Dr Arunima Bhattacharya

Visiting Research Fellow

Home Institution: University of Leeds


Visiting Research Fellow, September 2019 - December 2020

Project: Indian Ocean Imaginaries: The Makings of a Transnational Corporeal Aesthetic


Arunima Bhattacharya is a Postdoctoral Research Assistant on the AHRC funded project, ‘The Outsider from Within: Indian Anthropologists and the Birth of the Nation’ based jointly at the universities of Leeds, Manchester, and Edinburgh.  This project explores the post-1947 histories of Indian Anthropology and Sociology as distinctive intellectual fields outside western paradigms. It involves an analysis of the research of Indian anthropologists, and the connections between their work, institutions (such as museums), and communities that formed the subject of anthropological research.

Arunima was awarded her doctoral degree in July 2019. Her doctoral thesis titled ‘Representing Calcutta through Handbooks, 1880-1940: Narrativizing City Space’ read into the narrative tropes that structured the narrativization of Calcutta, the capital of British India (till 1911), in relation to the significant historical events that shaped colonial rule in India during the turn of the twentieth century. She was employed (Dec 2018-July 2019) as a Project Support Officer on a Leeds Arts and Humanities Research Institute (LAHRI) funded Sadler seminar series project titled, ‘Creating/Curating a Decolonial Classroom’ lead by Dr. Fozia Bora. She is also currently serving as an Anti-Casualisation Officer for the University of Leeds UCU branch. Arunima’s forthcoming work includes a chapter ‘Everyday Objects and Conversations: Experiencing ‘Self’ in the Transnational Space of UK’, in Transnational Women of Indian Origin/Heritage: Educational and Migration Experiences in (Re) Negotiating Identities: Perspectives from Australia and the United Kingdom, ed. by Nish Belford et al (London: Routledge, forthcoming). Arunima is also co-editing the volume with Dr. Richard Hibbit (University of Leeds) and Dr. Laura Scuriatti (Bard College Berlin).

Arunima’s other interest lies in understanding the literary, historical and anthropological narratives produced in the Indian Ocean region, with particular focus on port cities in East Africa, India, Sri Lanka and Singapore. She is planning a postdoctoral study in this area, which draws strongly from her current expertise in anthropological theories of body, subjectivity, and community, to explore the complex logic of subject formation in the Indian Ocean travel circuit. It will deal with how the physical bodies of travellers, colonial officials, indentured labourers, sailors and convicts came to embody tensions between the various geographical and regional influences that were nominally contained within the overarching economic logic of Empire in the Indian Ocean region in the late eighteenth to early twentieth centuries (from 1772-1940). This project will attempt to recover the increasingly homogenising imperialist teleological narratives of indentured labouring, by focussing on cultural expressions of resource extraction and displacement in the region. Building upon exiting research in sociology, cultural geography, and literary criticism, the project’s rationale will be to develop an original understanding of the transnational corporeal aesthetic of the Indian Ocean region, which, spanning the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, reads the formation of transnational bodies in relation to the documentation of transnational trade routes.

During her stay at IASH Arunima will organise a three-part seminar series on current research about the Indian Ocean region which will lead to a public exhibition and related discussion panel at Edinburgh’s National Museum on trade routes and subject formation. This will be curated in conjunction with the Special Collections at the University of Edinburgh. This event will be a follow up on her work on Shipping documents and coin collections at the University of Leeds Special Collections. Arunima will also be working on her monograph during her time at the IASH.