SAMAJ Call for papers

South Asia Multidisciplinary Journal


South Asians on the move.
Migratory spaces and place building in the South Asian diaspora


The study of the mobility and migration of people of South Asian origin has focused on processes of migration on the one hand and integration issues in distinct host communities on the other; “diaspora” and “transnationalism” have become part of our standard vocabulary, which has given considerably new impetus to migration studies. This special issue of SAMAJ ( would like to bring to the fore a geographical perspective of South Asian migrations, thus following “the spatial turn” that has affected all social science (Soja). In a world where movements of any type are accentuated, far from leading to the “end of territories” (Badie), globalization “has accentuated the significance of location” (Warf and Arias). The study of space, as a social construct (Lefebvre), explains how people inhabit the world and find mediations between the world and themselves, as social and cultural agents. Migration and migrants change space and create places that reflect where people come from, how they have migrated and what their relation is to the host society.

At the crossroads between agency, imagination and global migration (Appadurai), space is this special issue’s point of entry into analyzing migration. We envision migration as a social phenomenon that sets distant places in relation to each other simultaneously, thus creating specific relational spaces. Migrations encompass different scales, from a global one corresponding to the scattering of migrants across countries and towns, to a more intimate one, e.g. that of the house or of the room. Although it is commonplace in migration studies to note that places (houses, religious buildings, restaurants, community centres, etc.) are (re)created so that migrants feel at home when away from their native place, this issue has barely been addressed as far as South Asian spaces “on the move” are concerned.

Space is a continuum where life trajectories and individual as well as collective strategies literally take place, in the sense that people’s lives contribute to modifying or to creating places. It gains in importance and in complexity in a context of mobility, where new forms of relationship to space are initiated. Migration patterns tend to become embedded in people’s lives to such an extent that multilocality is part of people’s “normal” life. Mobility creates relations between discontinuous places. Hence, Gildas Simon suggests using the term “migratory space” to refer to whole places that are connected by migration. Starting from this spatial perspective on migration, one interrelated question is: how do distinct, discontinuous places reflect one specific migratory space, to what extent do they display similarities? The study of lived spaces helps unravel individual, family and group practices. According to various forms of belonging as well as individual agency, strategies of “creating spaces” vary. Our goal is to give meaning to the materiality of places (architecture, setting, organization) by situating them in a larger web of relations that we call migratory space.

Besides their materiality, places are regarded as loci of interaction, innovation and negotiation which are built up by people who live far from their place of birth. In this context, places inhabited by people on the move also help us to understand the migrant community itself and its relationship with the social, political or natural environment where they live, whether it be on a temporary or permanent basis: what does the study of places tell us about the society of origin, about the host society and about the relations between the two? Different types of spaces are addressed: private spaces (e.g. where migrants are housed, as well as their homes in their country of origin), spaces that are open to the public (e.g. shops, religious buildings), public spaces. The latter type addresses issues related to the visibility of migrant communities in host societies, how they are perceived by their (migrant and non-migrant) users; in this respect we are also interested in understanding how public spaces can be turned into spaces for staging long-distance protests, claims and acts of resistance by migrants willing to make national political issues known on an international scale.

The editors of this special issue of SAMAJ are calling for articles to explore the places that constitute the migration space: what similarities emerge between these places? In what way do migrants engage with the host society by building places? What do representations and perceptions of places tell us about the migration process? We would also like to lay emphasis on perceptions and representations of places. Places are never neutral, they always mean something and are not only built up, but are also used and travelled (Lefebvre). They are materially and emotionally embedded as they are sources of feelings (e.g. resentment, empathy) that can be expressed through oral or written descriptions, drawings, pictures. Furthermore, in diasporic communities, the relationship with the place of origin often takes the form of a built upon, reconstructed, idealised image. The role of the imagination and the (re)making of faraway so-called places of origin are relevant topics: how do these places make sense and how are they represented in the imaginary of migrant communities, whatever the generation? From this point of view, articles attempting to analyse cultural and artistic products created by migrants regarding space are more than welcome.


This special issue is open to all social scientists interested in the South Asian diasporas and their relations to space from a historical, sociological, anthropological or geographical perspective. The editors insist on the fact that places are central to this issue, so drawings, sketches, mental maps and photographs are most welcome to illustrate or to complete the contribution.
Draft abstracts, to be submitted by the end of November 2011, should be a maximum of 500 words and include the name, full contact details, and scientific affiliation of the authors.
Articles (6,000-8,000 words) must be submitted by March 1st 2012.


To submit an article, please contact: Aurélie Varrel ( and Tristan Bruslé (



Appadurai, Arjun (1996) Modernity at large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Badie, Bertrand (1995) La fin des territoires. Essai sur le désordre international et l’utilité sociale du respect, Paris: Fayard.

Lefebvre, Henri (1999) La production de l’espace, Paris: Editions Anthropos Economica (4ème édition).

Simon, Gildas (2008) La planète migratoire dans la mondialisation, Paris : Armand Colin

Soja, Edward (1989) Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory, London: Verso.

Warf, Barney; Arias, Santa (2009) The Spatial Turn, Interdisciplinary perspectives, London, New York: Routledge.

Aurélie Varrel

Chargée de recherche en géographie au CNRS Centre d'Etudes de l'Inde et de l'Asie du Sud, UMR 8564 CNRS-EHESS

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