About Arjun Appadurai

Extended biography of Arjun Appadurai by Yvette van Nierop for DEAF03.

As an anthropologist with a migrant background, Arjun Appadurai investigates the strategies of formation and preservation of ethnic identity along migrants in the modern nation state. For the migrant, their memories of what is left behind, acquire a special meaning. The process of relocation demands adaptations of social identities. Hostility and fear towards newcomers only increases their need for a sense of cultural identity. This often results in hyper-valued memories that are subjected to radical simplification and idealization. Memories are treated differently when connected to a sense of loss. The migrant loses a homeland and has to readjust to an unfamiliar situation.

In a larger context it can be said that Appadurai's field of interest is the way in which everyday experiences of inequalities can be countered with the creation of social networks. Those networks often exceed the traditional boundaries. They can take on the form of intra-national communities where migrants can connect to other migrants from their own home country regardless of where they are currently living. Other networks do not necessarily exceed national boarders but forge connections between different social groups and political movements.

Appadurai contributed the essay Archive and Aspiration to Information is Alive, the book accompanying DEAF03. In this essay he offers an explanation of the ways in which archives function in the construction of social memory. Archives are both created and used to construct idealized communities. Those idealizations can then provide the individual with goals to aspire. Idealization of the past is a way to construct goals for the future. This process becomes more intense and more visible with the increasing globalization of information flows and migration patterns.
The creation of archives is a collective process. There is nothing objective about it. Every archive consists of choices about what information is selected and documented and what information is being ignored. One of the functions of the archive is the creation of collective memory. Memory is linked with desire. The archive should be viewed as a deliberate site for the production of anticipated memories rather than as official sites for official history.
Migrants have to work from memory to create a past that supports their experienced identity. Imagination thus becomes an important tool for creating connections between the memories of their original homes and the new situation they find themselves in. The archives migrants create are for a large part based on personal memories. This makes those archives highly subjective. The interactive electronic archive also provides a forum space were migrants can communicate with each other. In this way, the interactive electronic archive can act as an escape route where the indignity of being part of a minority can be countered. They become the ground for the formation of social relationships and forum discussions. Thus as a collective effort, migrants can make decisions about memories that contribute to the migrant identity and memories that can be ignored.

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