Conference Theme

The conference uses the metaphors of borders, mobility and identity as it seeks to understand the search for new terrains to study the frontiers in South Asia, Southeast Asia and East Asia with a renewed interest in historicizing the diverse cultural formations, the ethno-geography, politics and economic linkages that traversed these regions in the recent decades. Asian frontiers provide enough empirical evidence to indicate widespread Asian connections which developed during the first millennium or even earlier through trade as well as culturally significant migrations. Cross-cultural encounters in these regions perhaps surpass the national political boundaries reinforced by Asia's geopolitics and contemporary security concerns. While the causal links between contemporary geographies and deep historical factors are simply too tenuous to be persuasive, recent academic writings have implicitly stressed the need to scrutinize the ways in which the intimate relationship between colonial and imperial practices and new social networks and patterns of relationships are being recreated and refashioned in the Asian borders.

Modern state-building associated with a deepening discourse on internal policies to control the mobility of non-citizen residents have however led to bordering in and bordering out of targeted ethnic communities. This leads us to a second and equally significant and confounding theme. The second theme therefore involves debates on political membership i.e., contesting expositions of who is an indigenous and who is a settler and who should be included and who should be excluded from the body politic.

Geopolitical security assessments made by legal enforcement agencies of individual countries problematize ethnonational identities in the context of current challenges that countries like India, China or Burma face to integrate their ethnic nationalities residing in the frontier regions. The politics of ethnicity, territory and marginality in the frontiers problematizes existing narratives on indigenous groups, tribes, ethnic minorities and spatial identities.

Sub-Theme 1: Historicizing Borders and Mobility: New Directions in Research

Papers in this panel will address emerging debates on the historiography of Asian engagement between India's northeastern frontiers and Southeast Asia. The existing scholarship reveals that India's frontier regions had deep historical connections with the surrounding polities of China, Myanmar, Nepal and Bangladesh. The panelists will therefore address the shifts, flows and reciprocal relationships within and across the Asian frontiers that shaped the politics, culture and economy of these societies.

Sub-Theme 2: Political Membership: Reframing 'ethnicity and politics of marginality'

This part will include papers that focus on local political choices of ethnic and cultural communities, politics of indigeneity and marginality. These issues are firmly embedded in the discourse of local governance and group claims on natural resources, territory, power redistribution and social citizenship in the 'heterogeneous margins' like India's northeast or Burma's Kachin state where the social conditions of individual agency are weak. The papers will focus on the local narratives vis a vis state perceptions on indigenous groups, tribes, ethnic minorities and spatial identities.