Interdisciplinary South Asia Research

The South Asia Research Cluster at Wolfson is the natural home for the study of South Asia in Oxford, with a wealth of South Asia scholars and a truly interdisciplinary approach, encompassing development economics, poverty and human development, anthropology, international politics, political sociology, history, and literature.

India's Informal Economy and Climate Change

In the response to climate change, the role of informal economies has been largely ignored. Yet in countries like India about two-thirds of the economy and 90% of all jobs are unregistered. This ESRC-DFID sponsored pilot project aims to bring the informal economy into debates about climate change.

The two-year project, headed by political economist Professor Harriss-White, willl develop methods to model the environmental impact of production in the informal economy (summarised in terms of CO2 emmissions), focusing on the livelihood processes involved in rice production and distribution that produce greenhouse gases.

The research will investigate:

  • less damaging alternatives to rice production methods;
  • how to trade-off incommensurable attributers such as costs, greenhouse gases, and the quality of jobs;
  • how technological inventions diffuse in informal economies;
  • how unorganised labour makes gains in the informal economy;
  • and why government policy is unenforceable.

The project will integrate several fields of knowledge currently growing separately – policy, science and technology, labour studies, value chain analysis, life cycle analysis and rice.

Project News

Barbara Harriss-White discussed this project on 25th Jan 2012 at Wolfson College as part of the South Asia Work in Progress Roundtables.

Indian and Pakistani Migration and Diaspora

Dr Kaveri Qureshi's research on Indian and Pakistani migration and diaspora in Britain has spanned anthropology, oral history, public health and social policy. In 2012 she is beginning a new ESRC-funded research project on marital breakdown among South Asian couples in Britain, which will involve further cross-disciplinary work between anthropology and socio-legal studies. Her research was recently featured in an article in the Big Issue.

Her doctoral work on migration and ageing examined life histories of industrial workers from Pakistan, and engaged with critical public health and anthropology. Subsequent work took forward her interest in life histories through collaboration with colleagues at Sussex University on migration stories of Indian Punjabis and Pakistanis in Britain, as well as Gujarati Khojas who came to Britain after the Ugandan exodus.

Tibetan and Indo-European Cultural Studies

While his teaching position was in Social Anthropology of South Asia, Dr Nick Allen has crossed the usual disciplinary divides in two main directions. Firstly, as a fieldworker in the Himalayas, he studied two somewhat Hinduized groups speaking outlying Tibeto-Burman languages. This directed his attention northwards from India towards Tibetan Studies, as well as stimulating an interest in the historical significance of linguistics and language families.

This macro-historical orientation led him to explore the position of the Sanskritic Hindu tradition within the controversial field of Indo-European Cultural Studies, for instance by comparing the Mahabharata and Homer. In one sense such exploration belongs to ancient history, but in another it concerns the Indian sense of national identity, with its contemporary political overtones.

Industrialisation in Contemporary Nepal

Dr Mallika Shakya’s work, based on fieldwork in the garment shop floors of Nepal and subsequently among the leading business communities in the Nepal-India border towns,combines economics with anthropology to develop understanding of the industrialisation process in contemporary Nepal. She explores economic actions embedded in broader social and political trajectories that have been evolving over centuries, and argues that ethnography should be informed by history. 

Her notion of embeddedness is not entirely motivated by profit, as the school of rational choice would have it, nor is it strictly about social organisation as a conventional anthropological lens sees it. Dr Shakya's research makes the case that the field of economic anthropology should draw on economic scholarship for matters of policy and pragmatism, and on anthropology for localisation of practice.

Cross-border Conversations

Profesor Elleke Boehmer's work focuses on cross-border collaborations between nationalist groups since 1860, including interactions between India and Ireland, such as that of Rabindranath Tagore and WB Yeats.

Her research moves across conventional disciplinary boundaries between English, History and Cultural studies in order to investigate how these intercultural and interpolitical conversations took place. More recently, she has drawn on philosophical theories of friendship and of the visual in order to explore the experience of Indian travellers to England in the later 1800s and early 1900s.

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Tennyson, Celebrity and Portraiture
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