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Transits and Transitions Across the Indian Ocean

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Organizer: Micheal Rumore

Co-Organizer: Daniel Dooghan

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In Commerce with the Universe: India, Africa, and the Afrasian Imagination, Gaurav Desai challenges the ethnocentric assumptions labelling the Indian Ocean as “only Indian” (8). Despite hailing the Indian Ocean as a space of South-South solidarity, notions of Indian Ocean “cosmopolitanism” remain beset by conceptual structures reflecting postcolonial hierarchies and ethnocentric lineages. As Antoinette Burton argues in Africa in the Indian Imagination: Race and the Politics of Postcolonial Citation, for instance, the marginalization of the African continent in dominant framings of Indian Ocean exchange derives significantly from the geopolitical contests of the Bandung era, particularly between India and China for leadership over the Non-Aligned Movement. More recently, China’s aggressive development of port infrastructure on the Indian Ocean represents a national ambition for hegemony over that maritime space independent of geographic contiguity or past anticolonial struggle. In short, for a field so heavily invested in de-linking from the (post)colonial determinations of globalization, Indian Ocean studies still tends to operate within a relatively circumscribed geography conditioned by bilateral relationships between states rather than representing an exit from such strictures. In response, this panel asks what other Indian Ocean transits might help transition the field beyond these disciplinary and geopolitical limitations and toward a more multilateral representation of the Indian Ocean. For example, what can a multilateral Indian Ocean framework tell us about the larger contexts in which Sino-Indian, Sino-African, Saudi-Indian, Afro-Indian, intra-African, and related exchanges take place? What other resistant Indian Ocean ecologies would thus emerge?


We invite papers engaging broadly with connections across the Indian Ocean, in particular those reflecting underexplored transits among intra-African, Afro-Asian, East Asian, Southeast Asian, Middle Eastern, and/or Pacific Ocean texts. 

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