Talk on post-war Sri Lanka
The talk is held by Dr. Vagisha Gunasekara. Dr. Gurnasekara is a Sri Lankan researcher, affiliated with the Social Scientists’ Association (SSA) that studies particular entanglements of gender and conflict in rapidly changing situations in the South Asia region. She received her PhD in political science from Purdue University, USA. Her current work focuses on the changing nature of capital-labour relations, dynamics of centre-periphery relations and political brokerage in post-war Sri Lanka. In the recent past, she conducted research on the political economy of household indebtedness, livelihoods and service delivery, social, economic- and political dynamics and effects of tourism development in war-affected areas. Vagisha is the Executive Director of the American Institute for Sri Lankan Studies in Colombo.
Vagisha is a visiting lecturer at the University of Colombo. She teaches in the Post-Graduate Diploma leading to a Master of Gender and Women’s Studies at the Faculty of Graduate Studies (FGS). She is also a member in the Board of Directors at the Women’s Education and Research Centre (WERC), Sri Lanka.
Abstract of the talk
Central to the processes of securitized post-war development and statebuilding in Sri Lanka was the effort to construct a parallel “centre” in Hambanthota, which, in many ways, still remains an economic, political, social and cultural “borderland”. The area became a major “theatre” of large-scale infrastructural investment, and of new and different constellations of power, as it was central to the reterritorialization agenda of the Rajapakse government that ended the civil war.
The story of Hambantota complicates the idea that post-war peacebuilding involves the diffusion of power and resources outwards from centre to periphery. Hambanthota, a new hub, with great political and economic salience, representing however, a vastly different constituency to the cosmopolitan elite of Colombo, emerged from a region that was marginalized in the period after independence. The making of a centre in Hambanthota helps explore the dynamic and uneven nature of post-war territorialisation, and the emergence of ‘central peripheries’ that simultaneously constitute and de-legitimise power at the centre. This paper argues that addressing the grievances of a neglected polity in Hambantota came not from decentralizing power to peripheral regions, but by replicating the centre in the ‘periphery’.
Though Hambanthota became a hub of post-war statebuilding and development, there are inherent tensions between processes of state territorialisation and infusions of capital and investment, especially as the financial support for the transformation of Hambanthota from an impoverished agricultural area into an economic and political powerhouse came from China. The construction of Hambanthota as a parallel centre leads us to explore how the ‘centre’ in Colombo and the extra-territorial centre (China) works to make Hambanthota (‘the other’) legible and knowable, and how the ‘centre’ is re-made in the process.