ESSAY
Nameless Asia and territorial angst

by David Ludden


all maps: a historical atlas of south asia, oxford university press, new york, 1992.
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India, as seen in 1616 by Dutchman Petrus Bertius.

Maps are a peculiar kind of visual text. Their mundane practicality makes them appear to be mere instruments of utility, which tell us where we are going, and puts everything into its proper place. But their utility comes packaged with invisible ingredients, which make their instrumentality not only culturally complex but also historically disturbing.

The most powerful of all the invisible things in maps are the feelings that suffuse them, ie, feelings of territorial attachments. The most apparent of these cartographic passions are national ones, but in every city and town, street kids, real estate agents and insurance companies also have strong feelings about their local maps. Zoning boards, planners and electoral constituencies invest maps with local politics. Landowners love their property lines. Universities and colleges depict their campus identity with maps, and the logo of the Association for Asian Studies is a map of Asia, which depicts a particular territory of Asian studies scholarship.

As invisible as the sentiments lurking in maps are the social relations of mapping, which produce maps and authorise their interpretation, and whose most influential architects work in national institutions, including schools, colleges and universities. The ubiquity of state-authorised mapping is now so complete that most governments do not regulate most map-making, yet almost everyone draws official lines on maps by habit anyway. This habit represents the mapping-hegemony of the national state, a force so invisible, pervasive and widely accepted that most people never think about it, which indicates the global expanse of the national state’s territorial authority.

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The internal and external boundaries of national states are now so familiar, because they are so often seen, that they appear as virtually natural features of the globe. This virtual reality came into being in the 19th century, as industrial technologies for surveying the earth and producing statistics, and for mass-printing, mass-reading, and mass-education, began to make viewing standardised maps a common experience. Making maps, reading maps, talking about maps and thinking with maps-in-the-mind became increasingly common with each passing decade. By 1950, people around the world had substantial map-knowledge in common. Today, it may well be imagined that most people in the world – including illiterate people – share common map-knowledge, because they routinely experience various versions of exactly the same maps.

During the global expansion of modern mapping, national states incorporated all geography. Old territorial attachments remained – and new ones emerged – but the maps-in-everyone’s-mind increasingly had to make sense inside the maps of national states. National state boundaries only covered the globe after 1950, however, and only since then, all the histories of all the peoples in the world, for all times, have come to appear inside national maps, in a cookie-cutter world of national geography.

National maps represent the most comprehensive organisation of spatial experience ever in human history. Scholars work inside that experience, and spaces that elude national maps have mostly disappeared from intellectual life. That disappearance is invisible in maps, and also in the histories that maps contain. Nevertheless, the historical novelty of national maps indicates a discrepancy between the spatial forms of human experience in the past and present. As we study history, we must put the past in its proper place. However, we habitually erase that historical dissonance, by deploying what could be called territorial anachronism, to locate all the human past inside the spatial confines of our national present.

Geographies of imperial intelligence
Each national state maps the world for itself, and invisible elements in national maps of the world indicate hidden geographical histories of knowledge that animate the world of national states. The United States, for example, drew its own map of Asia. Many old and current maps depict Asia as including most of Russia and as touching the Mediterranean, but the US government mapped Asia to divide the Middle East from Central and South Asia. Scholars, educators, publishers, schools, tourist agencies, news agencies and countless others followed suit. Intellectual attachments to the official map of Asian studies developed accordingly.

Invisibly, however, America’s Asia mostly means China and Japan, as indicated by the fact that three-quarters of the Association for Asian Studies (AAS) membership study China or Japan. This reflects a special American territorial attachment to East Asia, which dates back to when Admiral Perry ‘opened’ Japan. By 1950, a century of mobility across the Pacific, to and from America, had formed a distinctly American geography of knowledge about Asia. In Europe, by contrast, centuries of mobility across the Indian Ocean formed geographies of knowledge about Asia, and European Asian studies still pays proportionately more attention to South Asia than its American counterparts.

‘America’s Asia’; AAS logo (bottom).

But European and American attachments to Asia developed in basically the same way, as knowledge about Asia developed inside expansive national geographies of intellectual interest. European and American national interests moved into Asia, as material for Asian studies moved out of Asia, into Europe and America, including all the loot in the British Museum and all the PL480 books in American libraries. Asia thus became a mobile subject of knowledge, whose elements moved among producers, learners, locations and users, on several continents.

Asian studies arrived in Europe as disparate bits of Asian space came together under European imperial intelligence; and Asian studies evolved in America, in dialogue with Europe, during the age of national independence in Asia and American global ascendancy, spawning distinctly American dialogues with Asia’s national intelligentsia, steeped in a cold war discourse of modernity, tradition and development.

America’s Asia remains a mobile subject of knowledge today. Originally, the mobile interests of missionaries and the military informed the composition of American Asian studies, and politicians, foundations and educational institutions still finance Asian studies to inform mobile American interests of all kinds. Over the years, shifting targets of national opportunity in Asia have shaped American maps of knowledge about Asia, for example, by matching the quality of academic collaborations with the character of bilateral relations between each Asian country and the US. Asian issues spark interest in American Asian studies roughly in proportion to their interest for American national culture. Each new Asian hot spot in the US news attracts scholars, politicians, publishers and educators; and targets for American bombers, investors and foreign policy always make good targets for academic investments.

Not only in America, of course, but also in all other nation settings, geographies of knowledge and of national attachments have numerous complex and variously visible entanglements, which can be seen quite clearly when we think about how America’s intellectual map of Asia changed, after 1980, when the US revived The Great Game with a war against the Soviets in Afghanistan; when American children of South Asian immigrants, mostly from India, began to enter American colleges; and when South Asian professionals, again mostly from India, came more often to work and study in the US. In the two decades after 1980, policies of structural adjustment and liberalisation also induced globalisation that extended the reach of American consumers, politicians and corporations much further into South Asia than ever before. South Asian migration to the US steadily increased, and in 2001, India surpassed China as the top national exporter of students to America. On 6 October 2001, when the US began bombing Afghanistan, more of South Asia became newsworthy than ever before.

Asian spaces that now preoccupy American news extend far beyond the boundaries of academic Asian studies. They connect the far west and far northwest of Eurasia to South, Central, East and Southeast Asia. This is more than border crossing. It conjures an Asia With No Name that includes Chechnya, Turkestan, Kazakh-stan, Palestine, Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and the Philippines, and touches Sudan as well.

In this Nameless Asia, places now preoccupy Americans that once preoccupied Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan. American news about this new Asia invites more specific comparison with 19th century texts about America’s wild west and about British imperial frontiers, because America’s new Asian frontiers appear in the popular media as a fearsome terrain, filled with volatile, dangerous, irrationally religious people, who threaten civilisation, and who move surreptitiously across harsh terrain, where the US military must establish law and order. In addition, when we plot the news sites in this nameless Asia, we see an ensemble of dots like that on flight maps of airlines that shuttle workers constantly from India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Afghanistan and Pakistan to and from jobs in the Persian gulf and Southeast Asia. This spatial pattern in turn recalls old routes between the Silk Road and Indian Ocean that took shape in the 14th century. These spatial coincidences indicate that very old geographical histories of mobility animate the nameless Asia to which America now seems irrevocably attached.

Territorial anachronism
To recover old geographical histories of mobility, we need to understand why they are so invisible. Taking a long-term view, it is evident that territorial authorities have buried knowledge about mobility in many cultures, over many centuries. Territorial maps-in-the-mind give social space cultural form for ruling elites who typically map their spatial powers with symbols to contain human attachments to space – even as human societies also live in mobile spaces that eluded such territorial maps. Authors of territorialism have long described their own sublime domain as the enclosure of civility, outside of which fearsome people and demons lurk in the dreaded forest, wild steppe, fierce desert, mysterious mountains and endless untamed darkness of the sea.

Each territorial
authority insists on controlling geography in its own space and time, and strives to bury old geographies in the graveyard of archaic cultural forms

As a result, most historical texts articulate terri-torialism, in one way or another, and overall, the record of territorial order has banished disorderly mobile spaces to the outlands. This banishment includes the mobility of territorialism itself, which has repeatedly transformed territorial maps and meanings. In these shifting historical sands, each territorial authority insists on controlling geography in its own space and time, and strives to bury old geographies in the graveyard of archaic cultural forms. Territorial anachronism thus gains a new life in each epoch, and the most practically useful past always appears inside maps of the present.

Modernity banished mobility from human space in its own distinctive style. Scientific cartography and historical geography scrambled up all the historical evidence of human mobility over the ages, by putting it all into its proper place, inside national maps, acting in the manner of primitive archaeologists who rip artefacts out of context to display in museums. In addition, of course, most historians study only their own national territory. National maps tell scholars where to work and put history into its proper place, where mobility appears to be merely an aspect of a geographically enclosed national past. Territorial anachronism thus consigns all the evidence of human mobility to dusty dark corners of archives that document the hegemonic space of national territorialism.

In this context, scholars now consider mobility as border crossing, as though borders came first, and mobility, second. The truth is more the other way round. To begin to recover the mobility of Asia, we can try to imagine maps that render visible all the old boundaries, which indicate the mobility of territorialism, among other transactions between territorialism and mobility. To better understand geographical history, we can try to imagine three-dimensional maps, with temporal depth, which keep archaic geographies visible, rather than burying them under the opaque flat surface of each successive present-age of boundary making, including our own.

The book of modernity
America’s nameless new Asia inhabits sprawling spaces in and around the old domains of the Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal empires, where societies have always been extensively mobile, and where mobility has typified social life as much as sedentary, settled life, and in many places and times, much more. Many territorial authorities drew their boundaries here, as urbane literati composed texts to articulate territorial order embodied in mosques, shrines, temples, forts, palaces and stupas. But the people who wrote the old texts and built the old monuments of territorialism also moved around, over land and sea, in huge spatial zones of interaction. Everyday maps-in-the-their-minds resembled route maps and travel guides. Pre-modern capitals were multiple and mobile, and their territorial authorities moved anxiously across unstable terrain, from one settled site to another, to cultivate gardens of civilised order in archipelagos of sedentary security, surrounded by open expanses of land and sea.

Over the ages, mobility and territorialism opposed one another, in theory and practice, but they also needed one another and had to live together, however roughly, because mobile societies intersected settled environs and escaped control by sedentary authority; and mobile folk had little choice and many incentives to transact routinely with sedentary folk. In everyday social practice, intersections of territorialism and mobility often meant conflict; because people who controlled resources in their own territory invested assets to generate dividends in their own territory; while mobile folk moved assets from one place to another, to invest locally and to carry the proceeds away, back into the realm of mobility.

Over the centuries, countless transactions between mobility and territorialism increased social wealth and also pitted mobile and territorial people against one another. Good examples are of course the fraught relations between nomads and farmers, between shifting and permanent cultivators, and between itinerant merchants and sedentary artisans. A more complex but historically salient example today is the kind of conflict that underlies imperialism and globalisation, that is, between mobile territorial folk, who bring many separate territories under an expansive, encompassing territorial authority, and sedentary territorial folk, who covet assets that move across wide spaces, but also fight to secure their own territory, so that they can put assets from their wider world to work on their own ground.

From ancient times, human mobility remapped Asia repeatedly, and after 1100 AD, the force of mobility steadily increased, which expanded the scale of territorial conflict, provoked more mobility, and made the fixing of territorial boundaries increasingly imperative, universal and imaginary. Territorial boundaries in 18th century South Asia formed a frantic kaleidoscope, as perhaps half the total population comprised mobile artisans and workers; peasants colonising new land; itinerant merchants and nomads; pilgrims; shifting cultivators; hunters; migratory service workers and literati; herders; transporters; people fleeing war, drought and flood; soldiers; and camp followers supplying troops on the move. All this mobility entailed widespread conflict and sparked a huge expansion of commercial activity, commodity production and global economic interconnections.

In this early modern context of massive mobility, in the late 18th century, sedentary territorialism began its long march to modern dominance; and in southern Asia, it marched with and against the armies of British imperialism. The civilising mission of modern territorialism came with a massive use of military force to demolish countless fighting forces that roamed the countryside, fought for their own turf, defined ethnic mini-polities, controlled most of the land and were still moving into their own frontiers. In the 19th century, modern industrial armies, moving over vast distances, created static states of political order, contained in modern maps – and, of course, this did not only happen under the British, or only in Asia: the same modern process of imperial conquest produced the national boundaries of the United States.

By 1900, sedentary territorialism was an established cultural norm in most of the world. Mobility was suspect, even deviant; out of the ordinary. Nomads, itinerants and other vagrant, unsettled sorts came under strict scrutiny and regulation. In British India, the most recalcitrant misfits became “criminal castes and tribes”. State officials counted legal migrants who left and arrived in state territory; and counted people born in one territory who lived in another. Thus enumerated, migrants became people out of place in the national census of modern society. At the same time, ethnography and administration erased the traces of mobility from the constitution of sedentary village societies that became the basic building blocks for modern Asian territory.

In the book of modernity, mobile folk became aliens, as empires became archaic. In social theory, social science and political practice, mobility fell outside the normal – that is, typical, ordinary and normative – society. Modernity cast a harsh eye on migrants in all its mapped constituencies, from the local micro-domain of the village, to the macro-domain of national state. Territorialism became a cultural passion, and being a native insider became the only firm basis for social status in each mapped territory. A mobile past became a cultural liability and faded further from memory with each generation. Constructing “the native” inside native territory and inside native social, cultural and political order became an academic passion. Civilisation and culture thus became strictly territorialised in national societies that valorised the native and margin-alised all the mobile identities that look foreign.

In the 20th century, the stigma of alien mobility darkened in Europe, Asia and America alike. In South Asia, where countless generations had moved and resettled over centuries, across unbounded geographies of mobility, millions of natives became foreigners in national territories carved out of British India, where the joy of independence mingled with the pain of alienation, marginality, victimisation, expulsion, exodus, dislocation and assimilation.

Affluent intersections
The citizen, alien, migrant and refugee thus arrived together as definitive social identities in national territory. And since 1950, migrants and refugees have increased in number much faster than citizens. Human mobility has continued to increase in a world of faster transportation, growing population, higher-tech communication and increasing inequality.

In this new, national world of mobility, state boundaries do not contain mobility, but rather constitute instruments of power over mobility. Old tensions and conflicts between mobility and territorialism now appear in new forms, as people in national territories strive, simultaneously, to enforce the closure of national territories, to control people and assets inside national boundaries, to exclude and subdue aliens, to move in and out of national territories, to move assets across boundaries, to move and settle in richer territories, to change and mix territorial identities and to improvise new forms of mobile territorialism, such as diasporas, metropolitan regions, multinational business and global America.

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Portuguese cartographers Jorge and Pedro Reinel’s 1519 Asia.

To begin to imagine more realistic maps of the present than national state maps provide, we might simply abandon the idea that territorialism could ever contain mobility, and thus that territorial order could ever subdue disorderly mobility. National societies depend on mobility, which territorialism cannot control, and mobility is always invisibly at work changing the composition of territories in ways that territorialism does not comprehend.


Thus it makes sense to rethink maps-in-the-mind of Asian studies by focusing attention on geographical intersections of mobility and territorialism, rather than merely studying territories of national order. Urban-isation is an obvious intersection. Cities are symbols and centres of wealth and power inside national territory because they are focal points for mobility inside and across national boundaries. Mobility in, through and around cities pre-occupies social life now more than ever, as social mobility leads people to move from poorer to richer places, on routes that lead from village, to towns and to cities. Such human mobility intersects territorialism in the demographic process of urbanisation, which cuts across borders and transforms territories, intra-nationally and inter-nationally, at the same time.

Mobile assets also travel wide-ly and also tend to accumulate in richer places, where privileged locations in networks of mobility allow people to invest wherever they see promise, and to bring their dividends back home. Such cir-cuits of mobility among sites of capital accumulation also intersect territorialism both intra-nationally and inter-nationally, and their cumulative geographical effect has been to increase territorial inequality. Over the last century, poor people in poor places have formed an ever-larger percent of world population, and also of migrants, refugees and displaced persons. Only 10 percent of the world’s people now live in the world’s 12 richest countries, with over USD 20,000 per capita GDP – the most populous being the US (45 percent) and Japan (21 percent) – while 80 percent of the world’s people live in 54 countries with under USD 1000 per capita GDP, mostly in Asia. Similar trends in inequality separate rich from poor places inside most countries.

In this world of mobility and inequality, people are now moving in ever larger numbers from poorer to richer places – most of all, to urban areas, but also to richer countries – and at the same time, rich people in richer places are using their increasingly disproportionate command of the world’s wealth to acquire ever more of the world’s assets, not only with money, but also with force.

Aliens and anxiety
All these trends are now transforming the nameless Asia to which America is so visibly attached today, which sprawls across the Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia, and where conflict at the intersections of mobility and territorialism increased noticeably after 1980, as people moved more quickly into global networks, and to America; as wealth and inequality both increased; as well-to-do urbanites, including scholars, fostered global enterprise and thrived in its corridors; and as the US began its campaign to control the corridors of mobility running through Afghanistan.

Most major conflicts inside this nameless Asia are struggles for territorial authority, but they also inhabit geographies of mobility where national maps represent an illusion that nations live inside national borders. National states do retain territorial authority, but national maps do not describe geographies even of national societies, economies, cultures and politics. National maps are normative instruments of social power in struggles over territory characte-rised increasingly by organised violence.

Most boundaries in our nameless Asia remain open to walk across. Armed guards and high walls stand out on the land, as security force protects public and private property against land grabbing and other forced appropriation. Porous boundaries between public and private property that appear as corruption indicate markets moving inside public institutions. Lawyers and judges spend much of their time on property disputes, which periodically spill onto the streets, where boundaries between public politics and private profits remain fuzzy. Countless conflicts erupt today at intersections of mobility and territorialism, over conflicting insider and outsider claims over territorial resources, in rural localities and urban neighbourhoods. International conflicts are of the same kind.

Since 1980, one prominent cultural feature of territorial conflict is the public media promotion of national fear that aliens are threatening national territory. Territorial anxiety and campaigns against alien peoples that now typify globalisation generally, amidst the public promotion of national fear, aggression and self-righteousness. For example, Americans praised the dismantling of the national territory that Ronald Regan called “the evil empire”, and valorised the dismantling of national barriers to American enterprise in poor countries around the world. At the same time, the US barricaded its own national borders. Then, on 11 September 2001, shocking attacks on monumental symbols of American national power triggered national panic in America, leading the US government to launch a war in Asia that the president had promised would not be stopped by any border of national sovereignty. Inside the US, meanwhile, homeland security forces have clamped down specifically on alien Muslims. The US has compiled a long list of suspect Muslim countries, whose immigrants, students, governments and societies receive special security attention. US embassies now manage aggressive vigilance over the internal affairs of most Muslim countries, and Americans now have three million Pakistani individuals under strict surveillance inside Pakistan.

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South Asia, by Dutchman Jan Huygen, 1598.

At the same time as Americans have globalised their national fear of aliens and aggression against enemies of their national interests, territorial anxiety has also generated violence against minorities identified with the alien menace inside many poor countries on the receiving end of US expansionism. Amidst struggles over national sovereignty in India, ambitious Hindu politicians have targeted Muslims, but also Christians, and in the 1990s, as Indian territorial anxiety increased, so did votes for the Hindu chauvinist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which formed a coalition national government in 1998. In March 2002, after three years of state campaigns to make India Hindu, rampaging gangs massacred Muslims across the Indian state of Gujarat, at the same that the US military killed the Taliban, along with at least two Afghan civilians for each person who died in the World Trade Centre. Then, as the Gujarat killings continued, the Indian government threatened war with Pakistan over Kashmir, which it claims to be under attack by the same Muslim terrorists who many Americans believe threaten America.

Gujarat’s historic mobility deepens the meaning of recent events. Since ancient times, Gujarat has been a land of the Indian Ocean as much as of India. Historic sea routes to Kashmir and Samarkand came ashore in Gujarat, where people set sail for Cairo, Cape Town, London, Singapore and Hong Kong. Mahatma Gandhi was born in Gujarat, where a composite Jain, Hindu and Muslim culture spawned a tradition of non-violence that began its Indian political career in South Africa. Gujaratis have always been prominent among affluent Indians overseas, as they are today in America.

In prosperous Gujarat, the most urbanised, industrial state in democratic India, where entrepreneurs embrace free markets and epitomise an American ideal of global progress, a BJP state government banished Indian pluralism from politics and connived in the massacre of Gujarati Muslims, to conquer Gujarat territory for their Hindu nation. Gujarat state elections then bolstered the BJP victory, to the joy of rich Gujarati businessmen in Bombay who celebrated the return of law and order with an event called “Gujarat Unlimited”, where one participant called the Gujarat killings, which killed more people than died in the World Trade Centre, “a storm in a teacup”. Meanwhile, many affluent Indians overseas, who prosper in the halls of globali-sation and also feel the sting of alien minority status in America, finance efforts to conquer India for a Hindu nation supervised by the BJP, accepted by the US government, and bolstered by many contemporary producers of knowledge about India.

Defining the territorial nation
Campaigners to make India Hindu are now spending huge sums to make knowledge about India entirely Hindu in America as well as in India. In the last century, analogous cultural activism – with one foot in America, and one in Asia – has shaped national territories in many countries, as nationalists have struggled for power amidst global American efforts to paint the world in the American colours. This particular intellectual intersection of mobility and territorialism formed a real-world context for research and education about Asia in America, throughout the 20th century; its deep influence on American knowledge about Asia is entirely invisible in our national geography of Asian studies.

Gujarat is only one Asian place where people with very mobile territorial attachments are struggling over territorial authority, in government, on city streets and in towns and villages; using laws, guns, media, bombs, votes and schools; and producing knowledge about Asia. Hindu India is only one ethnically majoritarian intellectual form of national identity thriving amidst the territorial anxieties of globalisation, and basing itself on the idea that each national state is a unique domain of a singular, unitary and definitively national culture. People in many countries rally around this idea, and victories in one bolster efforts in others. The knowledge they all produce seeks to regulate, subdue, erase, expel, terrorise and even kill the living legacy of human mobility that antedates national boundaries and still moves across them to form culturally mixed societies. To cite just one example, Indian state schoolbooks now depict the Aryan Hindu as being indigenously Indian and all Muslims as descending from alien invaders. At the same time, the Indian media describe Pakistan and Bangladesh as Muslim terrorist camps and the Indian government wants to force two million Muslim Bengalis out of India, into Bangladesh.

How we study such conjunctures of knowledge and politics is significant. Intellectual and educational activity anywhere that drives human mobility and all its attendant cultural mixing and spatial ambiguity into the shadows of knowledge marks minorities everywhere as targets for organised violence.

Remaping mobile space
All this indicates that scholars in Asian studies enjoy a compelling opportunity to explore geographical histories of knowledge about Asia and of social life in Asia, and to re-map Asia as a shifting, mobile spatial idea, poorly understood either inside fixed boundaries or in a world imagined without borders. In this endeavour, national maps by themselves no longer represent a rational division of academic labour, and more complex geographies better serve to orient research and education on the many-layered, mobile historical spaces that shape national environments.

National identity and international collaboration still constitute the ground on which we must work to address problems in the present with knowledge that connects the past and future. History will not be ending any time soon, and the national state should retain its territorial authority for a long time to come.

Historical research produces knowledge about the past to inform the future we are making today, and many historians are now working hard to bring mobility out of the shadows. In 1989, the eminent Mughal historian, M Athar Ali, opened his presidential address to the Indian Historical Congress by saying, “we should not try to read back our present national sentiments into those of the people of a millennium earlier”, and he then went on to survey histories that ran from the Oxus to the Narmada rivers, from the 11th to 18th centuries. Much important work has appeared since then. Its cumulative message is that human histories live inside geographies of mobility that we grossly and now dangerously distort by merely drawing routes of trade, migration and cultural flows among territories defined by national maps.

Human mobility creates affect-laden social spaces that constantly move and change shape. The natives of these mobile social spaces include all kinds of people: poor nomads and rich capitalists; idealist poets, missionaries, scholars and artists, as well as pragmatic merchants, workers and peasants; and, yes, they also include rampaging imperialists.

Social spaces formed by human mobility foster cultural identities both inside and among territories. Though we often denote cultural mobility with the term diaspora, mobile societies have not merely come from one place to arrive in others; they have also generated dissonant, non-territorial social spaces, which elude maps altogether and always implicitly challenge territorial authority. At the same time, however, mobile folk have also settled happily in sedentary territories, to become territorial fanatics themselves.

From this perspective, we can see that the mobility which typifies globalisation operates in many spatial and temporal registers, and forms many, disparate geographies, which coexist, conflict and complicate one another, and have done so for a long time. National states live inside spaces of mobility, and we would thus do well to abandon the idea that national boundaries represent the fundamental geographical fact of modernity.

Geographies of mobility call out for more attention from scholars who want to make the future more secure for minorities and migrants. Rather than viewing ethnic identity through maps-in-the-mind that identify people with one place or another, and rather than mapping ‘belonging’ either here or there, or both, it is more realistic to imagine that all societies are composed of spatially expansive geographies of human mobility, where attachments to territory always change with the times, as they are indeed changing today.

The mobility of Asia also calls out for attention from scholars who want to understand mobile territories like ‘Hindu India’ and ‘Global America’, both of which indicate that culture and power produce territorialism in travelling spaces that national maps render invisible. People who shape territorial authority and national passions today travel wide networks that did not disappear when national maps made the word ‘imperialism’ sound archaic. War and pogrom transact freely across boundaries that separate nations, properties and neighbourhoods, which seem ever more permeable and also more useful as weapons for the people who seek to control territory with organised violence.

At the end of the day, history indicates that all the boundaries will change, and they are in fact changing today, in front of our eyes. We cannot know how transactions between mobility and territorialism will draw the maps of the future, but scholars can improve knowledge of the present and options for the future by training their eyes critically and realistically on the very old and very undead geographical histories of mobility that haunt the world of national states and also of Asian studies.


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