Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Kultur-, Sozial- und Bildungswissenschaftliche Fakultät - Institut für Asien- und Afrikawissenschaften

Indo-lranian Diasporas of the 19th and 20th Century: Traders, Wives, Border Runners and Citizens

Dissertationsprojekt von Laila Borrie



In Migration and diaspora studies, the movement of people from the Global South to North has received disproportionate attention. Redressing this imbalance by centring mobilities based on a South – South axis, this research project focuses on Iranian migration to South India in the 19th and 20th centuries. These entanglements led to the formation of a unique ethno-religious group, many of whom are still moving to different parts of the Global North, making them twice or thrice migrated. This diaspora sustains and furthers a distinctive socio-religious polity and a cultural understanding that subsumes categories of class, caste, sub-continental plurality and politics.

At the crux of this research is the role played by identity, in its varied constructions, contestations and negotiations. Taking Pratt’s “Contact Zone” (1999), as a useful departure point, it will trace migratory journeys across generations, spanning the colonial and post-colonial periods. Moving away from a narrow nation-state centric focus, a “transcultural” (Juneja 2013) and “inter-Asian” (Ho 2017) theoretical approach will privilege mobility itself, allowing the hybridity of cultural formations to take centre stage. How are Indo-Iranian diasporic identities performed, perceived and discursively produced? Considering lifetimes as instructive, this central question will be scrutinized with the aid of interdisciplinary research methodologies, including archival work from colonial and post-colonial sources, vernacular photography, biographical interviews and sense walks.

Positioning Shia Muslims as integral to the building of a middle-class post-colonial state, this project aims to provide an anthro-historical account of the Indo-Iranian community.

Laila Borrie completed her second master’s degree at the University of Heidelberg in 2018, majoring in the Anthropology and Political Science of South Asia, with a minor in Transcultural studies. Her current research is an extension of her previous work on diasporas, migration and identity, where she wrote her thesis on the topic of ‘Brexit: The South Asian vote and identity politics.’ She is currently pursuing her doctoral degree at Humboldt University in Berlin, under the supervision of Dr. Michael Mann.