array(2) { [0]=> string(4) "toto" [1]=> string(4) "titi"} South-Asian Mobilities

Les ateliers du quinquennal 2014-2018 |

South-Asian Mobilities

South-Asian Mobilities

Coordinators: Aurélie Varrel and David Picherit


See the seminar schedule


The “Mobilities” research group intends to adopt an interdisciplinary perspective in order to explore the notion of mobility in a variety of contexts. This notion is indeed a very fruitful one to analyze, but remains a symptom of closed disciplinary boundaries as well as a black box for the social sciences. This is particularly true for South Asia where Anglo-Saxon terminology, dominant because of its greater precision, enacts an even greater cleavage between fields of study.

This research group builds upon the experience—and includes certain members—of the MIDAS seminar (Mobilités, Migrations internationales et Diasporas d’Asie du Sud), which was active from 2008 to 2011 and was in part hosted by the CEIAS; this seminar was itself an extension of the following research groups from the previous four-year plans: “Circulation et Territoire dans le monde indien” and “Océan indien.” MIDAS asked questions about the spatial meaning of mobility over its entire range of scales: international migrations and diasporas, mobilities within South Asia and within its various component Nation-States, and finally day-to-day mobilities. The presentations repeatedly brought to light articulations between spatial mobility and social, economic and professional mobilities, and ultimately left us convinced of the necessity to think about the intersection between the fields of the social and the spatial, using the notion of mobility as a template. Moreover, any kind of research on mobility, whatever its starting point, must, it would seem, take a diachronic approach.

Taking this observation as a point of departure, what we would like to achieve in the context of this research group is to open up a dialogue on the socio-spatial phenomena designated by the term "mobility," with a specific focus on South Asia and its diasporas throughout the world. Providing a space for interdisciplinary dialogue, this group will be a place to exchange views on the quite distinct methodologies and conceptual repertoires that serve as the foundation for the various approaches to mobility articulated by the different participants. Our ambition here is to enrich each other’s research by pooling our approaches, thinking about ways to bring together the various dimensions of mobility, and developing new tools for thinking through and conducting our work.

The following three lines of inquiry may serve to structure our activities:

1/ Articulation of the scales of mobility

Several empirical studies have highlighted continuities between internal and international migrations. Moreover, research on foreigners in India (migrant workers, refugees, cross-border groups) is still in its infancy. In order to pursue such research, reflection is required—and this research group will endeavor to engage in such—on the extent to which conceptual and methodological tools developed over the past two decades by diaspora studies and transnational studies can be transferred and adapted for our purposes, as these tools circulate mainly among those who study international migrations, especially in South Asia.

2/ Spatial mobility and social mobility

One of our first privileged objects of study could be the notion of the middle class(es) and how it is used in South Asia, especially in India. Several members of the group have done work that engages with the vigorous debate regarding its origins and contours. And the fact is, this social category is still too rarely examined through the lens of spatial mobility, so we would like to systematize this approach: What role has spatial mobility played in the constitution and upward social mobility of certain population categories? What impact has it had on the replication of the dominant position of certain ethno-religious groups, in spite of the profound socioeconomic and political transformations South Asia has undergone over the past century?

Conversely, the current injunction to be mobile often tends to mask the fact that population groups who do become mobile in South Asia are often compelled to do so under precarious conditions, which are redefined in the neoliberal context so as to generate other forms of displacement and “dispossession,” to paraphrase David Harvey. Several group members are also working on this second object of study.

When these two objects of study are considered together, what stands out is the need to think about the complex relations between spatial and social mobility in the particular context of postcolonial societies that have entered the era of economic emergence.

3/ “Long distance” cultural and political dynamics

Mobility gives rise to novel cultural practices, which stand out even more because of the geographic and cultural distance in situations of diaspora. Moreover, the development of diaspora policies that all South Asian States have initiated over the past decade has reshaped the reference spaces and relationships between migrant groups and societies of origin. Globalization enables new forms of transfer, hybridization, instrumentalization, and even the appearance of economic activities linked to the intensification of transnational relationships. This third line of inquiry therefore opens with the circulation of ideas, material and immaterial goods that goes along with, frames and/or shapes mobilities, and which must now be taken into account in order to properly understand the social, economic and political dynamics of South Asia.

In terms of how this group will function concretely, our aim for the first two years is to organize two or three one-day conferences per year to gather together all the team members and lay the groundwork for our common reflection; relevant outside scholars may also be invited to participate. Over the following three years, a monthly seminar meeting will be held, perhaps structured by year-long themes, and where a greater number of outside presenters will be invited in order to enrich the work of the team. We will consider publishing a collection of articles to sum up the results of this five-year research group.

The scholars we have in mind as participants are in part members of the CEIAS, in part outside scholars working on South Asia in other research centers at the EHESS (in particular the Centre Maurice Halbwachs – Equipe de Recherche sur les Inégalités Sociales and the LAU-IIAC) and other institutions, which should enable us to extend the CEIAS network of collaborators, especially in fields that are presently somewhat under-represented at the Center, such as political science and sociology.


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