Pamila Gupta

Faculty / Academic Staff
Anthropology--Lusophone Africa and India, Indian Ocean
Intellectual Biography: 

After completing my doctoral degree in Anthropology from Columbia University in 2004 (and previously enrolled in the Joint Program in Anthropology and History at the University of Michigan under the supervision of Professor Nicholas Dirks), I moved to the University of the Witwatersrand to take up a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Department of Anthropology. I then took up a two year lectureship in that same department wherein I developed several new research projects, ones that very much connected my PhD research in Goa, India to new (Lusophone) sites in Africa, and that asked new questions about connections and comparisons between India and Africa, via the Indian Ocean. It was the move to WISER in 2008 as a full-time researcher that really allowed me to develop my research skills in a way that I hadn’t before. I very much learned from my colleagues, working with such esteemed scholars as Deborah Posel, Jon Hyslop, Achille Mbembe, Michael Titlestad, and Sarah Nuttall gave me a solid base and the confidence to pursue a range of interdisciplinary topics, which have turned into solid research and publication outputs. It was also working with Isabel Hofmeyr who integrally shaped my own research agenda, and allowed me to become a serious scholar of Indian Ocean studies, a then burgeoning field of research. The most fascinating aspect of having trained in the US (and at three different programs which has led to its own insights as well about the nature of graduate training and education) and now being based in South Africa is how much the politics of locations matters, how much in fact it begs new insights of old places at the same time that it leads to new research projects from very different perspectives, two of which I outline here.

Mozambique Research
Over the past several years, I have been conducting field research in Mozambique on a variety of themes having to do with its legacy of Portuguese colonialism. Initially, I had been interested in developing a project on tracing the Goan (Lusophone Indian) diaspora in Mozambique through a series of interviews with Goan Mozambicans living in present day Maputo, looking at how they made difficult (life) choices to stay or leave at end of colonialism in 1975. This one publication, which is now a much cited article within Indian Ocean scholarship(Gupta 2009) then opened up(as good research often does!) the door to many other topics: a second essay on a group of Goan fishermen in Catembe who very much inhabit a littoral Indian Ocean space; a third on Portuguese decolonization, dispossession and the photographic archive of Ricardo Rangel; a fourth essay on discourses of colonialism and heritage tourism in Ilha de Mozambique; a fifth on connecting Goa’s colonial independence from Portugal with that of Mozambique through the figure of Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi; and a final essay on architectural ruination and renovation in Beira for which the research has been conducted and conceptualized but still needs to be finalized. Undergirding this set of six essays (three of which have been published, in the Journal of Asian and African Studies, Public Culture, and Interventions) is an engagement with what I am developing analytically as an “ethnography of decolonization.” Here is my critical intervention into this new field of study: instead of assuming the transition from colony to independent nation-state was a smooth historical process, I interrogate that interim space in between whereby the manner by which colonialism was dismantled (in both a very real material and ideological sense) in such a place as Mozambique has real postcolonial effects that are uneven, messy and complicated, and that altered the livelihoods of many, not only those in the direct service of the colonial state(Betts 1998; Gupta 2007). These six essays, which I plan to develop a larger analytical frame for/put together into a book this coming year, are an attempt to look at Portuguese decolonization from a variety of historical and ethnographic perspectives, and that include visual and literary elements. Not only is this a very new and exciting research topic for me, but it is an important one for even while the individual essays very much stand on their own, once it is conceived as a book, it will contribute to studies of decolonization both in Africa, and more generally, particularly a time when we are looking back more critically at the end of empire.

Indian Ocean Research:
A second area of research in which I have been engaged with over the past seven years has been the expanding field of Indian Ocean studies. It was Professor Isabel Hofmeyr who first established the South Africa/India Research thrust at Wits in 2006, and then invited me to take part in this collective that consisted of a group of scholars from a range of discliplines, who were invested in the idea of connecting India and Africa. It was through her initiative (both intellectually and in a fundraising capacity) that we jointly conceptualized the beginnings of a joint project on the Indian Ocean. Our conference, held in August 2007, and entitled “Eyes Across the Water: Navigating the Indian Ocean” was an astounding success, and was well attended within the Wits academic community. Alongside Michael Pearson and Professor Hofmeyr, we then took on the task of producing an edited volume based on the conference proceedings. As the papers fell into three distinct faultlines within Indian Ocean studies (the Idea of the Indian Ocean and Africa as a faultline), I took on the task of conceptualizing the third section, that of islands and islandness in the Indian Ocean. The book was published in 2010 by Unisa Press and is a much cited piece of scholarship in Indian Ocean studies. I have since followed up this work with additional research outputs tied to the Indian Ocean. In 2008 I conceptualized alongside Michael Titlestad, my then colleague at WISER, who was on secondment from the English Dept at Wits, a workshop entitled “Story of the Voyage” that set out to engage with stories of travel that often emerge alongside the act of travel in an Indian Ocean world. We co-convened a successful event that brought a range of scholars from South Africa, the UK and Australia together. We then co-edited a special issue volume of the South African Historical Journal, and which included my own contribution, a piece entitled, “A Voyage of Convalescence: Richard Burton and the Imperial Ills of Portuguese India. My most recent piece of Indian Ocean research scholarship is a step in another direction that engages non-human agency; entitled “Monsoon Fever” it looks at the role of the monsoon as a literary, cultural and aesthetic agent in defining the Indian Ocean.

Presentation Title: 
Ruination and Renovation in Beira (Mozambique)
Jeremy Prestholdt, Domesticating the World: African Consumerism and the Genealogies of Globalization. University of California Press, 2008. all the works of Isabel Hofmeyr