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Displacement, Migration and Diaspora: Anthropological Perspectives on South Asia


Admission Requirements

The following categories of students may register for this course:

  • Students enrolled for the Leiden University bachelor’s programme Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology

  • Students enrolled for the Leiden University bachelor’s programme, South and Southeast Asian Studies

  • Students enrolled for other Leiden University bachelor’s programmes

Course Description

The countries of the South Asian subcontinent, which include India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives, share a common cultural realm and history. The partitioning of the subcontinent at the end of British colonial rule in 1947 resulted in the displacement of nearly 15 million people – a number unprecedented in modern history. New nation states arose with borders typically based on arbitrary religious and ethnic demarcations. The postcolonial legacy of that history continues to play out on various scales from the local to the national, and the regional to the global, articulated in discourses and contestations about home, citizenship, and belonging. Perspectives from South Asia offer a key vantage point from which to reflect critically on continuing processes of displacement, migration and diaspora that are matters of global concern.

Whether forced by economic or political compulsion or undertaken voluntarily by people aspiring to better lives, migration has been integral to the social lives of people in and from South Asia. Translating both historically and currently into the movement of large numbers of people, migration has forged connections on various scales, such as between rural areas and megacities at the national level, at the regional level between South Asia and the Gulf, Middle East, and Southeast Asia; as well as globally to the western world.

Historical and contemporary migrations have created a great variety of diasporas, which connect to South Asia culturally, politically and economically. What shapes such diasporic communities, and how can we explain the continuation of their identities over decades, or even centuries?

South Asia is one of the world’s fastest-developing regions. Economic development has, however, deepened inequality. While influential social movements demand equality and social justice, perceptions of basic inequalities between people across religious, regional, caste or ethnic divides, and between genders, remain pervasive. Reflected in contestations over natural resources, territorial sovereignty, and urban space what kinds of displacements have such inequalities instigated? What light do these shed on the human condition?

The course brings together theories, histories, ethnographies and narratives that look at questions of displacement, migration and diaspora in and out of South Asia from anthropological and sociological perspectives.

Course Objectives

On completion of this course students will be able to:

  • Distil key arguments in seminal historical and anthropological literature on the theme of the seminar

  • Engage with primary sources – textual and audio/visual – and make connections between multiple sources

  • Write critical reflections on material presented in class, including weekly assignments; pass an exam, and submit a paper.

  • Make presentations that combine projects with primary sources and secondary literature

  • Connect current perspectives from anthropology and sociology on South Asia with a wider transnational concepts, methods and material on the seminar theme.


Timetables and the uSis activity-codes required for enrolment can be found on the website.

Mode of Instruction

Total course load for the course:

10 ECTS (280 sbu [study hours]) or 5 ECTS (140 sbu). The 5 ECTS version is not available to CADS students.

For the 10 ECTS version the course load is as follows:

  • Contact hours in class: 12 × 3 = 36 * 1,5 = 54 sbu

  • Weekly assignments, totaling 2,250 words = 30 sbu

  • Additional literature (circa 950 pages) = 136 sbu

  • Individual research project (for details, see syllabus): 60 sbu

For the 5 ECTS version (not available for CADS students), see the course syllabus on Brightspace.

Assessment Method

  • Four weekly assignments totaling 2,000-2,250 words and class participation: 30%

  • Individual research project: 25%

  • Exam: 45%

Attendance and participation are mandatory for all sessions of the course. Absence without notification can result in a lower grade or even failure of the course.

For the 5 ECTS version (not available to CADS students), see the course syllabus on Brightspace.

Registration in uSis

Registration in uSis is mandatory. Once registered for the course, students don’t need to register for an exam because this is a take-home exam.

  • The registration closes five days before the start of the course.


Brightspace is the digital learning environment of Leiden University. Brightspace gives access to course announcements and electronic study material. Assignments will also be submitted in Brightspace. Announcements about and changes to courses are given via Brightspace. Students are advised to check Brightspace daily to keep informed about rooms, schedules, deadlines and all details regarding assignments. Lecturers assume that all students read information posted on Brightspace.

  • How to login

The homepage for Brightspace is: Brightspace

Please log in with your ULCN-account and personal password. On the left you will see an overview of My Courses.

For access to courses in Brightspace students must be registered for those courses in uSis.

Reading list

To be announced in the course syllabus, which will be published on Brightspace preceding the course.