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International Conference
Culture and Economy in the Indian Diaspora
New Delhi, 8-10 April 2000, India International Centre

This conference is co-organised by the ESRC Transnational Communities Programme, Centre for Indian Studies at the University of Hull and the Indian International Centre, New Delhi


The Indian diaspora is of the largest and most significant diasporas in the world today. With historic settlements in almost every country in the glove, and successive waves of migrations this century to North America, Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East, it has assumed increasing self-consciousness and importance. This awareness has been reinforced by developments in the media communications and new information technologies which have started to recast the traditional relationship between the diaspora and "home", opening up and redefining familiar patterns of exchanged based on migration, remittances and marriage.

Much of the contemporary interest in the Indian diaspora, however, has been occasioned by its economic potential. Since the beginning of the economic liberalization in India in 1991, Non-Resident Indian (NRIs), have played a major part in foreign investment in India. The NRI's contribution to the Indian economy has been recognized by the Government of India. Recently it granted them special economic and legal concessions. Many commentators argue that with appropriate conditions the Indian diaspora can emulate the example of the Chinese diaspora in providing the necessary capital flows for India's continued, sustained and rapid economic development into the 21st century.

At the same time while the economic influence of the Indian diaspora has been growing there has been a critical re-examination of its role by scholars working within cultural studies. Familiar paradigms of race and ethnic relations have been abandoned for an emphasis on alternative patterns of cultural consumption. New and emerging transnational networks, it is suggested, have reconstructed the diaspora and its relationship with "home" around current patterns of cultural consumption based on film, music, art, fashion, food and the media. To understand Indian diaspora culture, it is argued, we need to understand the new patterns of consumption. It is arguable whether purely economic or culture-based explanations emphasizing consumption are likely to provide us with a long-term understanding of the dynamics of the development of the Indian diaspora. What is required is a more clearly refined analysis of the relationship between the Indian diaspora culture and economy. This crucial relationship, we believe, has been largely overlooked.

The theme of this conference is to provide a comprehensive analysis of the subject by examining the crucial relationship between culture and economy in the Indian diaspora over time. This relationship will be examined by focusing on countries of Indian diaspora settlement and undertaking comparative evaluation of some common themes.

The conference will review the Indian diaspora in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Western Europe, East Africa, South Africa, South America, the West Indies, South Asia, South-East Asia and the Far East, Australasia. This assessment will address the following core issues:

  • Demography: region of origin in India, size, growth, patterns of settlement, significant patterns of inward and outward migration.
  • Economy: structural location in the local economy, the change since settlement, current level of education, skills, income and wealth, projected pattern of economic development
  • Culture: changing identities and patterns of cultural consumption, the mechanisms of cultural reproduction, in particular, patterns of marriage, youth culture, language maintenance, and religious practice.
  • Future Development: the likely trajectory of future development, emerging issues, challenges and prospects.

Each review will identify the core elements in the country-wide relationship with particular emphasis on how Indian diaspora culture has influenced economic development and vice versa.

The conference will also address some broad comparative themes within the diaspora that build on and further extend the country case-studies. These will attempt to: define and identify the principal elements of the relationship between economy and culture; define the general meaning and significance of culture in the Indian diaspora; understand the new patterns of networking among established and emerging diaspora communities; examine new patterns of identity among Indian diaspora youth; and explore the consequences of the Indian "brain drain".

The overall aim of the conference, therefore, is to establish a firm empirical foundation for the future study of the Indian diaspora. Such a foundation is necessary in order to engage in more systematic theorization and comparative analysis.

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