Rendered Rightless: Exercising Agency in Nation-Spaces



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Dahagram is a community in Bangladesh, at least on paper. Despite being on Bangladeshi territory, it is completely surrounded by Indian territory. Prior to 2016, it was one of 163 enclaves which existed on either side of the Bangladesh-India border. Meanwhile, in mainland Bangladesh, Rohingya refugees live in the Kutupalong-Balukhali expansion site, also known as the largest refugee camp in the world as of January 2018. Bangladesh refuses to assimilate the refugees, and most of the refugees refuse to return to Myanmar due to ongoing persecution. Back in India, the Dalai Lama has been overseeing the Tibetan government-in-exile from Dharamsala since 1959. The Tibetan Autonomous Region, previously known as Tibet, has been occupied by China since 1950. Despite their distinct contexts, the enclaves along the Bangladesh-India border, the Kutupalong-Balukhali expansion site, and the transnational nation of Tibet all have one thing in common: a strong community identity which persists despite tenuous or nonexistent ties to a nation-state. Through their very existence, they interrogate the nation-state system which has become hegemonic in our current geopolitical landscape. In my thesis, I deconstruct the assumptions made by this nation-state system. Then, I look at how these three communities interrogate these assumptions. These case-studies inspire questions such as: How does the dominant conception of territory limit the way we imagine community, allocate resources, and perform group identities? How do nation-states come into conflict with transnational communities as a result? Some of the main works which inform my analysis include “The geographical mind” from Secondary Geography Handbook, written by Doreen Massey; Dipesh Chakrabarty’s “The Idea of Provincializing Europe,” in Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference; and Jason Cons’ Sensitive Space: Fragmented Territory at the India-Bangladesh Border. While looking at these communities through the interdisciplinary lens informed by these works, among others, the concept of nation-space gradually emerged. Nation-space exists in contrast to the nation-state. Nation-space also holds in parallel tension the understanding that a hegemonic nation-state system renders many communities rightless, while also acknowledging the agency exercised by communities which do not fit into this hegemonic system. This concept of nation-space helps lead into the question my thesis is ultimately posing. How can reimagining the world through the framework of nation-space help conceptualize solidarities across borders? All three of these case studies consist of communities which reimagined solidarity outside of the ideological and territorial borders of the nation-state. Broadening our geographical imagination is imperative for not only understanding these transnational communities, but also for centering those solidarities which subvert and cross state borders. This reimagining is urgent. In a present where climate change is rapidly reshaping territory, reimagining space is not just the road to understanding; it is the road to survival. My thesis hopes to begin exploring the concept of nation-space. By interrogating territorial logics, I hope to illustrate how Dahagram, the Kutupalong-Balukhali expansion site, and the nation of Tibet have already begun reimagining geographical space.



Territoriality, Tibet, Bangladesh-India Border, Rohingya Refugees, Nation-States, Borders, Citizenship