Professor Nayanika Mookherjee BA (Hons), MA, Ph.D. (SOAS), FRSA joins the IAS as a Co-Director for the Faculty of Social Science and Health from 1st January 2022. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) degree in Politics from Presidency College (Calcutta University, India) in 1994; a Master’s degree in Sociology from Jawaharlal Nehru University (New Delhi, India) in 1996 and a PhD in Social Anthropology (as a Felix Scholar) from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS, University of London) in 2002. After a British Academy Postdoctoral position in the University of Sussex, she joined Lancaster University in 2003 as a Lecturer in Sociology. She joined what she considers her home discipline – Anthropology – in Durham University in 2011, and specialises in Political Anthropology. Here she talks about her research and involvement with the IAS.
‘My research concerns the ethnographic exploration of public memories of violent pasts and the aesthetic practices of reparative futures through debates on gendered violence during conflict, memorialisation, and adoption. Overall, in my thinking, debates on decolonisation draw on interdisciplinary and reflexive frameworks of theory (from social anthropology, history, political theory, sociology, philosophy and visual arts), methods and ethics. In teaching Violence and Memory, the pedagogies of mobile ethnography on the history of slavery and mining in UK allowed us to highlight how issues of violence and memory are intertwined in our own locales and provides students with a class and racial literacy. Recently, the decolonising energies of the module have been referred to as exemplary for the faculty.
One of the core questions which animates my thinking is: how do states remember violent events? How do memories link and/or diverge from such national memorialisations? What are the intertextual, citational and circulatory processes of memory? How is this linked to affect and affective politics? What are its limits? My research is primarily ethnographic, but has also engaged with literary and visual representations. My research and thinking have always straddled anthropology, political theory, history, sociology, and feminist theories. Working with scholars of feminist theory, mobility studies and science studies in the Sociology department of Lancaster University my interdisciplinary connections were energised. I am also part of the Durham Global Security Institute, Centre for Visual Cultures, IAS’s Memory project and over the years, have appreciated the multiple interdisciplinary engagements with the IAS. Various interdisciplinary connections within and beyond academia enable me to give foundational support to adventurous interdisciplinary research initiatives, as well as maximising their potential to illuminate disciplinary perspectives.
Based on my book The Spectral Wound: Sexual Violence, Public Memories and the Bangladesh War of 1971 (Duke University Press, 2015), I have co-authored a graphic novel and animation film Birangona and ethical testimonies of sexual violence during conflict with the Bangladeshi visual artist Najmunnahar Keya. It received the 2019 Praxis award from the Washington Association of Practitioner Anthropologists and has brought about changes in practices, thinking and welfare of survivors of sexual violence during wars within governmental and non-governmental organisations including museums and performance artists. Thanks to a Leverhulme Trust Fellowship I was also able to bring into focus the debates on the state, violent pasts and aesthetics in my volumes on Aesthetics of Nations (2011), Aesthetics, Politics, Violence (2015) and my current interdisciplinary publications on Irreconciliation. A British Academy Fellowship and a Christopherson Knott IAS fellowship assisted my ongoing research on adoption, where my research also engages with aesthetic narratives (films, literature, music) of returnee adoptees along with an exploration of their genetic citizenship and the nation-state.
Last but not least, I co-found the first BAME network for academics, professional colleagues and postgraduate students in Durham, have longstanding connections with undergraduate students and Durham People of Colour Association (DPOCA) and have a deep commitment to mentoring colleagues (academic and professional) and the postgraduate community. I learn a lot from the research conversations with others and look forward to setting up collaborative engagements between Fellows, Durham scholars and the postgraduate community.’