Geography as history of the present and as Earth/world-writing, social theory, political economy, development, agrarian studies, labor and work, racial/sexual capitalism, Black radical tradition, biopolitical struggle, oceanic humanities, photography, South Asia, South Africa, Indian Ocean.
I am a geographer, but it has taken me a quarter century since signing up to this vocation to ask “what is this form of writing?” I call it a vocation because I fell into it by accident (and never looked back), while an undergraduate at Berkeley trying to make sense of the first Gulf War. Thanks to my teachers and a stellar cohort of graduate students in the 1990s, I fell deeper into the political economy of agrarian change and postcolonial development. My first body of research was an agrarian critique of ‘flexibility’ in an industrial town in which practically everyone worked, all the time, making garments for the global economy. I finished Fraternal Capital: Peasant-workers, self-made men and globalization in provincial India (Stanford and Permanent Black, 2004), while a postdoctoral fellow at the Michigan Society of Fellows, in the Anthropology and History Departments which had broken down disciplinary walls in an experiment called ‘anthrohistory.’ Fraternal Capital connects ethnographic political economy with an anthrohistorian’s attentiveness to the activation of historical relations in the present. My next project turns this method inside out, as it were, to de-activation and limits to change, by posing the geography of the present as a palimpsest of multiple remains of the past.
My second major research project has been in Durban, South Africa, in neighborhoods stuck between oil refineries and other industry in a valley that traps pollution and foists its burden on Black people racialized ‘Indian’ and ‘Coloured’ in South African racial capitalism. This book project, Apartheid Remains, does three things: it asks how post-apartheid struggles face a set of obstacles inherited from various pasts, it revisits the twentieth century history of state racism and Black struggle to ask how biopolitical tools used to build segregation might have been used to break it down, and it ends with critical arts of Black survival in local blues traditions, not least in photography, that conserve the seeds of a post-apartheid future. I began this work at Michigan, continued it while at the London School of Economics and affiliated through annual peregrinations to the School of Development Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban. I then moved to the Centre for Indian Studies and the Department of Anthropology at remarkably creative Faculty of the Humanities at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg in a time of intense questioning and upheaval, with hopes and challenges of academic decolonization in the background. Time in South Africa has forced me to try to make explicit the links between Black radical praxis and Marxist agrarian studies, to think about how South Africa and the Indian Ocean littoral allows us to ‘stretch’ the Black radical tradition in new ways.
I have begun a new research project that explores archaic and emergent dynamics around port cities of the Southern African Indian Ocean Region, with an attention to the South African and Mozambican littoral, and the islands of Mauritius, Reunion, and Mayotte/the Comores. This research will also rethink geographical form as it revisits some of the key concerns of Marxist political economy from the perspective of this Afro-Asian oceanic space, where the ‘Black Atlantic’ meets the nonlinear currents of the Indian Ocean. Photography returns in unexpected ways in this project.
The broader, intertwined questions on which I invite collective reflection are: How might we stretch the planetary insights of the Black radical tradition? How might we imagine geo-graphy as Earth/world/ocean-writing? And how might geography help expand a sense of spaciousness in our time of unprecedented enclosure and of apparent transparency and immediacy?
Apartheid Remains, book manuscript in preparation.
2008, and Stuart Corbridge eds. The Development Reader, Oxon, UK: Routledge.
2004, Fraternal Capital: Peasant-Workers, Self-Made Men, and Globalization in Provincial India, Palo Alto: Stanford University Press and Delhi: Permanent Black.
Selected Articles and Book Chapters
Forthcoming, “Recompositions in the Subaltern sea: Geo-graphy as errantry” in Tariq Jazeel and Stephen Legg ed. Subaltern Geographies: Subaltern Studies, space, and the geographical imagination, University of Georgia Press.
Forthcoming, “Mysterious Moves of Revolution: Spectres of Black Power, Futures of Postcolonialism,” in Jini Kim Watson and Gary Wilder eds. The Postcolonial Contemporary, Fordham University Press.
Forthcoming, “Three moments of Stuart Hall in South Africa: Postcolonial-postsocialist Marxisms of the future.” Critical Sociology, Published online Dec 2015.
Forthcoming, “Detritus.” In Jennifer Wenzel, Imre Szeman and Patricia Yaeger eds. Fueling Culture: Energy, History, Politics, Fordham University Press, in press.
2016, “Trans-area studies and the perils of geographical ‘world writing’” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 34, 5, 791-8.
2015, “African Extraction, Indian Ocean Critique” South Atlantic Quarterly, 114, 1, 83-100.
2014, “An ‘Indian Commons’ in Durban? Limits to Mutuality, or the City to Come” Anthropology Southern Africa, 37, 3-4, 149-159.
2013, “Detritus in Durban: Polluted Environs and the Biopolitics of Refusal.” In Ann Laura Stoler ed. Imperial Debris, Duke University Press, 131-161.
2012, “Subalternities that Matter in Times of Crisis.” In Jamie Peck, Trevor Barnes and Eric Sheppard eds. The New Companion to Economic Geography, Wiley-Blackwell, 501-514.
2010, “State Racism and Biopolitical Struggle: Struggles over Space in Durban, South Africa, 1900-1970s.” In Radical History Review 108 (Fall 2010), pp. 73-90.
2010, and Henrike Donner “Ethnographies of Activism: A Critical Introduction” Introduction to Special Double Edition of Cultural Dynamics 22 (2), pp. 1-11.
2009, “Photographing Dispossession, Forgetting Solidarity: Waiting for social justice in Wentworth, South Africa.” In Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 34 (4): 521-540.
2009, and Katherine Verdery, “Thinking between the Posts: Postcolonism, Postsocialism and Ethnography after the Cold War.” In Comparative Studies in Society and History 51 (1): 6-34
2008 “The Antinomies of Political Evidence in Post-Apartheid Durban, South Africa.” In Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 14 (S1): S61-S76.
2008 “The Post-Apartheid Critic.” In Historical Materialism 16 (2): 167-189.
2006, “Post-apartheid livelihood struggles in Wentworth, South Durban.” In Vishnu Padayachee ed. The Development Decade? Economic and Social Change in South Africa, 1994-2004. Cape Town: HSRC Press, 427-443.
2005, “Son of Bush or Son of God? Politics and the religious subaltern in the US, from elsewhere.” In South Atlantic Quarterly 15 (1): 37-54.
2004, “Provincializing Capital: The work of an agrarian past in South Indian industry.” In Comparative Studies in Society and History 46 (4): 760-785.
2000, “The Agrarian Origins of the Knitwear Industrial Cluster in Tiruppur, India.” In World Development 28 (3): 579-599.
200B Geography Proseminar: Geographical Praxis and the Research Process (2018)
Past Courses at the University of the Witwatersrand
Graduate: Economic Anthropology
Undergraduate: Anthropology of Capitalism, Anthropological Thought, Urban Anthropology
Past Courses at the London School of Economics
Graduate: Race and Space, Contemporary Debates in Human Geography
Undergraduate: London’s Geographies, Development
Past Courses at Michigan
Graduate: Agrarian Questions, Radical Geography, Modernity and Subalternity
Undergraduate: Gender, Environment and Poverty
I advise PhD students in Geography and affiliated disciplines on the political economy and postcolonial politics of capitalism, development, and social change in the Global South; as well as on labor and work regimes; racial/sexual geographies; Black geographies; agrarian studies; and oceanic studies.
If you are interested in working with me, please get in touch for the document ‘Information for Students Requesting me as Advisor or Committee Member.’