Whose international matters, and why? How are geographic regions constructed? What are the channels of engagement between a place, its people, its institutions, and the world? How do we understand the non-West’s influence in contemporary global interactions?
From humanitarianism and activism to diplomacy and institutional networks, South Asia has been a crucial place for the elaboration of international politics, even before the twentieth century. Understanding its past entanglements with the world is crucial given the region’s increasing global importance - including for post-Brexit Britain, which seeks to deepen its ties with South Asia while answering the needs of its multicultural population.
Organised by NIHSA - the New International Histories of South Asia network (namely Dr Bérénice Guyot-Réchard (King's College London) and Dr Elisabeth Leake (Leeds), with the assistance of Nairn Brown), this series of workshops gathers an interdisciplinary group of scholars from across the world to investigate states, institutions, networks, communities and individuals as agents of South Asian global engagement at the local, regional, national and supra-national levels, spanning the time before and after independence and indeed going back to pre-colonial times.
Covid19 forces us to think creatively about organising academic events. At NIHSA, we see this as an opportunity to reshape our “conferencing culture” to make it more sustainable environmentally; to invite the lay public to join in our conversations; and to be more inclusive towards scholars who, for financial, personal or geopolitical reasons—starting with our peers in the Global South—are too often shut out from events traditionally set halfway across the world, in expensive locations.
"South Asia Unbound" will therefore take the shape of a series of online events from late February to early April 2021.
If you’d like to attend, please register on the individual event page and make sure to subscribe to our mailing list by writing to email@example.com
We will meet virtually once a week to discuss one key conference theme, centered around the interventions of three scholars.
- A week before the event, each panellist will post a short video intervention on the event's page, for the audience to watch and ponder at their leisure;
- The event itself will take the shape of an extended Q&A session with the audience.
Themes and objectives
“South Asia Unbound” uses scale and space as twin analytical frames to deepen our understanding of South Asia’s entanglements with the wider world.
By centring scale, we want to question the spatial and temporal logics undergirding dominant accounts of the region: how do we write about South Asia’s international without assuming the primacy of the nation-state, or that its international relations started after independence, in the late 1940s? Our pannelists investigate states, institutions, informal and formal networks, communities and individuals as agents of South Asian global engagement at the local, regional, supra-national—and yes, national—levels, and to do so in a way that considers varied temporal horizons, spanning the time before and after independence but also going back to the pre-colonial period.
We simultaneously centre spaces to reflect on the places and interstices at which the “membrane” between South Asia and the world is constantly enacted, made and remade. We understand these spaces to be both concrete and material—capital cities, embassies, borderlands, oceans, human bodies—as well as conceptual or imagined—in scientific conferences, intellectual exchanges, literary and artistic production, legal arguments, etc.
Together, the workshops have three intellectual goals in exploring South Asian “internationalisms” – how South Asians developed different worldviews and modes of engagement within and beyond South Asia. First, we seek to historicise the core in relation to South Asia. A recurring criticism towards scholarship on the region focuses on its India-centric nature, particularly regarding the study of international relations. We wish to pluralise this story, both by historicising seriously the role of other states—including defunct ones like Sikkim (annexed by India in 1975), along with Bhutan, Sri Lanka, or Pakistan—and by querying the multiple, often contradictory or competing actors, regions and institutions that lie under the moniker “India” (borderlanders, diplomats, bureaucrats, intellectuals).
We also intend to question “international” as a category. Stretching its semantic range to the South Asian diaspora, transnational activists, insurgent groups, non-governmental organisations, and minority groups (to name a few) and revisiting the role of traditional actors like political and bureaucratic elites, we ask: Whose international matters, and why? In this way, the conference also targets subaltern, subordinated and silenced groups for more sustained scholarly attention, and to bring into view the lived realities of the “international”. Our aim is to encourage the view of the international from the “ground up”. We are also interested in the performative effects of international politics upon regional actors at state and sub-state levels, whether legal, economic, or intellectual developments. This sophisticated conception of the international helps us move beyond a simplistic dichotomy of South Asian exceptionalism (that South Asia has its “own” vision of the international), or mindless patterns of diffusionism in which South Asia is the passive recipient of Eurocentric understandings of international order.
Finally, we integrate South Asia into wider geographies and scales of analysis, foregrounding patterns of transnational, transregional, and global exchange. This allows for scale jumping between the local, national, regional, and global, which has always been a practical fact of South Asian history, through the sheer mobility of its populations. The conference will provide new avenues for reflecting on global influences on apparently regional South Asian understandings of religious practice, political theory and government, as well as for exploring South Asia as a key region for a versatile approach to the international and challenging conceptual, temporal and disciplinary orthodoxies in international history.