Associate Professor in Social Anthropology
Director, South Asia Centre
D.Phil. Social Anthropology, University of Oxford, 1994; Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, Wolfson College, University of Oxford, 1994-96;
University College London, 1996-2009; Joined LSE in September 2009
Dr Mukulika Banerjee is currently completing a book manuscript based on 15 years of ethnographic data of rural voters and their multivalent engagement with elections and voting activities in West Bengal, India. It is part of her wider interest in the cultural meanings of democracy in South Asia, especially India, and in political anthropology more generally. Her most recent book Why India Votes? (Routledge 2014), the outcome of a major ESRC Grant, breaks several new grounds both conceptually and methodologically: it examines the reasons why despite varying odds, India’s voter graph continues to rise, making India the largest electoral democracy in the world. Voters across 13 states were asked the same set of questions, and their responses compared and woven into a socio-politico-anthropological narrative on the sacredness of participative political behaviour in a country marred by extreme income inequality, skewed access to resources, and dystopic infrastructural developments, intensified by an asymmetrical rural-urban divide.
As part of this interest, Mukulika also prepared a BBC Radio 4 documentary on ‘Sacred Elections’ for the Indian national elections in 2009; and a current grant from the Indo-European Networking Programme in the Social Sciences entitled EECURI (Explanations of Electoral Change in Urban and Rural India) has allowed her to expand this analysis to cover state and Panchayat elections. Her applied knowledge of anthropological methods to political behavior led her to be the founding Series Editor of the hugely successful ‘Exploring the Political in South Asia’ (Routledge) which is a platform for scholars to publish political-ethnographic studies on India. A complete list of titles published so far is available here.
Interweaving the political into social anthropology to understand human behaviour has been a core component of Mukulika’s long-standing academic engagement with South Asia. Her doctoral research, conducted in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa (North West Frontier Province), studied the non-violent Pakhtun movement in the 1930s-40s, and the articulation of identity politics alongside assertive political practices against imperial rule. The Pathan Unarmed: Opposition and Memory in the Northwest Frontier (James Currey, 2001) is the first ethnographic history of the transformative potential of the ethic of non-violent political action on the rank-and-file of the ‘Khudai Khidmatgars’ (Servants of God), who emerged from amongst the notoriously violent Pakhtun-Pathans in modern-day Pakistan.
Mukulika’s interests in the social aspect of the modern, engaging and negotiating with identity and its constructions while overcoming the discomfort that traditional anthropologists encounter once they leave their canonical hinterlands, are reflected in two other publications. Drawing on a grant from the British Academy, her collaborative work with Daniel Miller (Professor of Material Culture, UCL) on that quintessential South Asian women’s clothing, The Sari (Berg, 2003) explores how a simple piece of wrap-around cloth has survived the challenges of dramatic social change and the vicissitudes of more practical options to emerge as the most vaunted sartorial choice of millions of women across the region, especially in India. Richly reliant on visuals, the book is the first, path-breaking analysis of this singularly iconic attire, explaining how social attitudes and existential realities have determined the fate of what is ultimately 9 yards of unstitched cloth, over seemingly more utilitarian options like the salwaar-kameez and other Western garments.
The other is Muslim Portraits: Everyday Lives in India (Indiana University Press, 2008), an edited volume of essays by renowned scholars, which presents 12 portraits of Muslims in contemporary India, marked by an intimacy that relies on a singular methodological attribute: the absence of jargon. Nuanced, incisive, and often rendered in first person, the essays -- from Uttar Pradesh to Lakshadweep, Kashmir to Tamilnadu, Rajasthan and beyond -- confront the more judgemental corpus of academic and popular writings on Muslims in modern India. In a socio-political climate of prejudice and hostility, the importance of these life-histories lies in the reality of their being ordinary.
Together, Mukulika’s engagement with anthropology combines the social and the political, and her varied research and publications testify to the advantages of perforating stereotypical categories for a more textured engagement with anthropology.
She has lectured extensively on her work at various platforms in Berne, Bonn, Chicago, Columbia, Delhi, Duke, Edinburgh, Gottingen, Heidelberg, Illinois, Indiana, Kalyani, Kolkata, London, Madison, Melbourne, New York, North Carolina, Oslo, Oxford, Pavia, Paris, Philadelphia, Princeton, Sussex, and Yale.
Grants and Awards
Mukulika has received several prestigious grants and awards for her research. She is currently working on a project entitled ‘Explaining Electoral Change in Urban and Rural India’ (EECURI) funded by the India-Europe research networking programme of the ESRC, ICSSR and ANR (2012-16). This project brings together a network of scholars at King’s, LSE, University of London, Sciences-Po, JNU, BR Ambedkar University (Lucknow) and the NGO Janaagraha to study changing patterns of electoral politics in contemporary India. Mukulika is directing a series of ethnographic studies of Panchayat and State Assembly elections between 2012-2015, including studies of elections in Delhi, Bihar, Chattisgarh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and West Bengal. This research as part of a large-scale interdisciplinary research scheme (with partner institutions in Europe and India) that will uncover the reality of democratic governance in contemporary India. Forms of rule and popular responses to them are rapidly changing in liberalising India, yet we have no coherent body of data or theory with which to understand these, even though speculation on what shape they are taking is widespread in the public sphere. This project will fill this absence with micro-level ethnographic investigation across urban and rural settings. It will also unite the considerable pre-existing intellectual and fieldwork expertise at LSE and colleagues in Europe and India in a genuinely collaborative effort. It will involve primary research, theoretical workshops and training sessions at institutions in India and LSE and hopes to generate a transfer of skills between institutions, new data-sets and academic publications.
Previous grants and awards include:
• ESRC-BA Visiting Fellowship May-Sept (Fellow from India, 2010)
• ESRC grant for ‘Sacred Elections: A Comparative Study in India’ (2008-10)
• Leverhulme Fellowship (2003-4)
• Principal Investigator for British Academy grant for research on the Sari (2001-2)
• Nuffield Outstanding Social Science Grant (2000-1)
• Department for International Development (DfID) (1998-2000)
Media & Outreach
Mukulika is a regular commentator on and participant in a variety of events relating to South Asia, in a range of South Asian languages including English, Hindi and Urdu. Most recently, she has been invited to participate in the Southbank Jaipur Literary Festival; the BBC World and BBC Radio analysis of Indian Elections and other political developments; panel discussions at Asia House, the High Commission of India, and Bagri Foundation.
Other media and cultural engagements include:
A 40-minute documentary entitled ‘Sacred Election: Lessons from the biggest democracy in the world’ on the 2009 National Elections in India for BBC Radio 4, produced by Culture Wise.
Member of lead cast in feature film ‘Life Goes On’ (2009) Dir. Sangeeta Datta.
Interviewed as expert for BBC 2 series ‘Who do you think you are?’, December 2004.
Interviewed on ‘Woman’s Hour’, ‘Thinking Allowed’ (Radio4), ‘Everywoman’, ‘Outlook’ (World Service) and BBC Asian Network.
Invited to be expert ‘talking head’ anthropologist for TV series on National Geographic Channel on 13-episode series on ‘Taboo’.
Interviewed on BBC TV and Indian national Doordarshan television network and ‘Newshour’ on Star News Channel.
2014 Why India Votes? New Delhi and London : Routledge
2008 Muslim Portraits: Everyday lives in India (Ed) Delhi: Yoda Press and Bloomington: Indiana University Press
2003 The Sari Oxford: Berg (co-authored with Daniel Miller)
2001 The Pathan Unarmed: Opposition and Memory in the North West Frontier Oxford: James Currey, US: School of American Research Press, Delhi: OUP, Karachi: OUP
Series Editor, Exploring the Political in South Asia (2007-) Routledge; 10 volumes published so far.
A list of publications and conference papers appears here.
Teaching & Supervision
Mukulika offers courses on Anthropological Theory, Political Anthropology, Anthropology of India and South Asia among others. She also welcomes supervision on research proposals dealing with cultures of democracy and democratisation, Islam and Muslim societies, South Asia, and political anthropology more generally.
A complete list of supervisees appears here.