Postcolonial diaspora histories through family photographs

Authors: Christabel Devadoss*, Middle Tennessee State University
Topics: Cultural Geography, Asia, Qualitative Methods
Keywords: visuals, diaspora, photography, migration, hybridity, postcolonial methods, India, Tamil
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: 8226, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper explores family photography to situate postcolonial diaspora experiences. I juxtapose two different types of research – academic research with familial research to explore questions related to identity, emotions, and memories. Academic writing can reinforce colonial structures, placing power in the context of “objective” writing, rather than personal, emotional experience. As diaspora scholars like Hartmann (2008) or Ifekwunigwe (2003) have demonstrated, diasporic experience incredibly complex, personal, and rich. In my research, I take this a step further to examine the connections to diasporic trajectories through images taken by a previous researcher of my family, my thatha (grandfather in Tamil). I examine the history of my family through his photographs to understand what he chose to include/exclude from this diaspora narrative. I also include my own background as a researcher to situate this experience and contextualize it within a broader history of the Indian diaspora. I integrate these concepts into a brief narrative of how my grandfather, an Indian Tamil immigrant in Saudi Arabia, Libya, and the US (from 1959-1985) chose to represent my family’s journey into broader diasporic experience(s). I challenge rigid concepts of “nation,” “origins,” and “region,” and examine them in hybrid, fluid scalar postcolonial context through these photographs. I also rely on oral histories from my father, uncles, great aunties and uncles to situate these images. This approach challenges sterile, top-down colonial and academic structural representations and draws from personal, hybrid, bottom-up representations.

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