Reader in Social Anthropology
D.Phil. Social Anthropology, University of Oxford, 1994
UCL 1996-2009; joined LSE in September 2009.
Dr. Mukulika Banerjee is interested in the ethnographic study of democracy. For the past several years, she has conducted sustained research based in two villages in India (West Bengal) exploring the reasons behind the enthusiastic support for democratic ideals among largely illiterate, Muslim, paddy cultivators that also reflects a national trend. An anthropological approach can help transcend the traditional focus on democracy as just a matter of institutions or constitutions, and instead focus also on its true importance as a lived and delighted-in practice and arena of contested significance.
Her monograph on this subject is under preparation.
In July 2012, Dr Banerjee hosted a workshop to mark the launch of her new research project. Funded by the Indian European Research Networking grant, the three-year project will examine electoral politics at the grassroots level in India to analyse evolving forms of democratic governance and ask ‘why people vote’. Read more about the project on the India at LSE blog.
You can also download Dr Banerjee's monograph 'India: the next superpower?: democracy'. (2012, LSE IDEAS, London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK).
Dr Banerjee took part in the 2012 Festival of Asian Literature, organised by Asia House. On 22 May she discussed the political development, sacrifices made and futures of two of the most powerful women in the world - Aung San Suu Kyi and Sonia Gandhi. View a video of this discussion: 'Women, Power and Politics'.
In March 2012, Dr Banerjee took part in a panel titled 'Indian Democracy's Ferocious Faultline' The panel focused on the underside of Indian democracy as visible in, amongst other things, the insurgencies in Kashmir; a Maoist rebellion in the heart of India; growing inequalities between rich and poor; and the massively high rates of corruption within government. A podcast is available: Indian Democracy's Ferocious Faultline.
Comparative Electoral Ethnographies Project (ESRC funded)
In 2009 Dr Banerjee was awarded an ESRC grant to carry out a multi-sited study of the national elections in India in 2009. At an organizational level, an Indian general election is the largest single organized event in the world: 714 million voters, 8 million polling stations, 7 million officials, one million voting machines, votes cast in 5 phases which take into account the movement of troops, topography and monsoons.
Whilst voting is to some extent an instrumental act that bargains for better lives, it also reinforces a national pride in living within a functioning democracy, and serves as a key marker to the otherwise dispossessed of being modern citizens. Further, given India's enormous cultural, linguistic and historical diversity, elections have both a universalistic and particularistic appeal in each region across the country, such that the motivations for participation in different regions can be strikingly different. Through its focus on local variations and experience, the project will generate new, comparative understandings of the social, political and cultural life of elections in contemporary India.
Bringing together the strengths of large-scale surveys and local-level investigations, the project aims to provide comprehensive electoral ethnographies in 12 sites across India. These electoral ethnographies will mark a whole new approach in the study of elections in the rich and productive field of Indian studies. Rather than treat elections as dry statistical events that focus on the 'numbers game' and results, elections in this project will be studied with their full cultural and cosmological meaning, as the most important modern and secular festival of democratic India. A volume on the findings is under preparation.
In May 2009, she presented a 40 min. radio documentary on BBC Radio 4 on the findings of the project entitled 'Sacred Election: Lessons from the world's biggest democracy'. May 2007 Barbara Ward Memorial Lecture at University of Oxford
Click here to listen to the radio documentary
Whose Democracy?: Anthropological Perspectives from India
Abstract: In recognition of Barbara E. Ward's work in Hong Kong, a capitalist enclave in a communist setting, Banerjee explored themes of democracy and politics in a communist setting of India, the state of West Bengal. In the first half of the lecture, she explored answers to the question :Why do people vote? In India, electoral participation is positively buoyant, and unlike in the West, remains high. Although voting is not mandatory, and the journey to the nearest polling station can be long and effortful, general election turnout is over 60%, and state elections' for around 70%. Moreover, and again quite unlike in the West, propensity to vote increases down the socio-economic ladder, with illiterate poor, low caste more folk likely to vote than the educated, high caste middle class. Rural dwellers vote more than urban, tribal areas have caught up with the rest, and female voting rates are now much closer to men's. Exploring these trends, the research presented was drawn from villages where adult illiteracy is high as are voter turnouts. The ethnographic description of elections presented painted a picture of the 'vote festival' in which the public holiday, the presence of relatives who returned to their native villages to vote, the peer pressure to participate, and the satisfied exhaustion of an important duty successfully discharged, all suggested a strong affinity between the elections and religious; democracy was celebrated with the enthusiasm, colour and excitement common to all Indian festivals. Thus one important explanation of why people vote is because elections are considered 'sacred' in India.
On 13 May 2013, Mukulika Banerjee will be chairing a discussion on cricket at the Festival of Asian Literature http://asiahouse.org/events/
On 17 May 2013, Mukulika Banerjee will be speaking at a 'Why South Asia?' discussion at the British Academy http://www.britac.ac.uk/intl/whysouthasia.cfm
Selected Recent Publications
2011 'Elections as Communitas', Social Research, 78:1, Spring 2011
2009 Democracy: Sacred and Everyday in Democracy: Anthropological Approaches (ed) Julia Paley Santa Fe: SAR Press. Download Flier
2008 (Editor) Muslim Portraits: Everyday Lives in India a collection of essays on ordinary Muslims in contemporary India
2003 The Sari (co-authored with Daniel Miller) Oxford: Berg Publishers
2001 The Pathan Unarmed :Opposition and Memory in the North West Frontier Province Oxford: James Currey
Series editor of Book series entitled Exploring the Political in South Asia Routledge