Theses Doctoral

Remaking Lives in Northern Sri Lanka: Migration, Schooling, and Language in Postwar Jaffna

Kuganathan, Prashanth David

This dissertation contemplates the radical shifts and changes in language and education due to and during the Sri Lankan civil war (1983-2009), utilizing the detailed method of classroom ethnography in postwar Jaffna to comprehend macro-perspective problems about language and nationalism in postwar Sri Lanka. It attempts to answer some of the following questions: In a country trying to heal and recover from the trauma of war and violence based on ethnolinguistic difference, what does postwar education and schooling look like? In a region of the country that has a proud history and heritage of Tamil language and culture, yet a simultaneous colonial and postcolonial tradition of English language education and schooling, and now, a continued postwar Sinhalese military and police presence, how do people negotiate and navigate these three distinct linguistic spheres of practice? From the perspectives of research informants and interlocutors, what does life look like in contemporary postwar Jaffna?

I find that almost three decades of war and outmigration have resulted in an ongoing transformation concerning learning, language, and life in the Jaffna peninsula. The decline in English language education combined with the predominantly monolingual Tamil-speaking environment that Jaffna provides for school children solidifies their ethnoreligious identities while limiting opportunity. However, we see a transformation in local economies due to war and emigration and the influx of remittance income, which has created new patterns and habits in consumption and even a shift in priority and work ethic. Therefore, we see the emergence of a new generation in northern Sri Lanka navigating this postwar space, embracing cultural changes that have been brought about by these processes of war, migration, and increased interconnectedness in what is still the most conservative and traditional region of the country.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Applied Anthropology
Thesis Advisors
Daniel, E. Valentine
Limerick, Nicholas
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
February 22, 2021