Max Planck Fellow Group "Connectivity in Motion: Port Cities of the Indian Ocean"

This research program examines the socio-cultural and historical dimensions of movements across the Indian Ocean. For this intellectual pursuit, several paradigmatic port cities of the Indian Ocean are taken as prime foci and starting points for social anthropological and ethno-historical research.

In its wider theoretical and methodological aims, the programme is guided by the concept of ‘connectivity in motion’. It studies the manifold linkages and networks across the Indian Ocean, focusing on the maritime movements of human beings, animals, diseases, material objects, ideas, religions, technologies, languages, political systems and other ‘things’, through which alone such connections come to life. In this respect, the programme challenges static and bounded notions of culture and society, replacing these with an emphasis on various aspects of motion and a strong focus on the means, modes and methods of connectivity in both time and space.

In order to structure the analysis of ‘connectivity in motion’ in the Indian Ocean with a focus on port cities, three analytically distinct though factually interdependent dimensions are dis-tinguished. First, there is the temporal dimension of ‘connectivity in motion’. Within this dimension we identify three sub-dimensions, namely a) ‘history’, b) ‘ethno-history’ and c) ‘endo-history’, which will look at the histories and various forms of historical imagination concerning port cities. Secondly, there is the spatial dimension. Here we differentiate between a) the external aspect of the connections and movements, studying linkages across the ocean to and from port cities, and b) the hinterland, looking at the contacts of port cities with their hinterlands connecting maritime and terrestrial affairs. Thirdly, there is the internal dimension of these port cities and their role in transmaritime connectivity. This third dimension refers to the architectural arrangements and socio-cultural as well as politico-economic dynamics within port cities. Here questions of power and politics, as well as technological and scientific developments, come to the fore.

All in all, the program acknowledges that the macro-region of the Indian Ocean is one of the oldest and most important trade and contact zones in the world, but it does not see its im-portance as only historical. At present, the Indian Ocean is re-emerging as a significant arena of globalization, with India and China as prime movers at its centre and far eastern corner respectively, but also with Southeast Asian states and the oil-rich Arabian peninsula playing vital global roles at the present day. Therefore, by taking the Indian Ocean as a frame of ref-erence and applying a transregional perspective to the idea of ‘connectivity in motion’, the programme will seek to achieve new insights into the problematic of globalization. It will add historical depth to and re-orient our view of globalization because it will be concerned not only with earlier, but also with present-day eastern and southern forms of globalization.

This programme has a decidedly empirical base. Port cities offer the paradigmatic analytical foci, as well as the starting and end points, of social anthropological and ethnohistorical in-vestigation. In this capacity, however, port cities are seen less as essentialized and a priori facts or even foundations of the networks, movements, transits and translations, but rather as their relational effects. As the products of relational processes, they may no doubt achieve a stability and agency of their own and thus become important actors in the interplay with a vast number of other (human as well as non-human) actors. All of these, however, are definitely seen in the programme as the outcome of the dynamic, ever-changing and precarious relations between heterogeneous actors. The programme is thus more about processes of ‘networking’ than about static networks; it is about changing relations between elements and actors, in as much as it is about the change and breaking down of already existing institutional linkages and the constitution of new ones. It is also about those elements of the networks which are ‘being-acted-upon’ rather than acting (actively), about the agents as well as ‘patients’ of these processes, about power and suffering. How do some of the ‘bits and pieces’ of the networks become agentive, whereas others lose agency?

Basically, therefore, the various projects within this programme start their investigations with an open mind as to what or who are the ‘moving forces’ and foundational entities in the com-plex webs of heterogeneous relations and translations. Moreover, there is a programmatic openness as to why these ‘actants’ move and shift. Instead, the projects seek rather to ex-plore the how of ‘connectivity in motion’, and they do so in a number of decidedly empirical case studies. The programme, then, will seek to explore how diverse actors (such as sailors and merchant companies, but also boats, rats, tides, peace treaties, generals, war declarations, inequalities, machines, knowledge systems, material objects, monsoon winds, sailing technologies or cholera) strategically relate to, connect with and interact among each other in various and shifting ways and how they thus, if often only in provisional ways, perform, enact, produce and assemble relatively stable entities, namely port cities, in the network (and possibly dissolve others).

Individual Projects within the Fellowship-Scheme

Prof. Dr. Burkhard Schnepel
"The Art of Hubbing: Port Louis (Mauritius) and its Role in Transmaritime Connectivity across the Indian Ocean"

Mareike Pampus
"Manifestations of Maritime Connections: Penang in the Indian Ocean World"

Dr. Iain Walker
"Hubs and Spokes: Connectivity in the western Indian Ocean"

Associated Scholars and Research Partners (in alphabetical order)

Prof. Edward A. Alpers (University of California, LA)
"Africa and the Indian Ocean"

Prof. Dr. Judith Beyer (Konstanz)
"Law and Religion in Myanmar. (De-)Constructing Religious Communities"

Prof. Dr. Christiane Brosius (Heidelberg)
"Urban Spaces in Asia"

Gwyn Campbell
"The economic history of the Indian Ocean region; foundations of the Indian Ocean world global economy; slavery, migration and diasporas in the Indian Ocean world"

Prof. Dr. Stephan Conermann (Bonn)
"India and the Indian Ocean (1350-1750) in Global Systemic Contexts"

Prof. Dr. Gita Dharampal-Frick (Heidelberg)
"Transcultural Networks in the Eastern Indian Ocean, 1000-1800: Continuities and Transformations"

Prof. Dr. Jean-Claude Galey (Paris)
"Ethnohistory of Port Cities of Karnataka and Kerala"

Dr. Felix Girke (Konstanz)
"Opening Myanmar to the Indian World: The Transformations of Yangon"

Prof. Dr. Frank Heidemann (Munich)
"The Andaman Islands"

Dr. Peter Kneitz (Halle)
"The Sakalava Kingdoms: A Study of a Neo-traditional Complex in Western Madagascar"

Dr. Eva-Maria Knoll (Vienna)
"Health-related Mobility and Tourism in the Republic of Maldives"

Prof. Dr. Kjersti Larsen (Oslo)
"Travelling ideas and motile knowledge-practices in Zanzibar"

Prof. Dr. Stephen Muecke (Sydney)
"Culture and Commerce in the Indian Ocean"

Prof. (emeritus) Dr. Hermann Kulke (Kiel)
"The Medieval History of the Eastern Indian Ocean"

Prof. Dr. Noel Salazar (Leuven)
"A Critical Anthropological Analysis of Conceptualisations and Ideologies of (Im)Mobility"

Prof. Tansen Sen (City University of New York)
"China and the Indian Ocean World"

Boris Wille M.A. (Halle)
"Competing Political Cultures: The Maldives in Transformation"

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