This article investigates three historical moments in Rangoon, Burma (Yangon, Myanmar) when the city has restricted certain forms of mobility. The first occurred in 1920, when British authorities restricted rickshaws pulled by Indian laborers. The second was in 1960, when the military “caretaker government” sought to sideline pedicabs and horse carts as part of an urban “cleanup” campaign. The third happened in 2017, when city authorities under a new democratic government sought to limit the number of taxis and allow digital ride-hailing services such as Uber and Grab to operate in the city. Despite three very different forms of government, the later discourses eerily echo the exclusionary logic that certain forms of migrant driven mobility need to be cleared away for more “modern” mobility.
From Colonial Rangoon to Postcolonial Yangon
Beth E. Notar, Kyaw San Min, and Raju Gautam
How important are regional foci in a world that is defined by transfers and mobilities? This issue of Transfers features a special section that addresses this question and provides varied answers on the role regions play in the understanding of modernity, power, and practices of moving. The call for the special section, “Asia on the Move,” went out in spring 2017. Since then, questions of mobilities, migration, and transfers have not only gained increasing attention and importance, they have also been met with resistance by local groups, in politics and social development—often, in the global point of view, from quite unexpected directions, as in the case of Myanmar and Rohinga migration in 2018.
Solved by Migration?
Liesbeth Rosen Jacobson
This article examines the arrangements that authorities put in place for populations of mixed ancestry from two former colonies in Asia—the Dutch East Indies and British India—and compares them with those of French Indochina during decolonization. These people of mixed ancestry, or “Eurasians,” as they were commonly called at the time, were a heterogeneous group. Some could pass themselves off as Europeans, while others were seen as indigenous people. The arrangements were negotiated during round table conferences, at which decolonization in all three colonies was prepared. Which agreements were made, what consequences did they have, and how and why did these differ across the three colonial contexts? To answer these questions, I use material from governmental archives from all three former colonial contexts. The article shows that information on the paternal ancestry of Eurasians was decisive in the allocation of European citizenship and admission to the colonizing country.
Postcolonial Intersections. Asia on the Move
Mayurakshi Chaudhuri and Viola Thimm
The past decade has witnessed an exponential growth in literature on the diverse forms, practices, and politics of mobility. Research on migration has been at the forefront of this field. Themes in this respect include heterogeneous practices that have developed out of traditions of resistance to a global historical trajectory of imperialism and colonialism. In response to such historical transformations of recent decades, the nature of postcolonial inquiry has evolved. Such changing postcolonial trajectories and power negotiations are more pronounced in specific parts of the world than in others. To that end, “Postcolonial Intersections: Asia on the Move” is a special section that engages, examines, and analyzes everyday power negotiations, focusing particularly on Asia. Such everyday negotiations explicitly point to pressure points and movements across multiple geosocial scales where gender, religion, age, social class, and caste, to name a few, are constantly negotiated and redefined via changing subjectivities.
Refugees, Migrants, and Tourists in Dharamshala (India)
This case study of Dharamshala (India), a community that emerged as an outcome of mobility just a few decades ago and is constantly fueled by refugees, migrants, and tourists, aims to challenge the conceptual boundary between a receiving society and mobile Others, and to pose questions about community making in the context of postcolonial mobility. The history of Dharamshala reflects both the legacy of colonialism and the modern processes of mobility in postcolonial Asia. The town’s highly fluid and heterogeneous community consists of people of different nationalities, ethnicities, religions, and castes from Tibet, Nepal, the Global North, and various Indian states. Most are seasonal migrants attracted by the success of Tibetans in turning this in fact refugee settlement into a popular tourist destination, while some have already settled there. Communities embedded in mobility—for which mobility is an everyday lived experience—reshape our thinking about adaptation processes and social coexistence.
This thought piece reflects on the workings of modern migration through the prism of metabolism. It contends that the metabolic idiom productively underscores how migration as a process is enabled and evoked by particular flows of materials and energy and how the movement of migrants engenders social and environmental transformations.
Postcolonial Intersections and Mobilities
The articles in this issue’s special section strike a balance of disciplines, geographical areas, scales, and seniority levels, and offer thought-provoking examples of studies of postcolonial intersectional locations of mobile people and ideas in Asia. This response seeks to tease out the potential avenues not only for future themes of research but also for innovative methods. It concludes with an invitation to better incorporate intersectionality into our research and acknowledge how it also plays out in our own positionality and understanding of mobility.
History and Hip-Hop Mobility in the Transpacific (EP)
William B. Noseworthy
Scholarship in the field of hip-hop studies has convincingly argued against a “cultural grey out” and in favor of “local idiosyncrasies” in the mobility of cultural forms. That said, no published study has focused on the movements of the artists themselves in a transpacific context that places scenes in Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Cambodia, and Vietnam in conversation with one another. Varying histories of colonialism and postcolonial movements are essential aspects of each social context. I argue that the transpacific lens allows scholars to draw out the movements of individuals, influences, and emergent trends in the art form to better understand how artists are, metaphorically, scratching back and forth between representing originality on the one hand and the need for popular appeal on the other. I draw on vinyl itself as a metaphor for this article, which is framed as an EP.
Critical Music in Reassembly on Tinos
G Douglas Barrett
Reassembly, curated by G Douglas Barrett and Petros Touloudi Tinos, Greece 5 July 2017 to 31 October 2017
The free movement of bodies and objects once considered critical for the smooth functioning of contemporary art has appeared, especially since 2017, increasingly uncertain in this era marked by new forms of nationalism, xenophobia, and economic isolationism. Indeed, many artists working in this environment have found it difficult or impossible to cross once unquestionably open borders, or to ship works to and from exhibitions held across a requisitely international stage. As an attempt to respond to this crisis, I, along with Petros Touloudis, curated Reassembly, an exhibition held in the summer of 2017 on the island of Tinos, Greece. The exhibition came out of an annual residency program organized by Touloudis’s Tinos Quarry Platform and was held at the Cultural Foundation of Tinos. Overall, we wanted to ask if there is a critical role for music can play in the field contemporary art, especially as its plagued by new forms of border policing and geopolitical conflict.
Cyclist Appropriations of Automobile Infrastructures in Vietnam
After declining in status and mode share sharply with the popularization of the motorcycle, cycling in Vietnam is on the rise. Urban elites who pursue sport and leisure cycling are the most visible of Vietnam’s new cyclists, and they bring their sense of social mastery out onto the road with them by appropriating the nation’s new, automobile-focused infrastructures as places for play and display. While motivated by self-interest, their informal activism around securing bicycle access to new bridges and highways potentially benefits all and contributes to making livable cities. These socially elite cyclists transcend the status associated with their means of mobility as they enact their mastery over automobile infrastructures meant to usher in a new Vietnamese automobility.