South Asian Diaspora

In this interview, recorded for The Bat of Minerva, a regional cable television show based in the Twin Cities of Minneaopolis and St. Paul, I talk to producer, director, and philosopher Peter Shea about my research and life.
Bat of Minerva Interview:

While a Quadrant fellow at the Institute of Advanced Study, University of Minnesota, I gave a public lecture on September 16, 2008 titled, “In Small Things Discounted: Architecture and World Making.” View the lecture here.

I was one of three speakers at the 2010-2011 UW Sawyer Seminar on Transcultural Urbanism at the University of Washington, Seattle, on February 11, 2011.

Book Projects

Creative Dissonance: The politics of immigrant worldmaking

I am currently working on a book manuscript titled, “Creative Dissonance: The politics of immigrant worldmaking.” Published and unpublished chapters from this manuscript are used as course readings at the University of California Berkeley, Stanford University, UC San Diego, and UW Madison. I received a fellowship from the Center for the 21st Century Studies, the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee (2007), and another from the Graham Foundation (2010) to complete my book manuscript. In fall 2008, I was a Quadrant Design and Architecture Fellow with the University of Minnesota Press and the Institute of Advanced Studies at the University of Minnesota. An anonymous external reviewer of my book wrote,

“[W]orks like those of Vijay Prashad, Sunaina Maira, Sandhya Shukla, Amitava Kumar, Rajini Srikanth and others have focused either on social or cultural history, or literary criticism. None that I know of have engaged the social worlds of Indians in the United States through objects of the everyday, nor have any assembled together the sorts of materials, like architecture and maps, that this project has done.  There are very few works on Indian Americans that treat the early period of migration to California in the early twentieth century; those that have been published and are regarded as seminal, like Karen Leonard’s books, rely on fairly traditional social-historical approaches. Very usefully, and ambitiously, this manuscript seeks to integrate an understanding of spatiality, detailed analysis of objects and practices, and a narrative about the social life of migrants.”[1]

Much of the book examines the cultural landscape of Indian immigrants during the first four decades of the twentieth century. Yet the book is neither a social history nor an architectural history. It is a spatial ethnography of the cultural landscape of immigrants. Scholars such as Upton, Medin, and Sultana have suggested that the substantive contribution of this book (and the research) is methodological.[2] By laying out a method for studying human behavior and cultural practices in the built environment, I show how ethnicity, identity, and belonging can be read as context-dependent performances and productions.

New Project. pdf.

The discussions of immigrant atmospheres in this book will explore sites of South Asian food on Devon Avenue, Chicago and the global networks and processes within which these spaces operate.

Biologists have long argued that the environment in which plants and animals live, also called the near-environment, is qualitatively different than the one generally measured by a meteorologist. Changes in the near-environment produce subtle modifications and responses in organisms and these microclimates travel with moving bodies. In my work on immigrant cultures, microclimates appear as sensorial atmospheres that influence mood, identity and a sense of self of those who inhabit these spaces. Places are made of microclimates, yet scholars of the built environment ignore the latter because of their ephemeral and transient nature.

The objective of this book project is to demonstrate the way moving objects and migratory people travel with places, not merely recreating them in static locations but tracing a spectral world of dynamic immigrant atmospheres in places they inhabit–even momentarily. I seek to achieve the objectives of this project by examining the microclimates produced by human interactions with three food types (spices, processed desserts, fish) that circulate within South Asian immigrant worlds. I demonstrate that these food articles, raw or processed, generate unique constellations of atmospheres as they travel across sites where they are produced, distributed and consumed. This book manuscript clearly articulates the methodological and theoretical implications of immigrant atmospheres in the study of diasporic cultures.


[1] Comments from Reader #2 for the partial manuscript of “Creative Dissonance” received on February 15, 2010.

[2] Moshahida Sultana, “Do Migrants Transfer Tacit Knowledge? The Case of Highly Skilled Bangladeshi Immigrants in the United States” (Master’s thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, June 2005), 80; Dell Upton, “Gehryism: American Architectural History and the Cultural Authority of Art,” in Reconceptualizing the Built Environment of North America (online conference proceedings, Charles Warren Center and Graduate School of Design, Harvard University, April 2005),, 31; HARD Townsites Team, Townsites: Historic Context and Archaeological Research Design  (Cultural and Community Studies Office, Division of Environmental Analysis, California Department of Transportation, 2006), 154, 241.