Mizuho Matsuo has conducted anthropological research on gender and reproduction, focusing on biopolitics, kinship and reproductive bodies in South India. Her current research focuses on the theory of bodily substance such as blood and genes, and the role of genealogies in making ethnic and racial identities in South Asia.
Her research aims to examine various aspects of the politics of roots and genealogies by examining historical discourses and practices of ‘mixed-race’ in South Asia. The specific focus of this study is on the mixed-race groups born between Western colonisers and local women during the colonial period, known as Eurasians, such as Anglo-Indians in India and Burghers in Sri Lanka. Their definitions and legal status have evolved historically, but they have been seen as problematic by colonial rulers as they destabilise the boundaries between white/non-white and coloniser/colonised. While Anglo-Indians and Burghers share many similarities, there are differences in the paths followed by mixed-race groups in India and Sri Lanka. Her study examines the historical formation of both groups and outlines contemporary trends to get an overall picture for future analysis. It also aims to deepen the consideration of the desire for roots, which is back-illuminated by mixed-race groups.
During her fellowship at IIAS, she will be working on the historical development of Burghers in Sri Lanka, who are descendants of Dutch and other European men and local Sinhalese and Tamil women, emerged during Dutch and British Ceylon period. In 1883, ‘Burger’ was defines as one of ethnic categories referring to ‘a mixed blood born from any European men in Ceylon’, and its status was originated only from patrilineal lines.
In Ceylon, burghers, more specifically Dutch burghers, were involved in colonial administration as mercenaries and officials, and occupied a certain privileged position between the rulers and indigenous communities during the colonial period. After Sri Lanka’s independence and subsequent civil war, many of the burghers migrated to Australia and other overseas countries, but the burgers jati/race as a social category remains in Sri Lanka, where approximately 38,000 people live according to the 2012 census.
The intimacy that forms between colonial rulers and local communities is both a device that supports and threatens imperial rule. Even relationships based on overwhelming asymmetries can be subject to physical transformation as an unavoidable intimacy develops between them through everyday life and family formation. Mixed-race communities have been perceived in a negative light, as they embody imperial domination and their disintegration. Hence (or perhaps it should be said), mixed-race is also portrayed as transcending the politics of difference of the classification by empires and nation-states. During her stay at IIAS, she is going to examine the intimate colonial encounters between the Dutch and local communities in Ceylon, mainly by analysing VOC (Dutch East India Company) records and other sources in the Netherlands, in an attempt to understand the legacy of the VOC in South Asia from a different perspective.