BiographyI received my DPhil in Social and Cultural Anthropology from the University of Oxford, St. Antony's College (2015); MA in Sociology and Equity Studies from the University of Toronto (2008); and BA in Anthropology and Asian Studies from the University of British Columbia (2003). Prior to joining the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities at Michigan State University, I taught courses in Anthropology, South Asian Ethnography, and Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies at the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University.
Areas of Research / Professional Expertise
My research focuses on artistic performances in colonial and postcolonial South Asia and its diasporas. More specifically, I am interested in what these performances can teach us about constructs of 'Indian', 'European' and 'Western' identities in colonial and postcolonial, as well as diasporic and multicultural imaginaries. I approach these intersecting formations through an interdisciplinary lens that draws upon Cultural Anthropology, History, South Asian Studies and Cultural Studies, as well as Postcolonial and Critical Race Feminist approaches.
My academic work is motivated by, and grounded in, my experiences as an Indian classical dance performer. From an early age, I have been trained as a dancer, first in Bharatanatyam and then more extensively in Odissi. I received this training in Canada, the US and India, and have performed in solo and group recitals in Canada, where I was raised, as well as in the US, UK, France, India and Tanzania. As a diasporic dancer, I became concerned with issues of cultural representation and questions of national belonging when performing in multicultural settings. This led me to study the historical, cultural and political context in which Indian classical dance comes to be produced as such. My artistic and academic interests continue to inform each other as my research programme has now expanded to study a wider range of cross-cultural performance practices and contexts.
Published: Jan 12, 2015 by Anthropology in Action, 22(3)
Authors: Sitara Thobani
Subjects: Anthropology - Soc Sci
This paper argues that ethnography provides useful tools to not only engage with postcolonial critiques in theory, but in practice as well. Focusing on performative narrativisations of the history of Indian classical dance and its idealised construction of femininity, I show how ethnographic research can usefully excavate contemporary practices to better understand the capacity of coloniality to both endure and transform in its contemporary articulations.
Published: Feb 28, 2014 by Migration and Religion in Europe: Comparative Perspectives on South Asian Experiences
Authors: Sitara Thobani
Subjects: Religion, Anthropology - Soc Sci, Asian Studies
In this paper, I show how contemporary discourses of spirituality – shaped by Orientalist constructs of Indian religiosity – enable dancers from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds to reproduce the supposedly Hindu character of their Indian classical dance practice. This religious affiliation is traced back to the political, and not simply religious, nationalist construction of Indian cultural identity as rooted in a Hinduism institutionalized in ‘secular’ post-independence India.