Sharad Chari
Associate Professor, Department of Geography

I am a geographer, but it has taken me a quarter century since signing up to this vocation to ask “what is this form of writing?” I call it a vocation because I fell into it by accident (and never looked back), while an undergraduate at Berkeley trying to make sense of the first Gulf War. Thanks to my teachers and a stellar cohort of graduate students in the 1990s, I fell deeper into the political economy of agrarian change and postcolonial development. My first body of research was an agrarian critique of ‘flexibility’ in an industrial town in which practically everyone worked, all the time, making garments for the global economy. I finished Fraternal Capital: Peasant-workers, self-made men and globalization in provincial India (Stanford and Permanent Black, 2004), while a postdoctoral fellow at the Michigan Society of Fellows, in the Anthropology and History Departments which had broken down disciplinary walls in an experiment called ‘anthrohistory.’ Fraternal Capital connects ethnographic political economy with an anthrohistorian’s attentiveness to the activation of historical relations in the present. My next project turns this method inside out, as it were, to de-activation and limits to change, by posing the geography of the present as a palimpsest of multiple remains of the past.

My second major research project has been in Durban, South Africa, in neighborhoods stuck between oil refineries and other industry in a valley that traps pollution and foists its burden on Black people racialized ‘Indian’ and ‘Coloured’ in South African racial capitalism. This book project, Apartheid Remains, does three things: it asks how post-apartheid struggles face a set of obstacles inherited from various pasts, it revisits the twentieth century history of state racism and Black struggle to ask how biopolitical tools used to build segregation might have been used to break it down, and it ends with critical arts of Black survival in local blues traditions, not least in photography, that conserve the seeds of a post-apartheid future. I began this work at Michigan, continued it while at the London School of Economics and affiliated through annual peregrinations to the School of Development Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban. I then moved to the Centre for Indian Studies and the Department of Anthropology at remarkably creative Faculty of the Humanities at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg in a time of intense questioning and upheaval, with hopes and challenges of academic decolonization in the background. Time in South Africa has forced me to try to make explicit the links between Black radical praxis and Marxist agrarian studies, to think about how South Africa and the Indian Ocean littoral allows us to ‘stretch’ the Black radical tradition in new ways.

I have begun a new research project that explores archaic and emergent dynamics around port cities of the Southern African Indian Ocean Region, with an attention to the South African and Mozambican littoral, and the islands of Mauritius, Reunion, and Mayotte/the Comores. This research will also rethink geographical form as it revisits some of the key concerns of Marxist political economy from the perspective of this Afro-Asian oceanic space, where the ‘Black Atlantic’ meets the nonlinear currents of the Indian Ocean. Photography returns in unexpected ways in this project. 

The broader, intertwined questions on which I invite collective reflection are: How might we stretch the planetary insights of the Black radical tradition? How might we imagine geo-graphy as Earth/world/ocean-writing? And how might geography help expand a sense of spaciousness in our time of unprecedented enclosure and of apparent transparency and immediacy?



Apartheid Remains, book manuscript in preparation.

2008, and Stuart Corbridge eds. The Development Reader, Oxon, UK: Routledge.

2004, Fraternal Capital: Peasant-Workers, Self-Made Men, and Globalization in Provincial India, Palo Alto: Stanford University Press and Delhi: Permanent Black. 

Selected Articles and Book Chapters 

Forthcoming, “Recompositions in the Subaltern sea: Geo-graphy as errantry” in Tariq Jazeel and Stephen Legg ed. Subaltern Geographies: Subaltern Studies, space, and the geographical imagination, University of Georgia Press. 

Forthcoming, “Mysterious Moves of Revolution: Spectres of Black Power, Futures of Postcolonialism,” in Jini Kim Watson and Gary Wilder eds. The Postcolonial Contemporary, Fordham University Press.

Forthcoming, “Three moments of Stuart Hall in South Africa: Postcolonial-postsocialist Marxisms of the future.” Critical Sociology, Published online Dec 2015.

Forthcoming, “Detritus.” In Jennifer Wenzel, Imre Szeman and Patricia Yaeger eds. Fueling Culture: Energy, History, Politics, Fordham University Press, in press 

2016, “Trans-area studies and the perils of geographical ‘world writing’” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 34, 5, 791-8.

2015, “African Extraction, Indian Ocean Critique” South Atlantic Quarterly, 114, 1, 83-100.

2014, “An ‘Indian Commons’ in Durban? Limits to Mutuality, or the City to Come” Anthropology Southern Africa, 37, 3-4, 149-159.

Geography as history of the present and as Earth/world-writing, social theory, political economy, development, agrarian studies, labor and work, racial/sexual capitalism, Black radical tradition, biopolitical struggle, oceanic humanities, photography, South Asia, South Africa, Indian Ocean
Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley, 2000