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Nidhi Mahajan – A Burning Sea: Arbitrage and a Fractured Moral Economy in the Persian Gulf

October 5, 2022 @ 12:15 pm  |  Humanities 1, Room 210


Wooden sailing vessels or dhows have long traversed The Indian Ocean, making it what some scholars have called “the cradle of globalization.” Today, dhows or vahans from Kachchh in western India continue along old Indian Ocean routes as crucial intermediaries in global shipping. This talk traces how this mobile trade network is anchored or moored in specific places and economic concepts in some moments, and unmoored in others. Focusing on arbitrage, long a strategy used by Indian Ocean merchants, I argue that value in the contemporary dhow trade is created through a fractured moral economy. Tracing the movement of one dhow across the Indian Ocean during the COVID-19 pandemic, I argue that sanctions regimes, and questions of jurisdiction at sea in the Persian Gulf have created a geopolitical climate in which value is produced at multiple scales through the intersection of these logics, the body of the sailor becoming the site for capturing value and crafting sovereignty at sea.

Nidhi Mahajan’s research focuses on the intersection between political economy, sovereignty, and mobility in the Indian Ocean. She is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of California-Santa Cruz. She is also an artist and has developed multi-media exhibitions in Kenya, India, and the UAE. Her work has been funded by the Wenner-Gren, SSRC, ACLS/Mellon, and a fellowship at The Africa Institute, Sharjah. Publications include work in journals such as Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East; Island Studies Journal, and edited volumes such as Reimaging Indian Ocean Worlds and World on the Horizon.





The Center for Cultural Studies hosts a weekly Wednesday colloquium featuring work by faculty and visitors. We gather at 12:00 PM, with presentations beginning at 12:15 PM.

Staff assistance is provided by The Humanities Institute.


October 5, 2022
12:15 pm


Humanities 1, Room 210
1156 high st
Santa cruz, CA 95060 United States
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