Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora & the Ethos of Belonging – A Cartography of Relevant Theories

My thesis studies the ethos of belonging of the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora living in Switzerland by mapping out relevant theories pertaining to belonging and by capturing, in the form of a pilot study, illustrative images that support, critique as well as challenge the relevant theories perused therein. It provides insight into the generational, spatial and transrational dimensions of belonging and explores concepts such as deep diversity, multicultural citizenship and ur (in Tamil) or home. Using a post-colonial as well as a transrational lens, it unpacks the ethos of belonging as well as non-belonging in terms of the migration context, as a string of constructed social processes with home and hostland dimensions affected by both internal fault-lines, such as the lack of horizontal linkages, as well as external fault-lines like insufficient focus on the migrant and the refugee with regards to theorisation processes.

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Writing about belonging in relation to this thesis has been a very personal process. It challenged in pushing my own understandings of belonging and encouraged me to look at spectrums beyond what has been theorised. I also wrote this thesis at a moment when I was personally grappling with insecurities of inclusion and exclusion of diasporic living. So, in a sense, this thesis has enabled remembering and retrospection. Here particularly, the concept of ur or home was extremely relevant. It also created the opportunity for me to share snapshots of an oral history project that I had conceptualised and implemented in Switzerland, titled PROJECT Belonging, and that looked at the lives of the Swiss Tamil diaspora vis-à-vis the ethos of belonging. As I state in my thesis, ‘discussing belonging with the respondents was a cathartic process for me as a researcher. I felt drawn to my own personal experiences as I ploughed through different belongingscapes with them. It was a journey that was emotional yet strangely objective’.

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