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Centre for South Asian Studies: Events


Signboards and the naming of small businesses:

Signboards and the naming of small businesses: : Promotion, personhood and dissimulation in a Sri Lankan market town
Speaker: Luke Heslop # University of Edinburgh
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Date and Time
26th Mar 2015 16:00 - 26th Mar 2015 17:30
Seminar Room 1, Chrystal Macmillan Building, 15a George Square


This paper concerns the naming of small business in Sri Lankafs largest wholesale market. While giving a name to a small business has an axiomatic instrumental property, identity and branding, by discussing naming practices against the backdrop of a more intimate set of criteria, such as, intergenerational relationships, male sociality within business families, and the production of a new family through a new family business, much more can be read from the names that decorate the signboards. Names given to small businesses evince a broader set of otherwise abstract social processes. Each optimistically selected business name, advertised on every carefully designed signboard, I argue, speaks to material and moral economies as well as perceptions of personhood.@Signboards and the names they bear tell stories about the past and the future, success and shame, separation and loss, violence and dissimulation. The paper also explores the connection between the family name and the types of commodities these names become associated with. In the context of the small business, I suggest that selecting the name of the small business marks a separation intimately interwoven into the life courses of business families in South Asia, akin and often coeval with the production of a conjugal home. The more sinister side of naming draws attention to the navigation of identity markers that have assumed new significance throughout the war in Sri Lanka, notably ethnicity and religion; as well as other less frequently documented markers of identity on the island that have existed relatively uninterrupted through times of conflict, namely caste. @@@