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Name: Lauren Jones
Student Number: g14j1802
Based on the readings and discussions in class, what do you think is the best way in which to approach the study of the Indian Ocean? Do you think the ‘littoral', ‘port' and the ‘ship' provide useful conceptual tools or units of analysis in the study of the Indian Ocean? Explain your answers.
Indian Ocean studies originated in the 1950's/60's and was quickly adopted into theories of world systems analysis with the Annales school of history . This study came about after the recognition of four major expansionary forces at play in the height of the oceans establishment as a trade route system . These forces include the rise of Islam in the face of European colonialism, its consequent spread from the Middle East, the increased presence of the Chinese in the Indian Ocean as well as an increase in migration of unskilled labourers from Central Asia . These factors lead to the boom of maritime exploration and trade in the Indian Ocean, bringing it to the forefront of trade routes used by Europe. With this sudden increase of ships and voyagers through the Indian Ocean, it is easy to understand how surrounding territories of coastland were affected in a multitude of ways.
It is with this in mind that the concept of the Indian Ocean as a unit of analysis emerged. Pearson pinpoints commonalities that appeare d between the various littoral societies and port communities that came to be involved in Indian Ocean maritime, despite their being part of various differing nations . Ports and their surrounding communities, religious activities, pidgin languages created for communication as well as protective measures along coast lines all contained similarities in either execution or development . Influences drawn from Braudel , lead to many scholars adopting a ‘basin approach' whereby a national or regional identity was given to these scarcely similar areas. McPherson explains this unification of the Indian Ocean as "proposing a regional identity constructed upon the relationship between maritime trade and processes of cultural diffusion and interaction to form an interlocked human world joined by the common highway of the [Indian] Ocean."
International conferences also originally favour ed the basin approach to Indian Ocean studies and frequently focus the common themes amongst coastline such as the exchanges and appropriation of culture, histories of slavery, attempts at globalization and human rights and the spread of Islam . These assumptions of unity amongst the various nations, groups or regions along the Indian Ocean coastlines is highly problematic when we see the ways in which these various areas acted so independently in a way that separated them from others. Many pre-colonial/ early colonial South Asia scholars have highlighted the failure of world system analysis to account for the differences between these Indian Ocean affiliated regions . This basin approach has as many limitations as it has advantages. On one hand it shows the commonalities between littoral societies and port communities but on another it does not make any attempt to account for the fact that its borders do not include littoral societies or port cities further south than Zanzibar. This limitation sees that Madagascar and southern Mozambique are not included in the historical narrative despite being active maritime societies. It is only at the onset of the age of steam that these littoral societies enter the narrative of Indian Ocean studies and quickly develop into highly industrialised port cities.
One of the most evident of these cases can be seen in the increase in port security in Durban. With the emergence of steam powered seafaring came a dramatic increase in immigration control in an attempt to uphold the legitimacy of the port as an industrialised space . This stricter immigration control came mainly in the form of highly racialized immigration laws. Beginning with the limitations on indentured Indian labourers, the Durban Harbour grew to be a leader amongst East African ports for its exclusionary policies . Durban also posed an interesting case of seafarer limitation by not only imposing racialized policies but also policies inclusive of class and the level of skilled labour . The contrast between the increase in steam voyaging was starkly marked by
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