Laura Bear has a PhD in anthropology and history from the University of Michigan. She specialises in ethnographies of economy, time, the state and urban ecology. Her first project was in a railway company town, Kharagpur, particularly among Anglo-Indian families. Her book Lines of the Nation recasts the history of capitalism by tracing the technological project of the Indian railways and its effects on politics, timespaces and intimate identities. She later followed these themes among international call centre workers in Kolkata.
More recently she has carried out research with boatmen, shipyard workers, hydrographers, port bureaucrats and river pilots on the river Hooghly in Kolkata (funded by the ESRC). This work tracks the changes in the: socio-nature, sensory experiences, religious practices and livelihoods on the river that are emerging in the wake of austerity policy. Her book, Navigating Austerity draws on this ethnography to address a key question of our era: what happens to society and the environment when austerity dominates political and economic life? It radically rethinks economics according to a social calculus. This is a critical measure derived from the ethical concerns of people affected by national policies. It places issues of redistribution and inequality at the fore of public and environmental plans. In addition it develops new theories about the significance of state debt, speculation and time for contemporary capitalism. She is now scaling up this project into research on the new infrastructures of maritime trade financed by sovereign wealth funds that stretch from the Indian Ocean to the Thames Estuary.
Building on her interests in time she was the co-director with Stephan Feuchtwang of the three-year ESRC-funded research network, “Conflicts in Time: rethinking contemporary globalisation.” This led to her editorship of a volume on Conflict, Doubt, Mediation: the Anthropology of Modern Time. The research pages can be viewed here.
She also has a long-standing interest in public engagement. She is the author of a novel based on her first fieldwork, “The Jadu House: intimate histories of Anglo-India” (Doubleday/Black Swan 2000). She has collaborated with Hooghly river workers to produce five films: “The Burning of the Stomach,” “Ma Ganga Navigation,” “Silver Sand,” “Love Boat for Hire,” and “Kolkata Riviera.” She organized an art exhibition with twelve artists, “Conflicts in Time,” at Hastings Arts Forum in 2011.
She serves on the editorial collective of the interdisciplinary journal Economy and Society. She is a board member of the Society for Cultural Anthropology and chair of the Gregory Bateson Prize judging panel.
Forthcoming, Navigating Austerity: currents of debt on a South Asian River, Stanford University Press, May 2015.
Forthcoming, "Capital and Time: towards qualitative measures of inequality," Piketty Special Issue, British Journal of Sociology, December 2014.
2014 “For Labour: Mrinal’s accident and the ethics of technological fixes in time,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute special issue Bear (ed), Doubt, Conflict and Mediation: an Anthropology of Modern Time, 20 (S1): 1-88
2014 “Introduction: an anthropology of modern time,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute special issue Bear (ed), Doubt Conflict and Mediation, 20 (S1): 3-30
2013 "The Antinomies of Audit: Opacity, Instability and Charisma in the Economic Governance of a Hooghly Shipyard" Economy and Society 42 (3): 375-397
2013 (Spring), 'This Body is Our Body': vishwakarma puja, the social debts of kinship and theologies of materiality in a neo-liberal shipyard" in Vital Relations: Kinship as a Critique of Modernity, F. Cannell and S. McKinnon (eds), Spring, Santa Fe: School for Advanced Research Press, 155-178.
2012 (Autumn), Sympathy and its Material Limits: necropolitics, labour and waste on the Hooghly River," in C.Alexander and J. Reno (eds) Economies of Recycling, Zed Press, 185-203.
2011 (Autumn), "Making a River of Gold: speculative state planning, informality and neo-liberal governance on the Hooghly," in Focaal Vol. 6, 46-60.
2007. Lines of the Nation: Indian railway workers, bureaucracy, and the intimate historical self. New York: Columbia University Press.
2007. Ruins and ghosts: the domestic uncanny and the materialisation of Anglo-Indian genealogies. In Ghosts of memory: Essays on remembrance and relatedness, J. Carsten (ed). Oxford: Blackwell.
2007. (with G. Pollock & M. Burki) The politics of display: Warte Mal! and social documentary. In Exhibition Experiments, P. Basu (ed). Oxford: Blackwell.
2006. An Economy of Suffering: Addressing the violence of discipline in railway workers' petitions to the agent of the East Indian Railway, 1930-47. In Discipline and the Other Body, A. Rao and S. Peirce (eds). Durham: Duke University Press.
2005. School Stories and the Interior Frontiers of Citizenship: Tracing the domestic life of Anglo-Indian education. In Education and nationalism in Europe, South Asia, China: Manufacturing citizenship, V. Bénéï (ed). London: Routledge.
2001. Public genealogies: documents, bodies and nations in Anglo-Indian Railway family histories. Contributions to Indian Sociology (n.s.) 35(3): 356-88.
2000. The Jadu House: intimate histories of Anglo-India. London: Doubleday.