The Border, City Diaspora
: The Physical and Imagined Borders of South Asia

  • Prithvi Hirani

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The tussle between borders, identity, and territory continues to dominate politics in postcolonial South Asia. While critical perspectives in International Relations tend to regard borders as increasingly dispersed and vacillated; in South Asia’s literature, borders are considered territorially sacrosanct and stringently fixed to their traditional location. Challenging both these perspectives, this thesis questions the diffuse and abstract notion of borders while simultaneously exploring the border beyond the borderland. For this, the thesis adapts the conceptual framework of border as method to analyse narratives, processes, and practices of borders in three locations: the border, the city, and diaspora. I develop this framework of border as method using the interpretive tools of sensitivity, the work of the imagination, and the figure of the stranger to guide as well as draw connections between these seemingly disparate locations. The three cases explicate the relationship between physical and imagined borders by demonstrating how ideas, practices, and narratives of the border converge and diverge at the border, within the nation, and outside the nation. The empirical case studies combine insights from fieldwork, interviews, and observations at the border between (i) India, Bangladesh and Pakistan; (ii) in chhota or mini-Pakistans in Mumbai; and (iii) South Asian ethnic enclaves in Birmingham and London. The thesis puts forth a multi-layered argument. Firstly, it argues that there is a need to rethink the way in which we approach the study of borders. For this the thesis argues in favour of studying the border as method. This suggests that it is important to study the border on its own terms, by being in dialogue with the border, and by thinking of the border as a way of knowing. Secondly, the thesis demonstrates that the ideational border plays an important role in reproducing the border. The thesis finds that borders in postcolonial South Asia are durable and resilient. Overall, the thesis views borders holistically through an engagement with the three dimensions of the borders i.e. epistemology, ontology, and phenomenology to foreground the rigidity and territoriality of the imagined border.
Date of Award2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Aberystwyth University
SupervisorMustapha Pasha (Supervisor) & Inanna Hamati-Ataya (Supervisor)

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