Panel 2:
Transregional Placemaking

Faculty Discussants

Smriti Srinivas (UC Davis).png

Smriti Srinivas

University of California, Davis
Neha Vora (Lafayette College).png

Professor Neha Vora

Lafayette College


Pallavi Gupta

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Capitalizing on Differences: Caste, Capitalism, and the (Re)Production of Clean Railway Stations

Abstract: Cleanliness facilitates mobility for some by immobilizing others. Thus, the physical and economic mobility of passengers, shopkeepers and railway employees in a station is made possible by the social and economic immobility of cleaning workers. I examine the workings of racial capitalism and caste in the context of urban public infrastructure. Through an inquiry into labor within a key urban public infrastructure, namely the railway station. I highlight how the intersection of labor, gender, and caste create hierarchies among people, across a range of spaces and scales.By centering the experiences of cleaning workers and by focusing on the material conditions of caste, I illustrate how racial capitalism operates in contexts beyond the Atlantic. In doing so, I provide insight into how difference and dispossession become operationalized within urban spaces. I show how capitalism thrives on difference and reproduces urban inequalities in order to accumulate value on a global scale. I extend the application of racial capitalism to the space of the station and examine it in relation to caste, labor, and gender. 

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Tariq Rahman

University of California, Irvine
There and Back Again: Impossible Citizens, WhatsApp, and Brokering Knowledge About Pakistan’s Real Estate Market

Abstract: With an estimated valuation of between US$700 billion–1.4 trillion, real estate is the second largest industry in Pakistan and described by critics and proponents alike as the backbone of the country’s economy. At the same time, global real estate firms are wholly absent in Pakistan due to an entrenched national reputation for political and economic volatility and insecure land tenure. Instead, real estate in Pakistan is what I term a “diasporic market” made up of temporary migrants living and working across the Middle East, Europe, Africa, and North America. Subject to work visa regimes, state surveillance, and racialized discrimination, overseas Pakistanis transfer their wealth to the real estate market in anticipation of an inevitable return home.Based on four years of ethnographic fieldwork in a WhatsApp group for overseas investors, this paper examines the production, circulation, and meaning of knowledge about Pakistan’s real estate market. Knowledge is the condition of possibility for modern capitalism. But in an informal market plagued by endless “scams” and “fraud,” experts do not exist. Following contentious debates over risk, misinformation, and morality, I show how knowledge is brokered between group members through return visits, extended kin relations, and the chatroom’s constant flow of digital media including Google Earth images, drone footage, and leaked copies of maps, case files, and signed government approvals. In a context of profound instability and mistrust, I argue that uneven chains of knowledge transmission and gaps in information, paradoxically, make profit possible. Finally, I show how the lateralization of expertise allows organized agricultural landowners and tech-savvy local activists to spoil potential profits by producing their own knowledge about the market. 

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

Carmen Ervin

Stanford University 
Contours of Belonging: The Gendered Aesthetics of Afro-Descendant Mobility from One French Indian Ocean World to Another

Abstract: My proposed paper on French coloniality in the Indian Ocean World looks at the structural logics and modes of governance that were institutionalized during France’s departmentalization of La Réunion and Mayotte, and the subsequent effects on racialized labor, religion, and migratory practices between these two French islands of the Mascarene and Comoro archipelagos. My larger ethnographic research interests involve migrant Afro-descendant women’s integration experiences from Mayotte to La Réunion, connecting questions about gendered aesthetics, transoceanic kinship, and diasporic mobility in this contemporary geopolitical landscape. I seek to explore how the gendered politics of integration produce and mediate ideas of modernity and postcolonial subjectivities. Anthropologists have long argued that socially constructed identities present important sites for critical inquiry because these modes of belonging intersect to inform national and global systems of power, which disproportionately impact Afro-descendant people and communities. Although extant studies have focused on the naturalization and reproduction of coloniality throughout the transatlantic region, there is a dearth of anthropological and historical scholarship that recovers and situates the lives of Afro-descendant women and their mobility within the Indian Ocean World, what has also been referred to as the ‘second Caribbean’. As a result, there continues to be a tendency to neglect problematizing the impacts of gendering and racialization processes on economic and social mobility developed within this Europe-in-Africa geography. I seek to fill this gap through my research because such neglect reinforces a disconnection between shared feminist struggles in the spaces where Black and Afro-descendant women’s cultural contributions, narratives, and erasures are being voiced and recorded (or not). As such, the migrant Afro-descendant woman of the French Indian Ocean world presents a critical site of inquiry on race, mobility, and the contours of belonging within a feminist anthropology framework. 

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Nithila Kanagasabai

Tata Institute of Social Sciences
Researching from Afar: The Screen as Site

Abstract: For research scholars across the world, the summer of 2020 posed various challenges not the least among which was continuing to do ‘fieldwork’ despite lockdowns and travel restrictions. Ethnographers, historians, and geographers quickly put together online seminars and roundtables that reflected on the peculiarities of the moment, and possible ways forward for those in institutional locations in the Global North, but whose ‘fields’ were situated elsewhere – most often, in the Global South. As a scholar located in the elsewhere – India, in this case – studying the ways in which knowledges travel between the ‘field’ in the Global South and the ‘metropolitan institution’ in the Global North, the screen became my site.Starting with the premise that ‘space’ is a relational product of social action and its enabling material conditions, this paper turns to the inter-relationality of space and identity, by focusing on digital technology mediating and spatially reorienting uneven urban geographies. The main question that anchors this paper is: how are the relationships between the researcher and field reconfigured via digital technologies.Drawing on in-depth interviews of Indian doctoral students engaging in feminist knowledge production in universities in the United States of America, and unpacking the social media discourse on research from afar, this paper attempts to further the conversations on method and study of South Asia. Dissatisfied with the critical and philosophical uses of the optical metaphor of reflection, which does little in order to disrupt representational claims about objects held at a distance, Barad (2007, 89) advocates diffraction which entails “marking differences from within and as part of an entangled state”. In reading the screen diffractively, this paper unpacks layered stratigraphies of knowledge production through processes of circulation, connectivity, and entanglements.

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