Unstoppable progress in research projects

Ongoing research project

- Aquatic Imaginaries: Re-charting Indoceanic and Atlantic Literary Productions INDAOC

2023 – 20…: Despite the pioneering efforts of postcolonialism to dismantle Eurocentrism, the truth is that its land and human-centred perspective often re-invigorates the colonial framework that it seeks to overcome. Our previous research on Indian Ocean literatures and cultures has directed us towards an acknowledgement of the centrality of the ocean itself in contraposition to the land mass. To put it otherwise, our subject of study, namely the Indian Ocean, has rendered a terracentric reading inadequate since the ocean, in Isabel Hofmeyr’s words, complicates a land-based version of history (Hofmeyr 2012). The Indian Ocean, in its exhibition of “wider worlds” (Steiner 2010) wherein “coastlines, hinterlands, sea routes and port cities” (Lavery, 2021: 4) are intimately connected creates and demands a new aesthetics, which we have named “thalassentric aesthetics”, to reflect the endemic transnationalism that transpires in Indoceanic configurations. Thalassentric Aesthetics emerges out of the need to situate the ocean/sea at the core of literary analysis. In other words, and as we have demonstrated in preceding research projects, the Indoceanic experience cannot be fully apprehended without taking into account the maritime exchanges between Africa and India.

The term “Thalassentric Aesthetics” that defines the methodological approach of our project places aquatic imaginaries at the core of the transoceanic experience. A thalassentric aesthetics works in contraposition to terracentric configurations of power which clearly favour a border-philosophy grounded in the modern concept of the “nation-state” and, in this respect, our proposed thalassentric aesthetics must be inscribed in the relatively recent trend in postcolonial theory known as “the Oceanic Turn”, which positions the ocean as the primordial site of connections among diverse ethno-cultures (Geyer and Bright 1995, Cohen 2010, Chambers 2010, DeLoughrey 2010, Mack 2011, Thomas 2014). A focus on aquatic configurations undermines the “nation” as a satisfactory term to claim belonging and fosters instead a natural transnationalism whereby identities, mirroring the movement of water, are perpetually in flux. Therefore, an aesthetics rooted in the ocean/sea/river dissolves artificial constructions formulated upon land ─read nations─ and accentuates the interactions among and across aquatic bodies. Ironically, British imperialism, itself an outcome of the nation-centered discourse of modernity, connected, albeit in a terracentric colonialist manner, the Indian Ocean with the Atlantic Ocean in ways that only a thalassentric approach can unveil. To set up a dialogue between the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic demands foregrounding the categories “Indian Ocean” and “Atlantic Ocean” in detriment of the traditional national and regional distinctions that geared the colonial mapping of the world. In short, what we suggest is an understanding of cultural and literary creations as products of the Indian Ocean and/or the Atlantic Ocean and thus liberate them from the tyranny of national affiliations.

Completed research project

- Rhizomatic Communities: Myths of Beloning in the Indian Ocean World

2019 – 2023 : Our current project, entitled Rhizomatic Communities: Myths of Beloning in the Indian Ocean World, is financed by the Ministry of Science, innovation and Universities (PGC2018-095648-B-I00).  Leading on from our previous work, we study the life writing of three marginalized communities: the Chagossians in Mauritius, AIDS sufferers in South Africa and survivors and descendants of survivors of the Partition in East Bengal. We seek to dismantle the myth of belonging which intrudes in identity constructions and, simultaneously, enhances the in-betweeness that defines a rhizomatic understanding of historical, socio-cultural and national affiliations in the Indian Ocean. The life stories we explore express the need to belong but they also highlight the fact that there is no unilateral sense of belonging. This project continues our exploration of indoceanic identities through the theoretical paradigm of the aesthetics of remembering, whereby we analysed postcolonial expressions of selfhood through three axis: empathy, identity and mourning. The archival and textual work conducted was monitored by a focus on the “individual”. However, we observed that the communal self pervades in a manner that challenged but, at the same time, guided the formation of a satisfactory, albeit deeply dis-unified identity. This recognition of a deep-seated communal self is a key factor in the functionality of our aesthetics of remembering which brings to the fore the rhizomatic nature of the Indian Ocean cultural geography.

- Escriure mite i memòria: la lluita dels xagossians contra la injustícia cultural

* Writing Myth and Memory to Fight Cultural Injustice Against Chagossians

2018 – 2019: In this project, funded by the Autonomous University Solidarity Foundation, we ran a creative writing workshop with members of the Chagossian community in Mauritius, first, second and third generation.  Chagossians were deported from their islands by the British in the late 1960s to make way for an American military base. They are resentful of their experiences of forced displacement, marginalisation and ethnic discrimination in Mauritius so a creative writing workshop provided a stimulus and a boost to their self-esteem as well as being a way to air grievances in a constructive and creative manner.

- The Aesthetics of Remembering: Empathy, Identification

2015 – 2018: Funded by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (FFI2015-63739-P)., finalized at the end of 2018. Our focus on a selection of life narratives shed light on traumatic periods of recent Indian Ocean history, specifically East Africa, South Africa and the Eastern part of India. The writing of life experiences is a way to overcome trauma and to create awareness amongst local communities.  In this project we explored the ethical dimensions of narrative and interpersonal empathy by proving that postcolonial life writing is indeed a site for “affective transaction”. Our final objective was to construct a theoretical paradigm which we called “aesthetics of re-membering” whereby “empathy” is, on the one hand, fostered through reading and creative writing and, on the other, re-assessed through the lens of postcoloniality.

- Traumes In/visibles: Construir la pau mitjançant l'escriptura

* In/visible Traumas: Building Peace Through Writing

2016 – 2017: This was a continuation of the previous project on creative writing workshops, Creative Writing Workshops as Therapy for Victims of Gender Violence,  and was also funded by the Autonomous University Solidarity Foundation.  In this project we ran workshops of creative writing specifically for survivors of gender violence in Uganda.  This second cycle of workshops was part of the activities organized by the newly established Peace Centre in Kampala.

- Tallers d’escriptura com a teràpia per a víctimes de violència de gènere

* Creative Writing Workshops as Therapy for Victims of Gender Violence

2013 – 2015: This project, financed by the Autonomous University Solidarity Foundation, was aimed to identify ways to transform African women’s writing and inform academic writing development. Our focus was on developing strategies that were effective in supporting writing in a second language.  We provided training for project leaders who in turn provided support for female victims of war and gender violence.  Our role in these retreats was to transmit our skills as experienced English language and literature teachers to the participants in the creative writing workshops and monitor and guide their work in using creative writing as a therapy for these women to overcome their personal traumas.

- Relations and Networks in Indian Ocean Writing

2012 – 2015: Funded by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (FFI2012-32626) has contributed to the growing body of critical work on the South Asian diaspora in the Western Indian Ocean – a still relatively under researched area.  Indian Ocean literary studies are still in their infancy and prior to this research project, no study had undertaken a systematic analysis of the English language literature of the diverse communities that make up the Indian Ocean littoral.  Moreover, the South African Indian community had invariably been omitted from studies of the South Asian diaspora so our research sought to establish a dialogic discourse amongst the Indian Ocean peoples and, in particular, amongst the people of Indian origin in East and South Africa and Mauritius.  Therefore, while we continued to focus on the South Asian diaspora communities in the Indian Ocean world, we took our previous research findings in hybridity one stage further by exploring the sociality and patterns of connectedness that were being forged between diverse communities in South Africa.  One of our main objectives was to place the Indian community in South Africa as part of the Indian Ocean experience. Our starting point was that literature inflected productions and performances of identities in relation to the long history of trade and encounter that had been conceptualised largely from the perspectives of economic history and geographical studies.  Moreover, we demonstrated that a thorough study of  south-south subjectivities could throw light on alternative ways of being in the world and thus could contribute to the creation of fairer, more humane societies.

- Cartographies of Indianness in Indian Ocean Writing: Memory, Connections, Trauma

2009 – 2012: (FFI2009-07711) reviewed the diverse ways Indian identity is negotiated with the identities of the host communities in the South-West Indian Ocean.  We mapped the specific manifestations of Indianness that allowed us to unpack the cultural stereotype of little Indias (Chota Bharat) in the diaspora. Our findings have contributed to the building up of literary and cultural theory in Indian Ocean Studies.

- Hybridity in Indian Ocean Literature in English and French: Convergences and Divergences. Contrastive Study of an Emerging Literary System

2006 – 2009: (HUM2006-02725)  Was the first project that undertook the systematic study of Indian Ocean literatures and cultures. This project analyzed the concept of hybridity as the driving force behind creative writing and the imaginary in Indian Ocean literature in English and French. The emerging cultural productions from the Indian Ocean and East Africa were observed as the result of all the relationships established between receiver, author and text.  The traditional connections that are made between language, literature and individual identity were challenged for the purpose of elaborating new literary maps that do not automatically identify notions of country, society, nation, and linguistic community.

- Analysis of the development of Anglophone African literature and culture

1997 – 1998: (DGES, PB96-1163) This project focussed specifically on English language African writing and continued with the systematic study of the so-called «new» literatures.  We published several innovative studies on African writers who were unknown to Spanish readers, in particular the monographic issue of Studia Africana (1998).

- The Influence of African Literature in the Formation of Western European Literary Canons

1995 – 1997: (UAB-CIRIT, grups emergents).  This project was our first engagement with the study of African literature and how postcolonial concerns were taking centre stage in literature departments in the Anglo-American world. The special issue of Links & Letters (Nº 4, 1997) was devoted to «Literature and Neocolonialism» and featured many of the concerns we addressed in this project.

More information about our research project