Sharad Chari

Geography as history of the present and as earthly/oceanic writing, social theory, political economy, development, agrarian studies, labor, racial/sexual capitalism, Black radical tradition, biopolitical struggle, oceanic studies, photography, South Asia, South Africa, Indian Ocean.

543 McCone Hall

I am a geographer, and I remain puzzled by  ‘geo-graphy’ as a form of earthly or oceanic writing. I received my PhD in Geography at Berkeley in 2000, after which I was a postdoctoral fellow in Anthropology and History at the Michigan Society of Fellows, at the University of Michigan (2000-03), a Lecturer (Assistant Professor) of Human Geography at the London School of Economics (2004-12), and an Associate Professor at the Centre for Indian Studies in Africa and the Department of Anthropology at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), South Africa (2013-16). I remain affiliated to the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WiSER) and its project on Oceanic Humanities in the Global South.

My intellectual origins are in the political economy of agrarian change and postcolonial development. My first body of research was an agrarian critique of ‘flexibility’ in the industrial town of Tiruppur in South India in which practically everyone worked, all the time, making garments for the global economy. Fraternal Capital: Peasant-workers, self-made men and globalization in provincial India (Stanford and Permanent Black, 2004) draws from the experiment in ‘anthrohistory’ I encountered at the University of Michigan in the early 2000s while a postdoctoral fellow at the Michigan Society of Fellows. Fraternal Capital connects ethnographic political economy with an anthrohistorian’s attentiveness to the activation of historical relations in the present, particularly as instruments of subaltern social domination.

My second major project brings a geographer’s attention to material artefacts that are difficult to dislodge, as the present appears as a palimpsest of multiple pasts. This research project has been in Durban, South Africa, in neighborhoods stuck between oil refineries and other industry in a valley that traps pollution and foists its burden on people racialized ‘Indian’ and ‘Coloured’ in South African racial capitalism. This book project, Apartheid Remains, does three things: it asks how post-apartheid struggles face a set of obstacles inherited from various pasts, it revisits the twentieth century history of state racism and Black struggle to ask how biopolitical tools used to build segregation might have been used to break it down, and it ends with arts of survival in local blues traditions, not least in photography, that conserve the seeds of a post-apartheid future. This work was conducted through annual peregrinations to the School of Development Studies at UKZN, Durban, and concluded while I taught at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg in a time of  upheaval, with hopes and challenges of academic decolonization in the background. Time in South Africa forced me to make explicit the links between Black radical praxis and Marxist agrarian studies, to think about how South Africa and the Indian Ocean littoral allows us to ‘stretch’ the Black radical tradition in new ways.

This theme takes me to my new research  on the hopes and challenges of the ‘oceanic economy’ in its various entailments in the Southern African Indian Ocean Region, with an attention to sites on the South African and Mozambican littoral, Mauritius, Reunion, and Mayotte. This project attempts to think with oceanic form from an Afro-Asian oceanic space, where the ‘Black Atlantic’ meets the nonlinear currents of the Indian Ocean, inspired by intellectual and political currencts from the Caribbean.

The broader, intertwined questions on which I invite collective reflection are: How might we stretch the planetary insights of the Black radical tradition? How might we imagine ‘geography’ as earthly or oceanic writing/inscription? And how might geography help expand a sense of spaciousness in our time of enclosure and of apparent transparency and immediacy?



Apartheid Remains, book manuscript in preparation.

2017, and Susanne Freidberg, Vinay Gidwani, Jesse Ribot and Wendy Wolford eds. Other Geographies, in the Work of Michael Watts. Oxford: Wiley Blackwell.

2008, and Stuart Corbridge eds. The Development Reader, Oxon, UK: Routledge.

2004, Fraternal Capital:  Peasant-Workers, Self-Made Men, and Globalization in Provincial India, Palo Alto: Stanford University Press and Delhi: Permanent Black.

Selected Articles and Book Chapters

Forthcoming, “Subaltern sea? Indian Ocean errantry against Subalternization” in Tariq Jazeel and Stephen Legg eds. Subaltern Geographies: Subaltern Studies, Space, and the Geographical Imagination, University of Georgia Press.

2018, “Mysterious Moves of Revolution: Specters of Black Power, Futures of Postcoloniality” in Jini Kim Watson and Gary Wilder eds. The Postcolonial Contemporary, Fordham University Press.

2018, “Commentary on ‘From Exploitation to Expropriation: Geographies of Racialization in Historic Capitalism’” (in response to Nancy Fraser's 2017 AAG lecture) in Economic Geography, 94:1, 18-22.

2017, “Detritus, Difference, Politics” for Somatosphere, published online October 30,

2017, “The Blues and the Damned: (Black) life that survives capital and biopolitics.” Critical African Studies, 9, 2: 152-173.

2017, “Three moments of Stuart Hall in South Africa: Postcolonial-postsocialist Marxisms of the future.” Critical Sociology, 43, 6: 831-845.

2017, “Detritus.” In Imre Szeman, Jennifer Wenzel and Patricia Yaeger eds. Fueling Culture: Energy, History, Politics, Fordham University Press, 110-113.

2016, “Trans-area studies and the perils of geographical ‘world writing’” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 34, 5, 791-8.

2015, “African Extraction, Indian Ocean Critique” South Atlantic Quarterly, 114, 1, 83-100.

2014, “An ‘Indian Commons’ in Durban? Limits to Mutuality, or the City to Come” Anthropology Southern Africa, 37, 3-4, 149-159.

2013, “Detritus in Durban: Polluted Environs and the Biopolitics of Refusal.” In Ann Laura Stoler ed. Imperial Debris, Duke University Press, 131-161.

2012, “Subalternities that Matter in Times of Crisis.” In Jamie Peck, Trevor Barnes and Eric Sheppard eds. The New Companion to Economic Geography, Wiley-Blackwell, 501-514.

2010, “State Racism and Biopolitical Struggle: Struggles over Space in Durban, South Africa, 1900-1970s.” In Radical History Review 108 (Fall 2010), pp. 73-90.

2010, and Henrike Donner “Ethnographies of Activism: A Critical Introduction” Introduction to Special Double Edition of Cultural Dynamics 22 (2), pp. 1-11.

2009, “Photographing Dispossession, Forgetting Solidarity: Waiting for social justice in Wentworth, South Africa.” In Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 34 (4): 521-540.

2009, and Katherine Verdery, “Thinking between the Posts: Postcolonism, Postsocialism and Ethnography after the Cold War.” In Comparative Studies in Society and History 51 (1): 6-34

2008 “The Antinomies of Political Evidence in Post-Apartheid Durban, South Africa.” In Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 14 (S1): S61-S76.

2008 “The Post-Apartheid Critic.” In Historical Materialism 16 (2): 167-189.

2006, “Post-apartheid livelihood struggles in Wentworth, South Durban.” In Vishnu Padayachee ed. The Development Decade? Economic and Social Change in South Africa, 1994-2004. Cape Town: HSRC Press, 427-443.

2005, “Son of Bush or Son of God?  Politics and the religious subaltern in the US, from elsewhere.” In South Atlantic Quarterly 15 (1): 37-54.

2004, “Provincializing Capital:  The work of an agrarian past in South Indian industry.” In Comparative Studies in Society and History 46 (4): 760-785.

2000, “The Agrarian Origins of the Knitwear Industrial Cluster in Tiruppur, India.” In World Development 28 (3): 579-599. 


200B Geography Proseminar: Geographical Praxis and the Research Process (Spring 2018, 2019)

170 Ocean Worlds (Fall 2017)

20 Globalization (Spring 2018)

175 Earth-writing (an 'Art of Writing' undergraduate seminar) (Fall 2018)

Past Courses at the University of the Witwatersrand

Graduate: Economic Anthropology

Undergraduate: Anthropology of Capitalism, Anthropological Thought, Urban Anthropology

Past Courses at the London School of Economics

Graduate: Race and Space, Contemporary Debates in Human Geography

Undergraduate: London’s Geographies, Development

Past Courses at Michigan

Graduate: Agrarian Questions, Radical Geography, Modernity and Subalternity

Undergraduate: Gender, Environment and Poverty