project news | 4 February 2014

What is a connection? – Panel submitted for ARBN 2014

Kabir Mansingh Heimsath and I submitted a panel proposal for the upcoming 4th conference of the Asian Borderlands Research Network (ABRN) in Hong Kong in December. We will know by April if we are selected. Competition will be fierce this year, I am sure, so lets keep our fingers crossed. Anyway, for the record, here is the abstract:

What is a connection? Pathways, detours, and intersections in Highland Asia.

This panel addresses a central notion in the studies of mobilities and borderlands: the connection. The term frequently appears in the titles of books and articles. It has been taken to denote a variety of relations and things, ranging from transnational ties of kinship or ethnicity and networks of commercial or religious exchange to communication or transport infrastructures. The concept has thereby not only been highly prolific but also strikingly abstract. Our aim is not to suggest a better definition of the term but rather to explore conceptual approaches to study connections ethnographically. What makes a connection in daily life? How is it forged, maintained, ruptured, revived, mended, or ignored?

We borrow from Tim Ingold’s ongoing critique of ‘space’ and approach the borderlands as meshwork of pathways. Thinking of pathways is helpful for several reasons. a) Pathways emphasise the movement of people and objects as they travel along particular routes and make detours. b) As this movement necessarily occurs through time, pathways provide a conceptual link between place and history. c) Pathways also highlight the way in which movement is confined by terrain and the technologies, logistics and infrastructures deployed to move across that terrain (roads, bridges, pack animals, wheeled vehicles). d) And finally, the meshwork of pathways and detours foregrounds occupations, encounters, and intersections along the way.

We hope to use pathways, detours, and intersections as a starting point to rethink connections and thereby further our understanding of migration histories and their socio-political contexts, the cultural ramifications of road construction and tourist economies, and the economic consequences of global markets and commodity trading.