Abstracts – University of Copenhagen


Traumatic Citizenship: Racial Conflict in Sikh-American Life since September 11, 2001.

Brian Keith Axel

This presentation is concerned most broadly with the changing significance of vision, visibility, and visual representation for Sikh-American life since September 11, 2001. My story focuses on the experience of Sikh diasporic populations who, in the decade, have been forced to navigate with new forms of racial violence and subjugation. Sikh-American men, in particular – because of the ambiguous, yet powerful, iconicity of their beards and turbans – have found themselves singled out for racial profiling and violent attack. Such incidents have presented a serious challenge to America’s Sikh population to strive to find ways to perform their citizenship visibly and publicly in ways that are generally intelligible as signifying singular loyalty. Framed within these terms, I hope to open a preliminary inquiry into the relations among formations of fantasy, desire, and visuality as they pertain to the creation of principles for citizenship-intelligibility. In a country where liberal democratic ideals of multiculturalism have been forced to coexist and contend with a new suspicion of difference and a generalized anticipation of terror – what kinds of conflict over images of peoplehood have emerged? How does the visual inflect the new politics of citizenship-intelligibility that have developed in tandem with formations of national trauma?

Brian Keith Axel received his Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Chicago. He has held research and teaching positions at Harvard University, Swarthmore College, Duke University, and Stanford. His publications include The Nation’s Tortured Body: Violence, Representation, and the Formation of a Sikh ‘Diaspora’ (Duke UP, 2001) and From the Margins: Historical Anthropology and Its Futures (Duke UP, 2002), as well as, several articles concerned with questions of modern technology, globalization, disciplinarity, and neo-liberal modernity. He is currently completing his second Ph.D. in Philosophy - "On Wonder and Waking" - at the University of California – Santa Cruz.

Confronting Caste in Distant Lands: The Emerging Contours of Diasporic Dalit Identity

Ronki Ram, University of Leiden/ Punjab University

Among the Non Resident Indian (NRI), Dalits are a sizeable diasporic community. Way back home, Dalits are compelled to grapple with caste in their daily routine life. As usually thought about, that was primarily because of the highly segmented and hierarchical character of the Indian (read Hindu) society. But what is there in their much sought after diasporic locations that forced them to organize for similar social struggles against caste discriminations that used to follow them in their new habitation far away from their homes. Is it that caste is not only specific to a particular location but tied rather inextricably with certain communities so much so that where ever such communities travel they carry the virus of caste with them? Or what is there in caste that helps it survive even in altogether different and to a large extent socially egalitarian foreign lands? This study aims at critically unraveling the dilemmas of caste abroad and the trajectories of the emerging diasporic Dalit identity. How the diasporic Dalit identity affects Dalit movement back home and in what way it draws sustenance from it would be yet another major concern of this study. 

Ronki Ram is currently the ICCR Chair Professor of Contemporary Indian Studies at Leiden University, The Netherlands. He graduated in political science and international from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.He has authored several essays and books on the subject of Dalit identity in Punjab and among the diaspora.