Circular migration and rural cosmopolitanism in India

Vinay Gidwani, K. Sivaramakrishnan

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In this article we present a provisional theory of rural cosmopolitanism as a counterpoint to conventional discussions of cosmopolitanism and demonstrate its significance for studying South Asian modernities. We explore our ideas through the figure of the circular migrant: someone who transmits through movements in geographic space not just sensibilities and ideas, but also the materials and techniques that enable the transformation of social space in multiple worlds. The regionalisation of labour markets in India, with a consequent rise in labour circulation, provides empirical justification to our focus on circular migrants. But neither circular migration nor rural cosmopolitanism is a new phenomenon. Instead, we suggest that by probing the largely invisible histories of movement within South Asia, we may end up writing the rise of nationalisms, regional political movements, and modernities in that part of the world in very different ways. This is precisely why it is necessary to reject the figure of an international or transnational subject as the standard bearer of cosmopolitanism and realise that cosmopolitanism operates at various scales; and, equally, that the cosmopolitan is a person who disrupts conventional spatial divisions and produces newly salient spaces of work, pleasure, habitation and politics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)339-367
Number of pages29
JournalContributions to Indian Sociology
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Jan 1 2003


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