SSRC Fellow Shares Her Experiences at Duke's Global Asia Initiative

December 20, 2018

By Ambika Aiyadurai​
Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar, India

Ambika Aiyadurai

My visit to Global Asia Initiative at Duke University was a part of the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) Transregional Research Junior Scholar Fellowship awarded to me in 2017. As an SSRC fellow, I spent three months (28 Aug to 1 Dec 2018) to work on my project ‘Community-based wildlife conservation in India, China and Bhutan’. I chose to visit GAI as my host institute because of its multidisciplinary engagement with Environment Humanities and to discuss my research with the interdisciplinary GAI scholars working on the issues of environment and society. I was based at John Hope Franklin Centre for Interdisciplinary and International Studies.

During my stay at Duke, I along with Prof. Prasenjit Duara (Director, GAI and Professor, Department of History) and Jeffrey Nicolaisen (Ph.D. student, Religious studies and GAI affiliate) jointly organized a workshop titled ‘Trans-species Listening and Rights of Nature: Legal Persons beyond the Human’. Scholars from five universities (Weber State University, Arizona State University, University of Oregon, Indian Institute of Technology – Gandhinagar, Duke University) presented their work. The aim of the workshop was to discuss the global rights of nature movement by transcending the assumptions of modernity and listening not only across human cultures but also across non-human species. The workshop was well received by Duke colleagues and other participants. As a follow-up to the workshop, we are planning to bring out a special issue for a journal.

Duke University provided me with plenty of opportunities to attend and participate in talks, seminars, and conferences, from across disciplines from various universities and international organizations. I attended talks organized by the Duke Islamic Studies Center, Asia- Pacific Studies Institute, Anthropology, Sanford School of Public Policy which were very extremely rewarding. Some of the important talks that I found very interesting: ‘Gedney​ in India’ workshop (6 Sept), ‘A conversation with Amitav Ghosh’ (6 Nov), ‘Unauthorized City: Entanglements of water, property and rule in Bangalore’ by Malini Ranganathan​ (20 Sept), ‘Forests for the Trees’ by Eduardo Kohn (15 Oct), ‘Nationalism and Development in Asia’ by Prasenjit Duara (17 Oct), ‘The New building blocks of development’ conference (15-16 Nov). I also participated in R. L. Rabb Science and Society symposium (20-22 Sept) at North Carolina State University.

Interacting with a wide range of scholars at Duke and other universities made my visit very productive and meaningful (please see below). Because of my research overlap with ecological sciences, I met faculty and students in Nicholas School of Environment which has a strong focus on wildlife conservation. Similarly, meeting with faculty and students from religious studies opened up new venues for collaborations.

Open access to Duke libraries helped me in completing the following manuscripts and a report:

• Book chapter ‘Understanding borderlands through Elephant Corridors in Yunnan-Burma-Bengal Landscape’, co-authored with Yunxia Lee (Yunnan Minzu University, China and Sayan Banerjee, Junior Research Fellow, IITGN)
• A completed draft of SSRC final report
• Submitted a proposal for a 10-day interdisciplinary workshop ‘Social Sciences Research for Conservation Biologists’ to IITGN​
• Book review ‘Religion and Ecological Sustainability in China’ for the Journal of Chinese Religions.

My experience at Duke University was intellectually very inspiring and has helped me explore new approaches in interdisciplinary scholarship with international perspectives. Some of the possible collaborations I am looking forward to develop:

GAI: Special issue for the journal ‘ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment’ with colleagues at GAI
The World Bank: A sociological study of IITGN students’ migration from India to different parts of the world
Duke BASS Connections: Exploring partnerships with Duke faculty (Sanford School of Public Policy) on developing a module/courses to address social issues.

Scholars I had meetings with during my fellowship period

1. Elizabeth Shapiro, Nicholas School of the Environment Duke University
2. Paolo Bocci Anthropology, Thompson Writing Program, Duke University
3. Sumathi Ramasamy, History, Duke University
4. Townsend Middleton, Anthropology, University of North Carolina
5. Madhusudan Katti, Forestry and Environmental Resources, North Carolina State University
6. Kaberi Kar Gupta, Anthropology, Raleigh
7. Anirudh Krishna, Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University
8. Piotr Plewa, Duke University Center for International and Global Studies
9. Ian Miller, History, Harvard University
10. Ajantha Subramanian, History, Harvard University
11. Giovanni Zanalda, Duke University Center for International and Global Studies
12. John Paulsen, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University
13. Rich Freeman, History, Duke University
14. Timothy Dobe, Religious Studies, Grinnell College, Visiting Scholar at the John Hope Franklin Center​
15. Caglar Ozden, Development Economics, The World Bank
16. Prasenjit Duara, History, Duke University, and Global Asia Initiative
17. Jeffrey Nicolaisen, Religious Studies, Duke University, and Global Asia Initiative
18. Yan Gao, Global Asia Initiative, Duke University
19. Graden Froese, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University
20. Prasad Kasibhatla, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University
21. Amelia Meier, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University
22. Krishni Metivier, Religious Studies, Duke University
23. Rupinder Bakshi Nicholas School of the Environment Duke University
24. Vallari Sheel, Forestry and Environmental Resources North Carolina State University
25. Seth Ligo Religious studies Duke University
26. Suraj Gogoi, Anthropology, University of North Carolina
27. Suraj Yengde, Human Rights and Dalit Studies, Shorenstein Center Postdoc Fellow, Harvard Kennedy School
28. Yasmin Singh, Religious Studies, Duke University
29. Tapati Guha-Thakurta​, History, Visiting Scholar Brown University
30. Srinivas Reddy, South Asia Studies Brown University

Global Asia Initiative team  (L-R: Rohini Thakker, Ambika Aiyadurai, Prasenjit Duara, Jeffrey Nicolaisen, Yan Gao)

Global Asia Initiative team (L-R: Rohini Thakkar, Ambika Aiyadurai, Prasenjit Duara, Jeffrey Nicolaisen, Yan Gao)