Vithya Subramaniam

vithya subramaniam

DPhil Student

Linacre College

Thesis: ‘Punjab’ and the Nation-State: A Material Claim

Research: With my DPhil project, I seek to examine the material experience of nation-states’ territorial claims. I site this study across Pakistani and Indian Punjab to examine the ways in which uncontested territorial claims hold meaning when they come up against material spectres of other configurations of the region/territory (i.e., imagined, remembered, cultural, historical, ethno-religious ideas of ‘Punjab’). In considering the everyday articulation of nation-states’ territorial claims, I locate this in the lived experience of its materialities—documents, natural resources, border infrastructure, left behind buildings and evacuee property, museum collections and memorials, etc. Thus, I seek to examine the everyday experience of territorial claims and its lived meaning through the moments of contact between humans and these non-human actants. In other words, my question is how the nation-state’s ideas (i.e., its territorial claim) work—through objects that act and are encountered in the articulation of that claim—and in turn, are experienced and hold meaning.

This project has grown from a sustained interest in the region of Punjab and questions of space and memory. In my earlier work—on memory in the Golden Temple Complex and mnemonic spaces in Indian Punjab—I had been implicitly interested in how the region reconciles ghosts and material traces from its past with present-day identity discourses. With this thesis, I expand my inquiry into Pakistan and beyond Sikh spatiality. Additionally, I am also interested in the South Asian, particularly Sikh, diaspora in Singapore, and have written three chapters on this (in forthcoming publications).

I further seek to apply anthropological approaches to critically representing space and engaging the past beyond traditional modes of academic discourse. This thus includes developing a mobile application—Sikh Heritage Trail—that maps sites of Sikh significance in Singapore, as well as writing and co-directing a theatrical production, Sikhs of Serangoon (2016). I continue to explore playwriting as a complement to ethnographic writing, and as a practice in communicating academic ideas to the wider public.

Research Interests: ideas of Punjab; region-making; nation-state ethnography; materiality; borders; borderscapes; memory; mnemonic sites; cartography; cartographic discourse; Sikh identity- and community-making