The InterAsia Initiative Lecture presents:
Professor Mana Kia, Columbia University: “Social Bonds and Service in Persianate Asia: Love, Friendship, and the Problem of Hierarchy.”
Politically and social significant forms of companionship undergirded early modern Persianate societies across Central, South and West Asia, forms shared because they were interwoven with the broader transregional circulation of texts, people and ideas. Persianate polities cohered around hierarchically structured social bonds linking individuals and groups marked by dissimilar origins, religious affiliations, social locations, occupational groupings, and claims to power. Because of the way the political grew out of the social, in times of political devolution or collapse, social bonds could stabilize localities, maintain regional linkages and provide continuity and coherence in unstable times.
This talk specifically explores the language and practices of social bonds, according to their broader and longer histories, in the midst of shifting political structures in 18th-century Hindustan, a site of transregional traffic. To realize and render these relations legible required the production and exchange of images, compositions, books, and objects, as well as particular bodily practices. Scrutinizing the ways hierarchical relations of service and patronage were spoken in terms of love and friendship calls into question analytic assumptions about the significance of freedom and consent in social relationships, as well as blurs historical distinctions between family and others. Beyond historicizing unhelpfully modern understandings of servitude and freedom, the individual and social difference, the understanding that many of our textual and material sources were products of bonded relations and their intimate practices suggests new ways of receiving and thinking with them.