SOAS University of London

SOAS South Asia Institute

Epicentre to Aftermath: Political, social and cultural impacts of earthquakes in South Asia

Sway conference

Date: 11 January 2019Time: 9:00 AM

Finishes: 12 January 2019Time: 6:00 PM


Type of Event: Conference

Call for Papers

The immediate effects of earthquakes are visible: lost lives, displaced people, destroyed houses and shattered cultural heritage sites. Take a longer view, however, and earthquakes are often associated with profound political and social transformation. Such change may be given momentum by the shock of the disaster, the desire to reform ways of governing and being governed that could not withstand the shock, and by the arrival of new ideas about how things should be done.

The SOAS-led ‘Sway’ project has been studying the impacts of the 2015 Gorkha earthquake and earlier earthquakes in Nepal with a view to understand social and political change, to document efforts to reclaim and reinvent material culture, and to explore archives relating to previous disasters. The work of this project will be one of the focal points of this conference.

Additionally, the conference would also welcome papers that consider the broader questions raised by earthquake research in South Asia. Earthquakes in Gujarat-Sind (1819), Assam (1897), Nepal-Bihar (1934), Quetta, Baluchistan (1935), Assam-Tibet (1950), Latur, Maharashtra (1993), Kutch, Gujarat (2001) and Kashmir (2005) often brought with them significant shifts in social and political landscapes. Across South Asia, earthquakes have provided moments of rupture through which new models of governance, planning and urban form have been introduced. Patterns of blame, retribution and sanction may shift as the certainties of nature, society and the state are called into question by shock and reconstruction. We will think comparatively across earthquakes to ask questions of the related spheres of humanitarianism, bureaucracy, philosophy and affect:

  • Humanitarianism: Who is responsible? Who comes to the aid of those inhabiting the ruins and why? What do they hope to achieve? What forms have earthquake humanitarianism taken? What have they achieved?
  • Bureaucracy: Earthquakes encourage new legislation, codes and new procedures. What shape have these taken? To what end? How have earthquakes been understood within new bureaucracies? How has bureaucracy refashioned citizenship or urban form?
  • Philosophy: In South Asia, what have earthquakes made people think about religion, nature, government and relations between one another? How do earthquakes influence the direction or shape of societies?
  • Affect and Memory: What forms of social, political and heritage activism have arisen from earthquakes in South Asia? What artistic and literary responses have there been? How have earthquakes been remembered and memorialised? What has their impact been upon mental health?

The conference will be publication-driven with the intention of collecting state of the art research on earthquakes in South Asia within a comparative and inter-disciplinary frame.

Selected participants will be requested to produce a paper of 4000-5000 words to be pre-circulated in advance of the conference. Limited travel and accommodation assistance is available. We look forward to hearing from you.

The event is free to attend but registration essential. Click here to register. 

The conference will be held at the Conway Hall on Friday, 11 January, and B202 (Brunei Building, SOAS) on Saturday, 12 January 2019.

Convenors: Michael Hutt, Stefanie Lotter, Michele Serafini and Edward Simpson

Organiser: SOAS South Asia Institute

Contact email:

Contact Tel: +44 (0)20 7898 4390