Panel 3:
Trade, Markets, Capital

Faculty Discussants

Andrea Wright (William & Mary).png

Professor Andrea Wright

William & Mary
Ka-Kin Cheuk City University of Hong Kong.png

Professor Ka-Kin Cheuk

City University of Hong Kong


Dr. Ping-hsiu Alice Lin

Harvard University
A Rolling Stone Gathers Gloss: The Colored Stone Trade Across South and Southeast Asia

Abstract: For any dealer of gems, the world is the market. Precise numbers are difficult to find, but tens of thousands of loose colored stones, each worth anything from a few hundred to several thousands of dollars, are purportedly traded across South and Southeast Asia. The trade converges in a bustling gem market in the small town of Chanthaburi, along Thailand’s border with Cambodia. Here, dealers of diverse nationalities encounter each other, as they buy and sell gems that then travel all over the world. Over the past three decades, this market has witnessed an increasing number of dealers from Pakistan, a country where resource exploration, extraction, and commodification have combined with conflict to create new forms of livelihood. Drawing upon two years of ethnographic research in multiple gem markets inhabited and visited by these Pakistani dealers, this paper maps out the different sites of this trade, identifying the nodes and networks of an inter-Asian trade. In so doing, the paper explores the reconfigurations of spaces of exchange and mobility in the region, tracing how the formation of certain resource markets and human geographies is tied to the colonial pasts and postcolonial presents of Asia’s resource frontiers. 

Please click below to see the pre-circulated panelist presentations on DropBox.

Sana Quadri

Independent Researcher
Traders to Tycoons: The Evolution of the Indian Merchant Class in the Political Economy of the UAE

Abstract: “Merchants travelling abroad for the purpose of business are not considered migrants”, was one reason attributed by the historian Claude Markovitz (2008) for why the movements of Indian merchants to the rest of the world remains an understudied topic. This paper sets out to examine the evolving character of Indian-owned migrant businesses in the UAE since its formation as an independent state in the year 1971. By way of making an intergenerational comparison between the Indian entrepreneurial class that have been operating in the country since long before 1971 to those that arrived during the post-1971 era, this paper will enforce the concepts of merchant networks and of locality, as propounded by Markovits (2000:2008), to study what differentiates the nature of capital accumulation by each generation, and how that has shaped their status within the socio-political hierarchy of both the hosting nation as well as the sending state. This paper will also rely on primary sources such as memoirs, autobiographies, and media interviews of Indian entrepreneurs in the UAE. 

Please click below to see the pre-circulated panelist presentations on DropBox.

Shikha Dilawri

SOAS, University of London
Tidal Connections: Merchant Itineraries and the Entanglements of Race, Caste, and Capital 

Abstract: Through bringing into view the intersections between colonialism, capitalism, and race or caste, racial capitalism and caste capitalism complicate distinct but related tendencies in social theory. Yet while unsettling orthodox Marxist, postcolonial, and anthropological assumptions, deployments of these concepts can also replicate existing spatial imaginaries. While racial capitalism is primarily understood as an “Atlantic phenomenon” (Ince 2021), conceptualisations of caste capitalism tend to remain subcontinent bound. This paper critiques and attempts to stretch beyond this territorial impasse by turning to the figure of the Indian merchant capitalist. How can this figure act as a vector through which to apprehend race, caste, and capital in the same frame during a period marked by the spread and consolidation of imperialism and global capitalism? Drawing on insights from critical approaches to historical sociology, to address this question I turn to biographies of Gujarati merchants circulating the Indian Ocean and operating between India, East Africa, and Britain in the late 19th and into the 20th century. Through situating the biographies of these 'middlemen' in relation to colonial archival materials and recent interventions regarding merchant capitalism (e.g. Banaji 2021), this paper unsettles existing spatial and temporal ruptures upon which existing theorisations are predicated, offering a lens into the chaotic process of “different relations of power colliding” (Robinson 2007). This involves attentiveness to the level of the formation of social relations, wider developments in the global economy, and the connections between them – evident, for example, in the merchant recruitment of family, caste, and contract-based Indian labour integral to British imperial expansion in East Africa. Ultimately, I argue that such an approach to the merchant can help lend insight into the often-obscured way in which caste capitalism and racial capitalism have worked in service of one another, illuminating the operation of global racial hierarchies. 

Please click below to see the pre-circulated panelist presentations on DropBox.