Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Middle East Section
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students
Primary Theme: Borders
Secondary Theme: Exchange
This panel brings together scholarship in studies of borderlands, commodities and states across the Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia. Rarely do anthropologists who study these regions converse beyond the narrow confines of area studies. The thematic focus of the 2018 San Jose meetings on resilience, resistance and adaptation in the anthropological imagination provides a useful starting point to move beyond methodological nationalism and regionalism in investigations of border and territorial formations. The panelists foreground contemporary, comparative and processual accounts of transactions and translocations to probe questions of territory and border actions across geographical scale. The ethnographies of border infrastructures, illicit economies, pathways and palimpsests of sovereignty that the papers offer, draw upon an expansive trans-regional framework beyond configurations of either ‘region’ or ‘area’ in ways that enrich the anthropology of borders.
In this panel we ask: how may an analytic shift that reads ethnographies of trans-border trade in conjunction with the formation of modern states and economies, shape a processual and political history of borders? How may attention to speculative infrastructures, pathways and the fluidity of commodity flows that structure sovereignties and location shape anthropological engagements with border lives themselves? We address these questions by bringing together ethnographies of oil smuggling across South and Central Asia, illicit wildlife economies across Nepal’s Himalayas, contraband traffic along the Turkey/Syria border and cattle smuggling along the marshland borders of India and Bangladesh. These transactions and the lives that they engender, are far from being the evidentiary basis for either ‘failed states’ or ‘failed economies.’ We suggest that the cross-border mobility of people, goods, and the place-knots and infrastructures that shape them, are key sites through which notions of territory and scale are negotiated. In centering the movements of human and non-human subjects across national geographies and regions, this panel contributes to contemporary conceptual and methodological debates in anthropology on questions of territory and economy across Middle Eastern, Central and South Asian border terrains.