Migrant Memory and the Postcolonial Imagination: British Asian Memory, Identity and Community After Partition

Migrant Memory and the Postcolonial Imagination is research project investigating cultural memories of the Partition of British India and wider processes of decolonisation, that circulate within South Asian diasporic communities in the UK.

Migrant Memory and the Postcolonial Imagination investigates the memories of the 1947 Partition of British India circulating within South Asian diasporic communities in the UK, with a specific focus on Loughborough and London as ethnographic sites. Partition represents a landmark event in the history of both South Asia and Britain: the creation of the two sovereign states of India and Pakistan was overseen by the colonial administration and it had an immediate impact on South Asian people, as well as being a trigger for migration to the former colonial power. And yet the legacy of Partition in the British context remains largely unexplored. The aim of the research is to fill this gap by investigating how these memories inform contemporary British Asian life and to understand the relationship between memory, inter-community relations and dynamics of inclusion and exclusion in the British context and in relation to the notion of Britishness.

As an interdisciplinary project at the crossroad of memory studies, diaspora, cultural and postcolonial studies, the research adopts a mixed research method which is grounded in ethnography and which includes participatory arts methodologies to elicit and evoke memories of Partition and migration with British Asian groups. Activities span from photography classes to food and memory workshops, fashion, music activities and films screenings and they are co-organised with local community groups. Using creative activities offers the advantage of allowing people to express themselves without having to rely on verbal communication – a form of expression that could be especially challenging when discussing painful memories. By uncovering how processes of remembering Partition shape intercommunity relations in the UK, the research will highlight the legacy of British colonial past and of Partition on the political, social and cultural life of Britain.

The project is conducted in collaboration with Charnwood Arts, Equality Action and Tower Hamlets Council. This is a five-years project running from October 2017 – October 2022.

About the research team

This research project is funded by The Leverhulme Trust and led by Professor Emily Keightley. Dr Clelia Clini is the Research Associate leading the research in London and Dr Jasmine Hornabrook is the Research Associate leading the research in Loughborough. There are four PhD researchers working on specific strands of Partition memory: Diwas Bisht, Julia Giese, Nathan Ritchie, and Mona Khan. There are three research assistants supporting work with communities: Minara Rahman and Yesmin Choudhury in Loughborough and Saif Osmani in London. The project administrator is Denise Wade.

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