Transformations in Society and Space

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Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation CoreSGA2FC4024

Semester and Year Offered: 1st Semester, 1st Year

Course Coordinator and Team: Dr Rohit Negi (coordinator), Dr Anil Persaud

Email of course coordinator:

Pre-requisites: None

Course Objectives/Description:

The course is offered to first year MA students as a compulsory foundation course. Students in the programme are likely to arrive from variety of disciplinary backgrounds, and this course aims to to equip them with an overall understanding of social-spatial change. The most basic idea of the course is to introduce students to key moments and sites in the history of the shifting relationship between political economy, social formations and space. It is innovatively designed to begin a conversation on global history while building geographic literacy and an understanding of the production of space, ideas critical to the MA programme.

Course Outcomes:

On successful completion, students should be able to:

  1. Demonstrate a nuanced understanding of important world historical paradigms
  2. Appreciate the intricate relations between society, economy and space
  3. Debate concepts critical to the humanities and social sciences
  4. Display competence in reading diverse material and writing analytically

Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

  1. Indigenous Formations: While Commonwealth Native Title still recognises the indigenous peoples of modern Australia as the Traditional Owners of huge swathes of these remote regions, this resource rich territory has increasingly become, since early European arrival, a contested arena. Faced with the dual challenges of access and preservation, the student is invited to explore Outback Australia as the terra nullius that it never was.
  2. Maritime Connections: From a sample of ports such as the ports of Singapore; Tuticorin in India; Colombo in Sri Lanka; Chabahar in Iran; Karachi in Pakistan; African ports such as Mombasa in Kenya, Zanzibar in Tanzania, Durban in South Africa, and Port Louis in Mauritius; Yangon in Burma; Jakarta in Indonesia and the Fremantle port servicing Perth, Australia), this module will not only explore the contemporary importance of sea trade, it will also trace the changing contours of trade relations, technologies (from sail to steam and beyond), commodities and migrations that have constructed the Indian Ocean as a site of scholarly inquiry and geopolitical significance.
  3. Early Colonialism: Beginning with forays into the social and economic development of the plantation system and physical structure in the mid 17th century, this module follows the unfolding of the story of this particular space of the tropics (Peter Redfield) over the centuries, as plantations, penal colonies, tourist destinations, commercial satellite launch sites to highlight the dialogical relationship between spatial typology and social formation.
  4. Extractive Capitalism: will focus on the mining towns of Southern Africa which pulled-in workers from far and wide, and became the laboratory for administrative and intellectual efforts. Among other things, these spaces were racially segregated and the administration was keen to prevent permanent urbanisation, about which they had multiple anxieties related to demands for higher wages and radicalisation of labour.
  5. Fordism: Under Fordist political economy, industry considered its workers as consumers for manufactured products, which built an articulated economy, involving welfare mechanisms and cradle-to-grave social contracts. More recently, the unraveling of this contract has led to crisis in the industrial heartlands of North America; this trajectory will form the backdrop to this module.
  6. The New International Division of Labour: Several forces led to the decline of the Fordist contract through the 1970s and 1980s. In part, this was on account of global economic crisis alongside the decline of the counter-hegemonic Soviet-bloc. The centre of gravity of global manufacturing began its movement towards the previously-considered ‘developing world’, including places like Mexico, China and Korea. The unit will consider these processes through the case of Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Zhuhai, which form the manufacturing constellation around the Pearl River Delta along with Hong Kong.
  7. Contemporary Rural Change: A growing proportion of global rural population now subsists on incomes derived from non-agricultural work, and many families have their feet in different locales and activities. This decoupling of the rural and the agricultural are an emergent area of interest. Agriculture itself has also moved towards commercial, capital intensive and often, contractual forms, thus generating a reconfigured landscape of opportunities and risks. Meanwhile, large-scale investments and privatisation of land have also created pressures on rural populations. These dynamics will be discussed using the South Asian context.

Assessment Details with weights:

  1. Students will be assessed in continuous assessment mode on the basis of their participation in class and their engagement with the educational resources. This involves in-class quizzes and short response notes (combined: 40%)
  2. The second assessment will involve a book review of a text on a particular historical/spatial formation discussed in class (25%).
  3. The third assessment will consist of a final examination (35%).

Reading List:

  • L.R. Hiatt, “Aboriginal Land Tenure and Contemporary Claims in Australia,” in Edwin N. Wilmsed (ed.), We are here: Politics of Aboriginal Land Tenure. University of California Press, 1990.
  • Lorina Barker, “Using poetry to capture the Aboriginal voice in oral history transcripts”, in Passionate histories : myth, memory and Indigenous Australia. Frances Peters-Little, Ann Curthoys and John Docker (eds.).
  • Mukherjee, Rila. Pelagic Passageways: The Northern Bay of Bengal Before Colonialism. Primus Books. 2011.
  • Nancy Um, The Merchant Houses of Mocha: Trade and Architecture in an Indian Ocean Port. University of Washington Press, 2009 – Chapter 5: “The Urban Form and Orientation of Mocha.”
  • Trevor Burnard and John Garrigus, The Plantation Machine: Atlantic Capitalism in French Saint-Domingue and British Jamaica. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016. – Chapter 2: “The Plantation World” & Chapter 3: “Urban Life”.
  • Peter Redfield, Space in the Tropics: From Convicts to Rockets in French Guiana. University of California Press, 2000. Part 3: “Modern Sky.”
  • E. Potenza (1996). All that glitters: the glitter of gold. Excerpts available at
  • R. Negi (2014). Solwezi Mabanga: Ambivalent Developments on Zambia’s New Mining Frontier. Journal of Southern African Studies, 40(5): 999-1013.
  • Anon (undated). Fordism and the 20th Century City. Available from
  • W.F. Lever (2001). The Post-Fordist City. In R. Paddinson (Ed.) Handbook of Urban Studies. London: Sage Publications. pp. 273-283.
  • M.A.O’Donnell (1999). Constructing gendered nationalism in the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone. positions: east asia cultural critique 7 (2): 343-375
  • J. Bach (2010). ‘They come as peasants and leave as citizen’: Urban Villages and the Making of Shenzhen, China.” Cultural Anthropology 25 (3): 421–58
  • J. Rigg (2006). Land, farming, livelihoods and poverty: Rethinking the links in the Rural South. World Development, 34(1): 180-202.
  • V. Gidwani and K. Sivaramakrishnan (2003). Circular migration and rural cosmopolitanism in India. Contributions to Indian Sociology, 37(1-2): 339-367.