“Connectivity in Motion”: New Studies on the World of the Indian Ocean International Conference location:Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle, Germany date:16-18 October 2014
Ever since Braudel conceptualized a ‘Mediterranean world’ in which the sea functions as an avenue of integration, maritime spaces have formed a basis for the study of large-scale processes. In the case of the Indian Ocean ‘world’, too, the ocean has been a useful analytical unit to explore transnational interconnectivity in the longue durée, avoiding the pitfalls of methodological nationalism. Such scholarship could flourish at a time in which processes of globalization came to the foreground. The focus on global flows led to a crisis in area studies, which were criticized for being too ‘centric’ (e.g. Eurocentric). The study of transoceanic networks and connections was seen as a way of decentring the social sciences and humanities. The focus on the aquatic also helped shift scholarly attention, both conceptually and empirically, from bounded units of analysis to dynamics of movement. Mobility, a complex socio-cultural assemblage infused with both attributed and self-ascribed meanings, is not only an analytical lens through which to look at issues of connectivity; rather, motion is seen as constitutive of the Indian Ocean and its networks. In this paper, I offer some exploratory reflections on Indian Ocean studies from a mobility studies perspective, analysing the concept-metaphors used to describe Indian Ocean movements and the ways in which these open up new perspectives but also restrict our view. Is Indian Ocean studies merely an attempt to rethink and revitalize (traditional) area studies by pursuing a mobile maritime perspective? What is the analytical purchase of ocean studies beyond thinking of oceans as just another type of area? Linking maritime studies with emergent critical mobility studies provides productive answers to these questions.