Fatema Mernissi Postdoctoral Fellow in Social and Cultural Studies at The Africa Institute

Nidhi Mahajan is the inaugural Fatema Mernissi Postdoctoral Fellow in Social and Cultural Studies. Nidhi Mahajan is assistant professor in Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Mahajan obtained her PhD in Anthropology from Cornell University in 2015. Her research examines transregional maritime connections across the Indian Ocean through shipping and trade networks, ports and their entanglements with state sovereignty.

Nidhi Mahajan is also an artist and has developed multi-media exhibitions for the Fort Jesus Museum in Mombasa, Khoj International Artists’ Association in New Delhi and the 2019 Sharjah Architecture Triennial. Mahajan’s publications include “Seasons of sail” in Smriti Srinivas, Bettina Ng’weno and Neelima Jeychandran [eds.] Reimagining Indian Ocean        Worlds (New York and London: Routledge, 2019); "Dhow Itineraries: The Making of a Shadow Economy in the Western Indian Ocean" in Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East (Duke University Press, 2019); “At home, at sea: onboard a dhow in the Western Indian Ocean” in Prita Meier and Allyson Purpura [eds.], World on the Horizon (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2018); and "Lamu, a battleground of memory and aspiration" in Tau Tavengwa and Leonie Newhouse [eds.] The Corridor: How the East African Corridor Spanning the Indian Ocean from Somalia to South Africa is being Radically Reshaped (Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity in Association with Cityscapes Magazine, 2017). During her residency at The Africa Institute, Mahajan will be working on her book manuscript titled “Moorings: The Dhow Trade, States and Capital Across the Indian Ocean”. Based on over ten years of archival and ethnographic research, the book is an historical ethnography that focuses on encounters between dhows or wooden sailing vessels and multiple regulatory regimes across the Indian Ocean.  

The book explores the mutually constituted relationship between mobility, capitalism, and sovereignty in the Indian Ocean, examining how mobile dhow networks have been pushed into the underbelly of the global economy. Based on archival and ethnographic research across India, Kenya, the UK, Tanzania, the UAE and Qatar the  book examines how the dhow trade has articulated with different state forms to become a crucial intermediary between local, regional and global circuits of exchange.

During her fellowship at the Africa Institute, Mahajan plans to continue research on a new project that examines multiple contestations over belonging and notions of sovereignty in contemporary coastal Kenya. Against the backdrop of the Lamu PortSouth Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor Project—a new infrastructure project—she will work with civil society organisations, politicians and government officials examining how new forms of legitimacy and sovereignty based on Indian Ocean imaginaries are currently being revived in Lamu even as the region is being re-shaped by this mega port project.