South Asia

Organized Panel Session

3 - Culturing Fisheries: Technoscience Practices in the Madras Presidency

Friday, July 6
2:40 PM - 4:10 PM
Location: Gulmohar, First Floor

Perhaps the last place most historians would look to as a site of domestication practices would be under water. A facile explanation for this historical landlubberliness has often been blamed on the cryptic and mobile nature of fish, mollusks and other marine life forms that live in a relatively inaccessible medium for most humans. Scholarly preference for visible, mainstream and dominant actors and forces has contributed to this neglect of fisheries. Against this tide of historical myopia, research that examines fisheries reveals long traditions of domesticating aquatic species like finfish and mollusks. This paper examines technoscientific practices related to domestication, that accelerated from the mid - 19th century onwards and involved colonial naturalists, administrators, and governors, but also a wide assemblage of marine life. From vignettes that shift between riverine systems to marine spaces, across seascape and landscapes of British India, I examine how colonials sought to ‘culture’, domesticate and control aquatic life. Focusing on the Madras Presidency (from 1850-1900), I will examine specific instances where experts, scientists, and administrators introduce, control and harness aquatic species into inland waters (specifically freshwater fish and marine mollusks) to turn these spaces into secure production waterscapes. From these micro histories I hope to illuminate how we might understand agency in these aquatic animals, through their entanglements with more marginal humans - native fishers, and from a study of practices of colonial science.

Aarthi Sridhar

University of Amsterdam, India

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