Promise and threat: A historical anthropology of the Sikh diaspora

Axel, Brian Keith

     In this dissertation, I am concerned, most generally, with the formation of the Sikh, diaspora, between 1849 and 1998. Research was conducted for two full years (January 1995-January 1997) and three separate summers (1992, 1993, 1994) in India, England, and, to a limited extent, the US. This research provides the ethnographic and historical basis for discussions in the dissertation which relate specific kinds of practices and discourses, generated within particular localities, to more general processes characteristic of a social formation that can, and indeed does, challenge the authority of modern nation-state. My main argument is that the postcolonial Sikh diaspora has been built upon the enduring tensions and contradictions of colonialism, nation-state formation, and global capitalism--tensions and contradictions which have been reconstituted, and sometimes retroactively created, in different moments and contexts of Sikh struggle. Further, I argue that, after World War II, the Sikh diaspora has been drawn into a specific relation with various nation-states--a mutually constitutive relation. This argument follows from, and specifies the implications of, recent work on transnationalism, and the relationship between the production of locality and globalism. My inquiry is focused on the relations formed between Sikh bodies and homelands within specific moments of violence and conflict between 1849 and 1998. The disparate productions of the Sikh body and the Sikh homeland may be understood as an "effect" (a term I use advisedly) of historical processes of power and knowledge within the domains of both Empire and Nation. This is not to say that the interwoven histories of colonialism, capitalism, and nation-state formation created the Sikh body and the Sikh homeland ex nihilo , but rather that they have effectively revalued their appearance and significance: through diverse practices and engagements with regulatory procedures, by means of commodity circulation, and through emerging technologies of visual representation, communication, media, and transportation. These have provided the groundwork for the body and the homeland to become, in the post-World War II era, transnational representational strategies, sites of violent activity, and signs of promise and threat.

Appadurai, Arjun