The migration of people, things and ideas is an obvious engine for change, leading to both innovation and emancipatory practices of inclusion and sovereignty, but also contest, violence and structures of exclusion. The study of diasporas, mobilities and transnational networks marks a vibrant and diverse field of study. Mobile subjects can range from people (e.g. religious migrants, laborers, NGO workers, expats, missionaries, merchants, human traffic, etc.) to things (e.g. images, cultural artifacts, water, oil, logos, contraband, etc.) to concepts and practices (e.g., heritage, home, shopping, astrology, etc.). And each formation is brought into being through various historical forces and makes possible particular realities. From antiquity to the modern day, and across Africa, Asia, the Americas, and Europe, Leiden research investigates how historical and contemporary movements of people, things, and ideas transform knowledge, networks, landscapes and social relations.
The histories of global movements often become inscribed in places and people. Examining local views of the global can provide much insight into how such movements make and remake worlds, especially in Colonial and Post-Colonial contexts. Cosmopolitan contacts often lead to the homogenization of languages, consumption patterns, and religious world views; but they also can result in the fragmentation and/or hybridization of cultural forms. Here, practices of remembering and forgetting particular histories become political choices. Ancient sites often invite struggles of contest around a multicultural, layered past; alternatively, knowledges and traditions introduced by migrant groups can stimulate the rise of new, hybrid cultural forms and ideas. This tension between rigidity and conservatism on the one hand and fluidity and multivocality on the other captures a main problematic in identity, ethnicity and belonging discourse in the global context. What are the historical and cultural antecedents for this and other cosmopolitan moments? Specifically, what are the roles of empire, colonialism and development in these histories and how do they inform modern notions of citizen, nation-state, heritage, and sovereignty?
Like those for humans, the biographies of objects, texts and images can reveal much about the articulations they perform. The movement of such things - under colonial policies, individual journeys, black markets, trade and commerce - trace particular routes across time and space. In doing so, they materialize specific connections and complex acts of translation or transformation. One can speak of museum collections as object diasporas, infrastructures as mappings of power, and new (and old) technologies as extensions of self and personhood. Such networks are often dynamic and adaptive rather than rigid and fixed. Scrutinizing the histories of such networks demands the examination of the subjectifications of things (e.g., the fetish) and objectifications of persons (e.g., slaves), leading us to ask: what are the conditions for and outcomes of such transformations, and what is at stake in the forging of new networks and social forms? Specifically, how do the mobilities of people, ideas and things create and complicate relationships and responsibilities across space and time?