Centre for Development Practice and Research, Patna

Cultural Practices of Labour in Migration

Call for papers


Date and time: April 20, 2018 10:00AM - April 21, 2018 6:00PM


In his essay “East Indian,” V. S. Naipaul reflects about the ways in which the indentured labour from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh recreated their lives in a strange world. In a characteristically provocative phrase, Naipaul makes the point that “it was less an uprooting than it appears” because the indentured labourers took everything they had—“beds, brass vessels, musical instruments, images, holy books, sandalwood sticks, astrological almanacs”—in short, all the marks of culture and traditions that defined the life world of those workers. However, what the workers also found out in this migration was that they could break away from the practice of caste and in the India they created in the foreign land they achieved a “revolution” by breaking the hold of caste as one of the principal social relations in organizing their society. Naipaul’s essay brings out the ways in which migration of labour transforms their culture and society. It is a creative and revolutionary process. However, as in the case of all revolutions, this revolution too is not so simply explained. The discontents and continuing conflicts as a result of labour migration have been brought by Ashwini Kumar Pankaj in Maati Maati Arkati. He carefully points out the erasure of the history of “hill coolies” and how this erasure still influences the political lives of erstwhile plantation colonies. These contradictions need to be analysed.

The purpose of this conference is to bring together works from diverse fields and discipline that will re-examine the making and unmaking of cultural practices that accompanies labour migration both historically as well as in contemporary times. How does labour migration mutates the established genres? How does it create new ones? What is the role of memory and acts of forgetting? What are the processes through which the culture industry commodify the cultural practices of migrant labour and sell it back to them and in the process not only accumulate surplus value through their labour but also through their hitherto non-commoditized cultural artefacts? Is it possible to revisit and reconceptualise such concepts like hybridity, multiculturalism, exile, and so on by keeping at the centre of our analysis workers in plantation, or mining, or shipping, or as is the case in contemporary times, in the globalized construction industry? Are these workers creating new methods of articulation of cultural practices which literary studies, cultural studies, and social sciences in general need to unearth? These are only some of the questions that we want to address in the seminar.

The papers in the seminar would be on following subjects which are only indicative and can go beyond these stated themes:

  • Literary genres in migration
  • Cultures of resistance, association, and intersectionality
  • Memory, loss, identity
  • Language and its development through labour migration
  • Genealogy of cultures created through labour migration
  • Gender and sexuality
  • From folklore to mass production of culture
  • Representation of labour and migration
  • Transitions and Translations of Culture
  • Migrant Labour and Urban Culture
  • Migration and Indigenous Culture

Please send an abstract with title of the paper (250 words max) to mithilesh.kumar@tiss.edu and patnacentre@tiss.edu.

The last date for submitting the abstract is January 10, 2018.

Authors whose papers are selected will be informed by January 15, 2018.

Full paper should be submitted latest by April 1, 2018.

Papers can be presented in English, Hindi, or Urdu.

Poster exhibition and documentaries are welcome. A copy of the art work will be housed and catalogued in the repository of the Migration Archive of the Centre.

Organised by: Centre for Development Practice and Research, TISS Patna.

Conference Coordinator: Mithilesh Kumar, Research Fellow, TISS Patna Centre; Shanker Dutt, Professor, Department of English, Patna University; and Pushpendra Kumar Singh, Professor, TISS Patna Centre.

Date: April 20-21, 2018

Venue: TISS Patna Centre

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