Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Latha Varadarajan's "The Domestic Abroad"

Latha Varadarajan is an Associate Professor of Political Science at San Diego State University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Domestic Abroad: Diasporas in International Relations, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book opens to a heated debate between the government of the day and opposition members in the Indian parliament. The debate took place in 1983, and was at least superficially about a very specific set of economic proposals – the “NRI Portfolio scheme.” However, the issues raised on p. 99 are strangely enough quite central to the argument of the book.

The Domestic Abroad focuses on a relatively straightforward question: in the past few decades, why have a large number of states adopted policies and initiatives aimed at institutionalizing their relationship with their diasporas? In other words, why are states hailing their diasporas as part of a larger “global” nation that is connected to, and has claims on the institutional structures of the state? In answering this question, the book demonstrates how the visible surface of the phenomenon, (i.e., re-mapping the imagined boundaries of the nation to include those who immigrated to other parts of the world), is intrinsically connected to the political-economic transformation of the state that is typically characterized as “neoliberalism.” To illustrate the argument, the latter part of the book traces the complex history and the political logic of the remarkable transition from the Indian state’s guarded indifference to its diaspora in the period after independence, to its current celebration of the “global Indian nation.”

Page 99 falls right in the middle of this narrative of the production of the Indian domestic abroad. It is 1983, and the Indian government has just adopted a major set of economic reforms at the “suggestion” of the IMF. Part of these reforms is opening up the Indian economy to foreign investors, who are not quite “foreign” since they belong to a category called “non-resident Indians.” This emphasis is crucial, given the nature of the anti-colonial nationalist movement (explained in the preceding chapter) and ensuing distrust of foreign economic intervention. It is also novel because the Indian government, for the first time since independence, characterizes members of the Indian diaspora as being members of the larger Indian nation. Neither claim goes down smoothly, with opposition members warning against the growing power of overseas investors and questioning the essential “Indian-ness” of those who immigrated voluntarily. P.99 thus provides a quick look at the way in which the political and economic dimensions of the domestic abroad are intrinsically related.
Learn more about The Domestic Abroad at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue