MSAS Seminar: TT19: Week 2: Commodities, Merchants, and Refugees: Inter-Asian circulations and Afghan mobility

Conveners: Faisal Devji, Polly O'Hanlon, Kate Sullivan de Estrada, Nayanika Mathur, Mallica Kumbera Landrus and Ali Jan

Speaker: Magnus Marsden (Sussex)

This paper analyses ethnographic material concerning Afghan trading networks involved in both the export of commodities from China to a variety of settings across Eurasia and the movement of “refugees” from Afghanistan to Europe.  While much recent work on trading networks has deployed the concept of trust to understand the functioning of such social formations, this article seeks to understand their durability through combined recognition of the ways in which Afghan networks  are polycentric and multi-nodal,  successful in transforming their collective aims and projects in changing shifting political and economic circumstances, and made-up of individuals able to shift their statuses and activities within trading networks over time. It argues furthermore that a focus on the precise ways in which traders entrust capital, people and commodities to one another, reveals the extent to which social and commercial relationships inside trading networks are frequently impermanent and pregnant with concerns about mistrust and contingency. Recognition of this suggests that scholars should focus on practices of entrustment rather than abstract notions of trust in their analyses of trading networks per se, as well as seek to better understand the ways in which these practices enable actors to handle and address questions of contingency.

Magnus Marsden joined Sussex in November 2013 from SOAS, University of London where he was Reader in Social Anthropology. He has conducted extensive fieldwork in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and worked on ethnographic projects in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Ukraine and China.