Senior Research Fellow
Dr. Malini Sur is an environmental and socio-cultural anthropologist with research interests in India, Bangladesh and Australia. She studies agrarian borderlands, cities and the environment. A first line of inquiry is concerned with infrastructures, transnational flows, and identities. The second explores the relationship that degraded air and mobility has to urban space. She also investigates the afterlives of natural disasters, shifting ecologies, air pollution, and climate change in Asia and more recently in Australia. She studies these themes historically and in productive dialogue with human rights discourses, along with keen attention to visual representation.
Her book Jungle Passports: Fences, Mobility, and Citizenship at the Northeast India-Bangladesh Border (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2021) recasts established notions of citizenship and mobility along violent borderlands. Since the nineteenth century, a succession of states has classified the inhabitants of what are now the borderlands of Northeast India and Bangladesh as Muslim "frontier peasants", "savage mountaineers" and Christian "ethnic minorities" suspecting them to be disloyal subjects, spies, and traitors. In Jungle Passports, she follows their struggles to secure shifting land, gain access to rice harvests, and smuggle the cattle and garments upon which their livelihoods depend against a background of violence, scarcity, and India's construction of one of the world's longest and most highly militarized border fences. She shows how the partitioning of sovereignties and distinct regimes of mobility and citizenship push undocumented people to undertake perilous journeys across previously unrecognized borders every day. She has also published on borderlands in Cultural Anthropology, Comparative Studies in Society and History and Modern Asian Studies. Photographs from her fieldwork on South Asia's borders have been exhibited in Amsterdam, Berlin, Bonn, Chiang Mai, Gottingen, Heidelberg, Kathmandu and Munich.
Dr. Sur’s second book project is concerned with the political terrains that degraded air generates in India. Drawing on insights from three years of ethnographic fieldwork in the city of Kolkata, she explores how daily-wage bicyclists and environmental activists in large postcolonial cities experience, navigate and mobilize air in everyday life and the economies, including repair economies that coalesce around urban cycling. She has co-edited two Special Issues in CITY and Economic and Political Weekly on urban anthropology. Her first documentary film Life Cycle, about air pollution and urban cycling in India has been screened at the Perth, Sydney, Canberra, Santiago, Singapore, Kolkata and New York.
Dr. Sur’s interests in the environment, and especially in climatic events, air pollution and dust, and urban mobility now includes new research on Australia. She has published collaborative research on construction sites, on ground-breaking and the redistribution of earth’s particles and on dust and bushfire haze. She has also written about slow cycling and urban mobility in Australia and commented widely in the media including the ABC on the global impacts of dust and pollution. Her public writing has appeared in the Conversation, Himal, The Telegraph, Wire and Scroll.
- PhD, 2012, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Sur, M. 2021. “Jungle Passports: Fences, Mobility, and Citizenship at the Northeast India-Bangladesh Border” (University of Pennsylvania Press).
Sur, M. 2020. “Time at its Margins: Cattle Smuggling at the India-Bangladesh Border,” Cultural Anthropology,Volume 35, No 4, pp 546–574.
Sur, M. 2020. “Cultures of Repair: Cargo-Cycles and Kinship in Kolkata,” The Economic and Political Weekly, Review of Urban Affairs Volume LV, No 51, pp 34-39.
Sur, M. 2020. “Sounds of Trauma,” Commoning Ethnography, Vol 3, No 1, pp144 -151.
Sur, M. 2019. “Danger and Difference: Tea-time at the Northeast India-Bangladesh border,” Modern Asian Studies, Vol 53, No 3, pp 846-873.
Sur, M. 2019. “Spiral,” Volumetric Sovereignty Series Part 3: Turbulence, Society and Space.
Sur, M 2019. “Dreaming borders: on cats and trauma,” Somatosphere.
Sur, M. 2017. “The Blue Urban: Coloring and Constructing Kolkata” City Vol 21, No 5, pp 597- 606.
Sur, M. 2016. “Battles for the Golden Grain: Paddy Soldiers and the Making of the Northeast India–East Pakistan Border.” Comparative Studies in Society and History Vol 58, No 3, pp 804-832.
2012. “Through Metal Fences: Material Mobility and the Politics of Transnationality at Borders.” Mobilities Vol 8, No 1, pp 70–89.
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