Call for Papers: Special Issue of South Asian Review on South Asian Disasters

Call for Papers: Special Issue of South Asian Review

Topic: South Asian Disasters in 20th and 21st CenturyLiterature, Film, and Culture

We invite proposals for a special issue of South Asian Review on “South Asian Disasters in Literature, Film, and Culture.” Edited by Liam O’ Loughlin and Pallavi Rastogi, the volume will be published in the spring of 2023. The special issue will feature Debjani Ganguly (University of Virginia), who will write the lead essay in the volume, and Upamanyu Pablo Mukherjee (University of Warwick), who will compose a response to the theme of the volume. We will also submit the special issue for publication as a book later in the year as part of Routledge’s SPIB (Special Issues as Books) program.

South Asia has been roiling in new disasters nearly every year in the twenty-first century. The tsunami in Sri Lanka, border wars between Pakistan and India, the earthquake in Nepal, refugees rendered stateless in Myanmar, the rise of religious fundamentalism, and an uncontrollable pandemic: these are only a few examples from a long list of calamitous events devastating the subcontinent. Seeking to engage with this contemporary landscape of disaster, the special issue will focus on disasters of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

This special issue takes as its starting point two simple questions: what is a South Asian disaster? How is it represented in contemporary literature, film, and culture? Disasters are often erroneously conceived as sudden and catastrophic events, especially in the public imagination. Scholarly definitions of disasters are much more heterogeneous and contentious, including in their ambit “natural,” human, technological, medical, and financial calamities as well as sudden and slowly-unfolding crises. Yet, very little agreement exists between scholars on the exact definition of disaster. For example, the anthropologist Anthony Oliver Smith defines disaster as “a process/event involving the combination of a potential destructive agent.” Wolf R. Dombrowsky further states, “disasters do not cause effects. The effects are what we call a disaster.” In framing disaster within scholarly debates on the term, this special issue departs from dominant Eurocentric and often individualist interpretive models in cultural studies; instead it seeks to foreground collective, but differentiated, experience of catastrophe, and initiate conversations with numerous psychological, aesthetic, and political theories. We invite our contributors to use this absence of agreement among disaster theorists to engage with and generate new definitions of disaster. The essays in this volume will thus focus on South Asian literature, film, and culture to challenge, extend, and offer new definitions of disasters and their forms of representation. We are particularly interested in proposals that pose connections to the disastrous contemporary and respond to some of the interrogatives below:


  • What are some of the common themes and tropes emerging in South Asian disaster literature, culture, and film?
  • How do different iterations of South Asia become visible via disaster?
  • What solidarities, collaborations, or communities are depicted in the face of immediate or looming catastrophe?
  • How does the geography, history, and culture of South Asia distinguish the representation of disaster from other parts of the world?
  • What is the relationship between literature and the timeframe of disasters (usually described as sudden and slow-onset) in their origin?
  • How have representations of iconic disasters (the Bengal Famine of 1943, the Union Carbide gas leak in 1984, the 1971 cyclone in Bangladesh, the Kargil War, the nuclearization of the subcontinent) changed over time? How do they differ across cultural genres?
  • What role can literature and culture play in disaster planning, management, and reconstruction?


  • What literary forms are most organic to the narration of disaster?
  • Conversely, what are some of the more surprising and unexpected forms in which disaster can be narrated?
  • Are some nations in the subcontinent more representable as, and through the forms of, catastrophic narration?
  • How does the political project of narrating disaster intersect with the formal qualities of disaster narration? In addition to the spectacle-like aspect of some disasters that lends itself easily to literary narration, how is structural and slow violence—or disasters that are more difficult to represent as disasters—rendered into literature, film, and culture?
  • What digital genres, including social media, have emerged to represent past and present disasters? Is there a literary form to digital narration about catastrophe?
  • And what is the relationship between the rapid digitization of disastrous events and their subsequent literary or cinematic narration?


  • What are some of the ethical dilemmas in narrating disaster, especially the suffering of people viewed through the stereotypes of Western colonialism?
  • Why do some events become disasters that define a nation while other events are forgotten in the literary and cultural imagination?
  • How might a focus on disaster revive or reframe core debates within postcolonial studies (the status of the nation, the relationship of English to the bhashas, subaltern representation), or in related fields like the environmental humanities, trauma theory, narrative medicine, cinema studies, and world literature?
  • What are the economies of disaster representation? How are South Asian disasters marketed and consumed by publishing, tourist, and humanitarian organizations?
  • What are the best pedagogical approaches to teaching disaster studies, and the representation of South Asian disaster, in the college classroom?

Please email abstracts of no more than 300 words and a brief CV to Liam O’Loughlin ( ) and Pallavi Rastogi ( ) by January 1, 2021. Essays will be accepted on the basis of the abstracts and will be sent for peer-review on September 15, 2021. Fully-accepted essays will be published electronically (with a DOI number) on the Taylor and Francis website soon after they are submitted for copy-editing and proof-reading. We hope that the year-long span between this CFP and the due date of the first draft of the essays will encourage our contributors to write about disasters of the NOW, such as COVID-19, the CAA Act, and the revocation of Article 370 in Kashmir, and beyond. Please email the editors with any questions you have.

About the Editors:

Liam O’Loughlin is an Assistant Professor of English at Capital University. His writing on South Asian literature, disaster, and postcolonial studies has been published in Interventions, Comparative American Studies, Negative Cosmopolitanism, and Ariel. He is currently completing a book on South Asian disaster representations entitled Writing in the Wake.

Pallavi Rastogi is Professor of English at Louisiana State University. Her second book, Postcolonial Disaster: Narrating Catastrophe in the Twenty-First Century , was published by Northwestern University Press in April 2020. She has written widely on South African, South Asian, and South Asian diasporic literature.