Modern South Asian Studies seminar HT21 Wk 2: State Highway 31: A road trip through the heart of modern India

Conveners: Imre Bangha, Polly O'Hanlon, and Kate Sullivan de Estrada

Speaker: Edward Simpson (SOAS)


This talk follows the route of State Highway 31 through western Madhya Pradesh, central India. It is both jaunty road-trip and abject lesson in how to read the global order. This journey takes us through landscapes of sex work and opium, some of the oldest nationalist networks in the country, and along the fault-lines of long-running tensions between local communities. The road was one of a series built as a public private partnership and, as such, speaks of the reconfiguration of state relations with private capital and business. Toll booths become places of company ethos, education and for the creation of new kinds of citizens. The nexus of government and private enterprise takes us on a dizzying journey through the world’s tax havens and onto the decks of luxury yachts and lifestyles. Exploring the broader political economy of the road, and the organisation of institutions and travellers that sustain it, encourages questions about governance, sovereignty and ultimately the great warming/derangement of climate change.

Speaker Bio:

Edward Simpson is a Professor and Head of Social Anthropology and Director of the South Asia Institute at SOAS University of London. He is currently interested in the relationship between infrastructure, automobility and the global-sustainability agenda and has a book forthcoming called Highways to the end of the world: Roads, roadmen and power in South Asia. From previous research he wrote: The political biography of an earthquake: Aftermath and amnesia in Gujarat India (Hurst 2013).