Current Research Projects

The State in Everyday Life

The research concerns dialectical relations between the “state” and the “margins”, where the former itself (re)produces the latter. While dominant historical works tend to depict the state as a centralised political institution, the research attempts to grasp the state in its local societal dynamics beneath the institutional framework as anthropology has recently been critically engaged with the study of the state from the margin. The research considers the state not as a single-governing entity from center but as a multi-layered configuration in the margins along at least four dimensions; (a) zones of limited statehood depicted as “peripheries”, (b) “local state” by which center governs locales, (c) “public discourse” that represents dominant notions of “stateness”, and (4) ambivalent position of political elites who represent the state in the margins. The research contextualises its arguments through the discourse of peace and conflict in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT); a southeastern part of Bangladesh.

Indigeneity, Identity Politics and Marginality

‘Indigeneity’ is a continuously contested concept, and a site of socio-cultural (re)presentation of self and others linked to social, cultural and political boundaries and un-boundaries.  Once labeled as “backwardness” and inferiority, indigeneity has now increasingly become a source of pride for many of those who claim it as a sign of resilience and an important source of personal identity. The concepts of indigeneity, identity and marginality are intimately entwined, inlaid together in conversations about attachment to place, about nationalism and love of country whilst at the same time they are reworked and modified in trans-local and transnational communicative and interactive processes. Consequently, these concepts intersect with local, national and global socio-political realities on the one hand and, on the other hand, they are confronted with the challenges posed to indigenous aspirations by the neo-liberal agenda of nation-states and their concerns with sovereignty. This projects intends to engage critically in debates on indigeneity in its ideological trajectories to determine its theoretical and political destination. This projects examines the current state of the idea of indigeneity in a de-territorialized world by exploring the multi-dimensional formations of political and national identity and critically assessing the scalar and temporal dimensions of indigeneity’s sources, contents, and its connectedness with related concepts. Thus, the project especially investigates the inter-relationship of indigeneity, identity-politics and the politics of marginality in the contexts of Bangladesh and South Asia.

Media and Democracy

Exploration of the media industry–-print, electronics, and social media–-is represented as an expansion of the space of democracy. Media boom is also projected in relations to press-freedom, the right to information and freedom of speech which are regarded governing notions of democratic society. However, some cases like Bangladesh show that expansion of the media industry does otherwise as it contrarily reproduces the state-discourse and stateness in every sphere of social life. It also politicises regular happenings of everyday life within the framework of central political space. Through the media penetration in everyday life, people on the one hand become politically engaged and on the other hand, are segmented over political divide largely between the Awami League (AL) and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Society consequently takes a by-polar shape disregarding potentialities of multi-polarity which at the end weakens the gravity of democracy. This project, with the critical examination of how media shapes notions of democracy in everyday life of ordinary people, investigates into whether expansion of media and strengthening democracy go hands in hands or both are counterproductive.

(Political) Islam and Secularism

The emergence of a kind of violence branded as Islamist militancy is viewed as a serious security threat to established notions of secularism and democratic way of life. Therefore, Islamist militancy is prescribed to be rooted out through military operation; otherwise another form of military. This premise, primarily produced in the West, disregards the dynamics of contested ideology and philosophy between Islam and fundamentalism as well as religion and secularism. This study argues that Islamist militancy cannot be understood by applying the Western interpretation produced in the context of ‘war on terrorism’ following the 9/11 paradigm. It is an imposed conceptual framework to look at religious extremism and Islamist militancy that prescribes to destroy outlaw militants and root out their king-pings as quick solution whilst ignoring its spiritual and political forces as well as its local-global interface. Consequently, military solution by killing militants in return refuels Islamist extremism in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh as recurrent history shows. Therefore, there is a need for dialogue between secularism and Islamist militancy because the appearance of Islamism and its militant form exerts a critical challenge to established ways of life associated with secularism and democracy. Although the concept of secularism is a broad one, the study focuses on Islam and particularly emphasises on how the question of secularism and Islamist militancy intertwines and stands face to face where post-cold war global political trajectory, America’s appearance in global domination, Western engagement in middle-east issues, geopolitical potentiality of USA-Israel-India ties, 9/11 paradigm in local-global nexus and implication of ‘war on terrorism’ are at the center. How such global phenomenon—the relations with the West vs. the rest and secularism vs. Islamist extremism—is significantly operational in everyday life of the people at local level of a third world country also needs to be considered for comprehensive understanding of the dynamics of Islamist militancy. Under this purview, this research examines ‘Islamist militancy’ ethnographically attempting to know why, how, and in what context, people are involved in Islamist militancy and what motivates them to become die-hard in killing other people presumably belonging to the secular category and the local presence of global opponent.

Spaces of Vulnerability

The project concerns intricate relations between the state and statelessness in relations to spaces of vulnerability in the society. Space is not an objective sphere and natural entity, but subjectively constitutes of socio-economic, and political processes and practices across time. Therefore space of vulnerability stems from the projects of state-making and nation-building, which produces various forms of discrimination among citizens and non-citizens depending on the legal status of individuals. Since citizenship is a reciprocal relation of rights and duties between people and the state, non-citizens become objects of vulnerability in the structure of modern nation-state. The research addresses such spaces of vulnerability with a case of the Rohingya; an ethno-linguistic-religious minority who have been the residents of Myanmar for centuries, but largely migrated to Southeastern Bangladesh and have been living there for decades as both refugees and illegal migrants. The process of nation-building in Myanmar rendered the Rohingya non-citizens and thereby stateless people in the one hand. Bangladesh, on the other hand, does not intend to host and recognize the Rohingya even as refugees as a non-signatory state of the UN Refugee conventions, 1951 making Rohingyas an illegal object. Consequently, the Rohingya have turned into a non-entity having no legal status in the structure of modern nation-state in both Myanmar and Bangladesh. The research examines Rohingya situations in Bangladesh arguing that space of vulnerability in the society is not determined by the people themselves, but is produced in the process of state-making within the framework of modern nation-state.

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