The History, Philosophy and Religious Studies Department is pleased to announce a research seminar by
on Monday 10th April
in room 8.322B
Ascribing, asserting and changing designations for mixed race groups in South Asia and Burma: A case study in ethnic group formation and boundary construction
European mercantile activity and imperialism in Asia was responsible for the creation of several mixed race populations of European and Asian descent. Attitudes towards interracial relationships varied among the colonial powers, between different time periods or phases of colonial expansion, and among different colonies of the same colonial power. Evolving attitudes to ‘the other’, including the growth of so-called ‘scientific racism’ in the latter half of the 19th Century, contributed to the structuring of divergent so-racial hierarchies and the proliferation of a variety of categories for different ethnic groups. As the work of the sociologist Andreas Wimmer in Ethnic Boundary Making (2013, OUP) suggests, the creation of ethnic groups in distinction to one another involves the construction and policing of boundaries between groups as well as dynamic responses which transgress or contest those boundaries in various ways. Wimmer argues against what he calls ‘radical constructivism’ as well as ethnic essentialism, the former characterised as a ‘Barthian World’ and the latter as a ‘Herderian World’. By contrast, a Wimmerian World makes space for the existence of both alternatives as empirical realities, as ethnic groups are generally Barthian but can become more Herderian in response to cultural differentiation and fostering of a cohesive group identity in response to harder boundaries and over the course of longer periods of divergent development. The overlapping and intertwined mixed race peoples of colonial India and Burma had variously been known as ‘half-castes’, East Indians, Indo-Britons, Eurasians, Anglo-Indians, and Anglo-Burmans, amongst other designations. The case studies here presented of their divergent trajectories at the points of Burma’s constitutional separation from India in 1935 and during the independence of the two nations in the 1940s, provide an ideal example of the importance of categories and socio-racial boundaries to ethnic group formation.
Uther Charlton Stevens holds a Master’s Degree from the London School of Economics, and a D.Phil in History from the University of Oxford. His first book, Anglo-Indians and Minority Politics in South Asia: Race, Boundary Making and Communal Nationalism is forthcoming from Routledge. He is currently teaching at Volgograd State University.