SOAS University of London

Department of Politics and International Studies

The Indian Ocean in World Politics

Course Code:
Unit value:
0.5 - Term 2

The Indian Ocean is returning to the forefront of global politics. Pronounced the ‘Center Stage for the Twenty First Century’ by a recent American commentator (Kaplan, 2009), this region has nonetheless had a critical role in the emergence of the modern world system over many centuries.  This course takes a historically grounded and interdisciplinary approach to questions of trade, military relations, labour, religion, gender, security, geopolitics, tourism and political identity in the Indian Ocean region, all of which continue to have a strong impact on the practices of world politics today.  We focus on the connections across the ocean, comparing and contrasting the experiences of the peoples around its rim. Drawing on a broad range of research, this course is intended to be informative as well as conceptually and philosophically challenging.

Topics for study will include:

  • Why Study the Ocean? Land and Sea in Political Thought
  • Proto-globalisation? Indian Ocean Trading Cities and Networks 1500-1800
  • Seaborne Labour: Indenture, Enslavement and Other Practices
  • Gods Almighty? Faith as a Vector of Social and Political Power
  • Gender, Sex and Identity: Reproducing (in) the Colonies
  • For King and Country: Colonial Troops and Oceanic Discipline
  • Piracy, the Global Economy and the Laws of the Sea
  • Geopolitics, Subaltern Realism and the String of Pearls Strategy
  • The Political Economy of Pleasure: Indian Ocean Tourism
  • Writing the Ocean: Subaltern Cosmopolitanism in Scholarship and Fiction

Examples in the course are drawn from across the region, including the Swahili coast cities and zones of Southern and East Africa, Somalia, the Persian Gulf, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and the islands of Madagascar, Mauritius, Zanzibar and the Maldives.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

  • Knowledge of major historical political forces and dynamics within the Indian Ocean region
  • Understanding of the main conceptual, theoretical and normative questions raised by studying oceanic and transnational spaces in world politics
  • Understanding of the diversity of contemporary political issues affecting the region
  • An advanced ability to critically analyse and interrogate scholarship and policy towards the region and in international politics more broadly
  • An engagement with the challenges of inter-disciplinary study and research
Course pre-requisites

This course is interdisciplinary, but assumes some knowledge of concepts taught in the International Politics courses. Students wishing to take the course who have not taken International Theory (15PPOH014) should see the course convener.

Method of assessment

The course is assessed through one 5,000 word essay (80%), weekly seminar participation (10%), and an oral presentation (10%). Students will devise their own essay topic and question with approval from the course convener.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules