Spatialising Politics: Culture and Geography in Postcolonial Sri Lanka brings together essays on the theme of spatial politics of Sri Lanka. Space is an important factor in the ongoing ethnic conflict fuelling Sri Lanka's continuing civil war. Claims and contestations over the integrity of island space and the control of northern and eastern territories are central to the violently contested dispute. The editors view space from a different perspective. They argue that space is important through a number of registers less frequently invoked in dominant approaches to understanding postcolonial Sri Lankan nationhood, identity and difference. The book examines and historicizes the role of spatialities often occluded within the debates on Sri Lankan politics such as, cities and built-space, diasporic productions and imaginations, commodity cultures and their concordant networks, knowledge spaces and ‘foreign’ intervention, landscape and sacred space, as well as geographical knowledge.

Situated at the intersection of human geography and postcolonial studies, the book signals the ways that postcolonialism and geography are intimately linked and how their intersections evoke the social, spatial and political effects of enduring colonial discourse and representation. In developing its argument, Spatialising Politics also gestures towards alternative spatial imaginations, possibilities and representations, at a time when spaces for alternative discourses on Sri Lankan politics are fast shrinking.

The Distance of a Shout
The distance of a shout

We lived on the medieval coast

south of warrior kingdoms

during the ancient age of the winds

as they drove all things before them.

Monks from the north came

down our streams floating—that was

the year no one ate river fish.

There was no book of the forest,

no book of the sea, but these

are the places people died.

Handwriting occurred on waves,

on leaves, the scripts of smoke,

a sign on a bridge along the Mahaweli River.

A gradual acceptance of this new language.

(Michael Ondaatje, ‘The Distance of a Shout’, in Ondaatje 1998: 6)

Perhaps it is the demands, the anxiety, and the uncertainty that leave indelible yet hidden markings on the ethnographer who undertakes fieldwork in a foreign society. These markings are rendered more complex over time ...

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