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Maxwell School
Maxwell / Department of History
Silas, Webb

Silas  Webb  ABD  

Field of Study

South Asian & Indian Diaspora

Advisor

Subho Basu

Dissertation Title

Punjabi Political Formation and the Making of Migrant Cosmopolitanism in Britain, 1919-­1979

Dissertation Description

This dissertation examines the transnational social, political, and economic formations of the Punjabi labor diaspora in Britain in the twentieth century. Scholarship on the South Asian, Punjabi, and Sikh diasporas has often focused on the ability of migrants to reproduce socio­cultural routines and rituals at the expense of political identities. Less commonly explored are the ways in which ideologies  are also mobile and can be reproduced in diaspora. This dissertation, therefore, is a departure from extant scholarship on Indians in Britain because it acknowledges that migrants do not eschew politics  for culture or religion but, rather, that ethnicity can help to organize and buttress radical working­-class subjectivities. Through surveillance reports, private correspondence, published  tracts, police records, and newspaper articles, this dissertation charts the history of Punjabi migration  from the end of World War I to 1979 and demonstrates that inter­group solidarity among black, brown, and white workers was foundational to cosmopolitanism from below. To understand the emergence of Punjabi radicalism in the postwar era, as many  scholars have sought to do, this dissertation contends that a continuity between the interwar and  postwar periods must be appreciated because many of the political, social, and economic formations  that have been identified within the Punjabi diaspora in the 1960s and 1970s, including patterns of  settlement and circuits of global capitalism, were first established in the 1920s and 1930s.

By expanding the conventional temporal scope of Indian migration to Britain, this project dislodges the prevailing tropes of minoritization and ethnic enclavism that have preoccupied scholars of race and ethnicity in late-­twentieth century Britain. Instead, it joins the study of  working­-class Indian migrants in Britain with debates regarding global capitalism, intellectual  entanglements, and migrant cosmopolitanism, which emerged in the interwar period.