Living on the Margins

Project: Research council

Project Details


This project uses literary comic strips to promote understanding of the role of borderland brokers in Nepal and Sri Lanka. Borderland brokers play an important but little understood role in mediating relations between the centre and periphery and in turn shaping the course of post-war transitions. These brokers include local political or military elites, traders or businessmen and women, or religious figures who mediate between centre and periphery and/or across international borders. The project will conduct life histories of a range of men and women from borderland or frontier regions in Nepal and Sri Lanka, two South Asian countries that have recently seen wars end. The project builds on the considerable momentum generated by two existing research projects ('Borderlands, Brokers and Peacebuilding in Sri Lanka and Nepal: War to Peace Transitions viewed from the margins' (funded by ESRC Dec 2015- Nov 2017) and 'State, Frontiers and Conflict in the Asia-Pacific' (2014-18, funded by the University of Melbourne), and several academic and policy networks established through these projects. It explores the life histories of brokers in order to better understand how these figures have shaped and responded to changing post-war dynamics linked to international and domestic peacebuilding and statebuilding interventions. We will collect multiple oral histories of respondents from the two research sites and from those, choose four stories from contrasting regions in Nepal and Sri Lanka (2 from each) to illustrate. The comics will be used in tandem with policy packs and educational resources to communicate key policy messages stemming from the research. We understand brokerage as a social relation that shapes how power is imposed and negotiated through the capacity of key individuals to mediate across social boundaries and between different scales. Brokers are 'network specialists' whose ability to straddle multiple life-worlds enables them to act as gatekeepers who mediate power and filter access to resources. We focus on brokers who are physically located at the margins of the state. Our starting assumption is that brokerage is central to post-war transitions. Military, political and economic brokers mediate valued resources and ideas between centre and periphery and across the borderline. In post-war transitions their roles may change; for example military actors become political party leaders or morph into businessmen, or development brokers. These figures may play a critical role in determining the extent to which borderland regions are integrated into the post-war settlement. For example, political leaders in the southern Tarai region of Nepal used their leverage to impose a cross-border blockade in protest at a new constitution. Their stories can therefore help to shed light on the shifting social, political and gender dynamics of conflict and peace, and paint a compelling picture of why conflict persists or how peaceful relationships are built. The project will produce literary comic strips and books, illustrating first person testimonies recorded with a range of brokers including Muslim politicians in Sri Lanka who struggle to mediate between the interests of their core constituency and the demands of the central state, 'manpower' agents who provide opportunities for marginalised villagers in Nepal to work overseas, and former para-military rebel leaders in Sri Lanka who switched allegiances during the war and went on to take up key positions in the Provincial administration. We will aim to publish these illustrated stories in the international mainstream media and through a variety of media platforms in Sri Lanka and Nepal. The project will critically examine the potential role of literary comics in research on borderlands and brokers, generating findings that will be of relevance to a wide range of researchers and scholars working on conflict and development.
Effective start/end date1/11/1630/04/18


  • AHRC

UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This project contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions


  • GCRF


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