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The conference will host over 40 scholars of various disciplines from North America, Europe, South Asia, and Australasia:


Artist: Vasuki
Artist: Kiko
Artist: Vasan

Abraham, S.
Ambalavanar, D.
Arasu, V.
Champakalakshmi, R.
Cheran, R.
Fukao, J.
George, G.
George, U.
Ghose, R.
Guruge, S.
Jegathesan, M.
Kanaganayakam, C.
Kanthasamy, P.
Karunakaran, K.
Karunanithi, G.
Kingsolver, A.
Mason, R.
Maunaguru, S.
Maunaguru, Sitralega
McNaughton, S.
More, J.B.P.
Orr, L.
Pai, G.
Palaniappan, S.
Pandian, M.S.S.
Rajesh, V.
Renganathan, V.
Sangarasivam, Y.
Seylon, R.
Shanmugam, K.
Sivalingam, H.
Sriramachandran, R.
Sundar, A.
Tambiah, S.J.
Tyyskä, V.
Vaitheespara, R.
Vivekananthan, P.
Whitaker, M.
Xavier, S.
Young, K.
Younger, P.

Mark Whitaker

Associate Professor
Department of Anthropology
University of South Carolina at Aiken

Reflections on 'Tamilness' Before and After Social Trauma:
From 'Good People' to Nationalism
Friday, June 1st |  12:30 - 2:30 PM

In anthropology discussions of nationalism, and hence of national identities such as ‘Tamilness’, tend to be dominated by Benedict Anderson’s claim that nations are ‘imagined communities’. So they likely are. But that does not mean that nations are only imagined – conflict plays a role here -- or that only nations are imagined. For example, religious affiliation, caste, ‘class’ interests, gender, and regionalism all, at times, generated collective identities within Mandur, the east coast, Sri Lankan Tamil community I worked in prior to the present conflict. There, in the early 1980s, one was as likely to see middle-class local intellectuals battling each other about the accuracy of each other’s caste histories, or poor landless laborers collusively aggrieved at the financial manipulations of the rich and well connected, or Hindus, Muslims, and Christians bickering about the safety and amity of their respective villages as one was to see expressions of collective, explicitly national Tamilness. In short, people spent time ‘imagining’ various, multiple, yet exclusive communities of nulla adkal, of ‘good people’, that they belonged to and felt they had to protect. Tamil Nationalism, though also there, was not yet the regnant identity it became after the collective social traumas of 1983 and the ensuing Eelam wars. Hence, some interesting questions are: to what extent have these other kinds of identity – or these various forms of ‘Tamilness’ – been strategically hidden within nationalism by people made wary by the momentarily overwhelming necessities of social trauma; and will they, either in diaspora or after some future, final, peace, ‘break out’ again? Or have they, perhaps, already ‘broken out’? In this paper I will use my twenty years of ethnographic work in Sri Lanka and, more recently, in London and Toronto, to address this question.

Dr. Whitaker's current research interests center on Tamil, Sri Lanka, politics, media, diaspora, and nationalism. His recent publications include Amiable Incoherence: Manipulating Histories and Modernities in a Batticaloa Hindu Temple (1999) and " Some reflections on Popular Anthropology, Nationalism, and the Internet" in Anthropological Quarterly 77:3 (2004).