Laura Bear has a PhD in anthropology and history from the University of Michigan. She is a specialist on India and ethnographies of the economy, state, time, urban ecology and globalisation. Her first research was in a railway company town, Kharagpur, particularly among Anglo-Indian workers and their families. In this project she reread archives from the perspective of workers' accounts of and dispositions towards the past. Her book Lines of the Nation recasts the history of the Indian railways showing their influence on the formation of contemporary Indian nationalism, personal sentiments, and popular memory. It also traces the emotional life of bureaucratic practices and shows how these practices rework older idioms of social distinction and are legitimized by forms of intimate, affective politics. Subsequently she followed the theme of nationalism into the context of new forms of labour in fieldwork with international call centre workers in Kolkata.
She has recently completed a two-year ESRC-funded research project carrying out fieldwork with boatmen, shipyard workers, hydrographers, port bureaucrats and river pilots on the river Hooghly in Kolkata. 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 liberalisation attempts to alter its pleasures and utility. It focuses on the effects speculative processes of planning the future have on urban environments. It also explores the changing boundaries between religious, bureaucratic and civic life that are emerging on the banks of the river alongside the growth of contractual labour, de-unionisation and privatisation (especially in relation to celebrations of Ganga puja, Viswakarma puja and Durga puja). This work will result in further writing on the history of the river in Kolkata, in particular the Hooghly’s movement from a place of (often Muslim) labour to a Hindu place of middle class worship and working class recreation. She is also now scaling up this work into research on the new physical and emotional infrastructures of globalization in the Indian Ocean region.
Building on her research interests in time and globalisation she was the co-director with Stephan Feuchtwang of the three-year ESRC-funded research network, “Conflicts in Time: rethinking contemporary globalisation.” The research pages can be viewed here.
She also has a long-standing interest in communicating anthropological knowledge to the public. She is the author of a narrative non-fiction based on her first fieldwork, “The Jadu House: intimate histories of Anglo-India” (Doubleday/Black Swan 2000). She has directed five films based on her recent fieldwork on the Hooghly “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.
Forthcoming "The Antinomies of Audit: Opacity, Instability and Charisma in the Economic Governance of a Hooghly Shipyard" Economy and Society
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, forthcoming
2014 “Introduction: an anthropology of modern time,” 10,000-word theoretical essay,
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute special issue Bear (ed), Doubt Conflict and Mediation, forthcoming
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.