly with their home villages or towns, sending money to local NGOs or religious institutions, or investing in the booming real estate sector in the urban peripheries. The presence of the ‘global’ in provincial towns – in images, infrastructure and the presence of diasporic subjects – often contributes to a new politics of development or regional assertions.

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To extend and consolidate research on this theme, a two-day international conference is being held on 10-11 October 2013 at the University of Amsterdam. The conference will gather scholars from a range of disciplines and interdisciplinary areas who are working in different regions of India and other countries of South Asia on topics that fall within any of the following broad thematic areas:

  1. Region-specific patterns and histories of international migration and the local impacts of remittances and investments by migrants or diasporic groups
    Migrant resource flows are stimulating significant changes in India’s provincial towns and their surrounding rural areas. For example, money sent home by migrants may lead to changes in land use patterns, flow into urban real estate projects, or influence community mobilisations around developmental goals. We welcome papers that map these transnational flows and assess their effects (social, economic, political) in specific regions.
  2. Regional diaspora philanthropy

    In many regions of India, migrants are closely involved in philanthropic endeavors to develop rural infrastructure, education and health facilities, and social welfare schemes. They also channel substantial donations to support religious institutions, community associations and political parties. Such activities often have significant implications for local politics, possibly leading to new social divisions or conflicts, changes in urban power structures, or the consolidation of regional cultural identities or political movements. We are interested in case studies of diaspora philanthropy directed at specific regions and/ or social groups.

  3. Transnational politics of development and/ or the environment

    In the literature on economic and urban regions, the region is often seen as an uncontested and territorial entity, defined in terms of state power and political boundaries, into which capital can enter almost unhindered. These peripheries of cities and ‘provincial towns’ are often see as ‘empty’ spaces ready for development or investment from outside. Similarly, South Asians living abroad often desire to ‘improve’ so-called ‘provincial’ towns and ‘backward’ rural landscapes through development. Diasporic groups supporting particular kinds of ‘development’ may come into conflict with groups opposing such projects in the name of environment, which in turn may be inflected by transnational ties. We invite papers that explore how regional imaginaries are cross-cut and inflected by transnational flows of capital, development agendas, or social movements.

  4. Transnationalism and regional identity politics

    Regionalism has been a significant feature of the post-Independence politics, particularly in India, despite efforts at ‘nation-building’ and decentralisation. In many cases, regionalist politics have revolved around development aspirations and/ or perceptions of under-development or marginalisation caused by their incorporation into larger political entities, while diasporic social and developmental aspirations are in turn often articulated or fostered through the language of regional identity or cultural pride. We are interested in papers that explore regional movements or demands for autonomy and/or language or caste-based social movements that draw on ideas of regional identity and difference, and especially on the role of diasporic groups in these movements.

  1. Formation of regional transnational networks / communities

    The fashioning of transnational communities builds on and transforms older social relations of kinship, marriage, gender, and caste, as different kinds of ‘communities’ adjust to intensified mobility practices and the spatial reordering of social ties. How do families, households, kin groups, caste communities and other groups, historically rooted in place, reproduce themselves in this more mobile and transnationalised social world? Similarly, mobility and transnational flows impinge on class relations, as economically dominant groups in the home regions may improve their position by drawing on migrant resources, while marginalised groups in turn may use migration and remittances to improve their access to land, education, or jobs. We welcome papers that examine the mobility strategies deployed by different groups and how ‘reverse flows’ of resources may reproduce or transform structures of domination or inequality, or foster conflicts or resistance movements in different regions.

  2. Conceptual / theoretical papers on rethinking the region in South Asia in the context of globalisation and transnational flows
    Different kinds of regions have been delineated in the literature – linguistic, cultural, historical, agro-economic – but the abstract ties that constitute regions are in fact blurred, irregular, and in flux. How can the region be productively redefined not as an ‘objective’ geographic or socio-economic entity but as a shifting formation that is constantly subjected to contestations and redefinition by diverse actors and forces – local, regional, national and transnational?

For more information please write to: provincial.globalisation@gmail.com Or see website: www.provglo.org.

Prof. Carol Upadhya, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore
Prof. Mario Rutten, Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research, University of Amsterdam


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