AAS Member Spotlight: Uday Chandra

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Uday Chandra, Assistant Professor, Government, Georgetown University (Qatar)

Political Science; India

How long have you been a member of AAS?

Six years.

Why did you join AAS and why would you recommend AAS to your colleagues?

AAS offers an interdisciplinary space in which scholars working on different parts of Asia can enter into a range of productive dialogues. That's why I joined and also why I recommend it to others.

How did you first become involved in Asian Studies?

I am from India, and my doctoral research at Yale focused on history and politics in South Asia. So, I suppose I became involved in Asian Studies by default or at least unwittingly. In 2011, in Honolulu, I organized my first AAS panel on "rural modernities" in contemporary India. Since then, I've missed only one AAS annual meeting.

What do you enjoy most or what have been your most rewarding experiences involving your work in Asian Studies?

I particularly enjoy attending panels outside my own areas of expertise, whether thematic or geographical. So, it was a truly rewarding experience to attend panels on, say, early historic South Asia or land politics in Southeast Asia. Through AAS, I have come to appreciate the rewards of reading and researching across conventional spatial and temporal barriers. I now teach an interdisciplinary course on inter-Asian connections, which reflects the insights I’ve gleaned over the past decade in Asian studies.

Tell us about your current or past research.

My doctoral research, which will form the basis of my first book, traces how the notion of "tribe" has co-evolved with modern statemaking processes in South Asia and beyond. Living among rural Adivasi or "tribal" communities for thirty-six months in rural Jharkhand, listening to their songs, stories and histories, and undertaking fine-grained archival research in multiple archives, I show how these rural communities negotiated their rights and entitlements with colonial and postcolonial states. While these negotiations circumscribed the limits of modern state power from below, they also remade forest communities as "tribal" subjects of those states. Far from being vestiges of some imaginary past, I argue, these "tribal" communities dwelling in the margins of modern states ought to be recognized as moderns par excellence.

My current research takes me in two different directions: (1) circular flows of labor migrants that remake rural and urban spaces and define the social contours of capitalism in contemporary India, and (2) the nature and emergence of vernacular forms of Christianity among the most marginalized populations in South Asia since the mid-nineteenth century.

What advice or recommendation do you have for students interested in a career in Asian Studies?

I believe that one needs to engage deeply with the past and present of the region in which one wishes to work. Long-term commitments of this kind are not only more rewarding professionally, but they are also personally enriching in a variety of ways, including those that are unexpected.

Outside of Asian Studies, tell us some interesting facts about yourself.

I have now lived nearly half my life outside Asia, and I am increasingly drawn to the study of the interconnected histories that bind Asian societies to other world regions, especially Europe and Africa.

Chandra, Uday

"Through AAS, I have come to appreciate the rewards of reading and researching across conventional spatial and temporal barriers. I now teach an interdisciplinary course on inter-Asian connections, which reflects the insights I’ve gleaned over the past decade in Asian studies."

— Uday Chandra