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Translocal Ethnography: Commuting Between Macrocosm and Microcosm


Rohit Wanchoo

COSMOPOLITAN CONNECTIONS: THE SINDHI DIASPORA, 1860-2000
By Mark-Anthony Falzon
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2005, pp. 289, Rs. 650.00

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 2 February 2007

Mark-Anthony Falzon’s book on the Sindhi diaspora is an ambitious project from the standpoint of a social anthropologist. It is based on fieldwork in three places, London, Malta and Bombay. The book explores and helps to define the field of translocal ethnography. After mapping the terrain and exploring the interaction between ethnicity and caste on the one hand, and business and entrepreneurship on the other, the author offers what he calls an ‘integrative model of commerce and diaspora’ at the end of the book. Falzon argues that his work “is in many ways an anthropology of the global, yet it is on the terminology of the local that it relies for its descriptions” (p 268).   Following in the footsteps of Bernard Cohn there have been many anthropologists among historians and they have carved a niche for themselves sometimes forcing historians to accept more sophisticated formulations. Falzon is not setting out to write economic history but he does extensive interviews at three sites as well as genealogical and archival research using trade directories, biographies and government publications. He explores the diverse economic activities in which Sindhi Hindu businessmen engage: importing curios and luxury textiles into Malta and exporting locally manufactured lace work; producing goods as small scale manufacturers in Ulhasnagar or participating in real estate development as contractors and builders of ownership basis apartments, forerunners of the Sindhi cooperative housing societies in Bombay today. Over a hundred thousand Sindhi businessmen work in the textile trade in India as cloth merchants and commission agents, but based mostly in cities like Bombay, Ahmedabad and Surat. In the ‘global city’ of London they play a major role as importers, exporters or financiers. Sindhi confirming houses based in London, during the 1970s and 1980s, extended credit to Sindhis based on trust and facilitated trade between West African importers and Far Eastern exporters, a trade that would not have emerged without this form of mediation. The work of Claude Markovits on the Sindhi traders and bankers is based on fairly extensive archival work, but it is focused on the pre-independence period and is not so concerned with business practices.   The author recognizes that Sindhi business is an “umbrella term” for practices that are specific to different localities. In so far as economists and economic historians are concerned this would seem an unexceptionable conclusion and one that they have advocated for quite some time. A.K. Bagchi ...


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