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Title: The politics of victimhood among displaced Chagossians in Mauritius
Author: Jeffery, L. R.
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2006
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In this thesis I examine the politics of victimhood among Chagossians in Mauritius, who were displaced from the Chagos Archipelago in the 1960s and early 1970s to make way for a US military base on Diego Garcia. The Chagossian case study calls for modification of several aspects of recent anthropological theories on displacement and the politics of victimhood. First, previous ethnographies of displacement have focused on relationships within displaced ‘communities’ and have only tangentially seen displaced people as political actors. By contrast, an understanding of the complex and changing relationships between Chagossians and Mauritians and a recognition of the Chagossians as political actors involved in their own struggles (for compensation and the right to return) and in local political movements are crucial for understanding the experiences of Chagossians in Mauritius, the emergence of collective Chagossian identification, and the form taken by the Chagossian struggle in Mauritius. Second, I show that Liisa Malkki’s categorically distinct concepts of ‘mythico-history’ and ‘cosmopolitanism’ are not necessarily mutually exclusive since many Chagossians have embraced both simultaneously. Collective historical imagination inspires self-identification as a victimised community and attracts external support, while interaction and intermarriage with Mauritians and integration into the Mauritian job-market are a necessary strategy by which to manage life in Mauritius and are not seen as threatening to the ethnic or cultural purity of the Chagossian community. Third, ethnographers of displacement have not yet shown adequate attention to the impacts of the passage of time in exile and of generational shifts on conceptions of a displaced ‘community’. As an ever increasing proportion of the Chagossian ‘community’ was born and brought up outwith the Chagos Archipelago and has never been there, Chagossians distinguish amongst themselves according to degrees of suffering, which they correlate with generational indicators such as place of birth, place of upbringing, and first-hand experience of the displacement. Fourth, the Chagossian case study offers a new perspective on community-building in exile, the ‘myth of return’ and visions of the future among displaced people. Most accounts of displacement assume the two likely outcomes are to remain in the host country or to return to the homeland. Since Chagossians and their first-generation offspring were awarded the right to UK passports in 2002, however, Chagossians now have the opportunity to migrate elsewhere entirely. While the ‘myth of return’ is strong among the older generations, the younger generations are instead migrating to the UK, implying contrasting visions of the future and contrasting concepts of the Chagossian ‘community’ in exile. My analysis recognises both the political mobilisation of a victimised community and internal divisions within that ‘community’ simultaneously.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available