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Unfixing Language and Landscape: Decolonial Desires on Sri Lanka's Tea Plantations

Date and Time: 
Thursday, March 8, 2018. 03:30 PM - 05:30 PM
Meeting Location: 
Building 50, Room 51A
Workshop: 
Worlds of Work and the Work of Networks
Meeting Description: 

This chapter, from my book manuscript Unbecoming Coolie: Gender, Labor, and Decolonial Desires on Sri Lanka's Tea Plantations, explores the connections between language and landscape in constructing the plantation as a socio-ecological form and site of human labor and labor relations. Specifically, it examines the ways in which the Tamil language of Hill Country Tamil laborers came to shape the labor relations of Britsh Ceylon's tea estates and the constructive imaginaries of the tea plantation as a cohesive, remote, and efficient site of labor. It presents analysis of written and visual representations of Tamil “coolies" and "coolie" life and labor in British and postcolonial Ceylon, and in those representations, finds evidence of Hill Country Tamils' aspirations to live and labor beyond the socio-industrial ideals of the Planter's Raj. The chapter concludes by bringing those aspirations into the contemporary lives of Hill Country Tamils by presenting evidence of future career desires and mappings of Hill Country Tamil youth who reside on the plantations but aspire to work beyond its physical and accumulative boundaries.

Mythri Jegathesan is assistant professor in anthropology at Santa Clara University. As a feminist and cultural anthropologist, she examines dynamics of labor valuation, reproductive capacity, kinship investment, and land attachment in Sri Lanka. Her ethnography, Unbecoming Coolie: Gender, Labor, and Decolonial Desires on Sri Lanka's Tea Plantations (under review) explores how the desires of Tamil tea plantation residents destabilize the coherence of the tea plantation as a socio-ecological form and challenge former ideologies of gender, place-making, and labor investment in postwar Sri Lanka. Her current research examines the challenges of organizing the unorganized labor sectors of Sri Lanka and the temporalities and praxis of rights-based development and transitional justice mechanisms under mandates of social reconciliation and political reform. She has published in HimalSouthasian, Dialectical Anthropology, and Anthropological Quarterly (forthcoming), and her research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, American Association of University Women, and American Institute of Sri Lankan Studies.

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