Professor Laura Bear

Professor Laura Bear

Professor [Head of Department]

Department of Anthropology

+44(0)20 7955 7409
Room No
OLD 6.07
Office Hours
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Key Expertise
South Asia

About me

Laura Bear (PhD University of Michigan) specializes in the anthropology of the: economy; state; time; and urban ecology. Her work began with an exploration of the Indian railways as an intimate economy that reshaped politics, bureaucracy and domestic life (Lines of the Nation 2007). These themes continued in her work with Indian call centre workers, and more recently, on global trade and austerity on the Hooghly River in West Bengal (funded by the ESRC). A wish to support cross-disciplinary work rooted in anthropology has led Bear to take up positions as a board member in the: editorial collective of Economy and Society; LSE International Inequalities Institute and a new ESRC funded research network Rebuilding Macroeconomics. This last project is in collaboration with the National Institute of Social and Economic Research and leading economic policy institutions in the UK.

Her most recent book, Navigating Austerity (2015), addresses two key questions of our era: why does austerity dominate in state policy and how can we change this? Drawing on the experiences of boatmen, shipyard workers, hydrographers, port bureaucrats and river pilots on the Hooghly it proposes a social calculus. This measures policy according to the qualities of the social relations it generates. The book also develops new theories of state debt, speculation and time. She is now scaling up this research by tracking the infrastructures of maritime trade and new concepts of ‘resilience’ as they stretch from Japan, to India and the UK. In addition she has a growing research interest in the uncertainties of the ‘post-growth’ economy in Japan, innovative institutional experiments and the possibilities for new practices of the public good.

Time is a topic that Bear has examined in a number of collaborations. She was the director of the ESRC-funded research network, Conflicts in Time. This led to her editorship of a volume on Conflict, Doubt, Mediation: the Anthropology of Modern Time. Currently she is writing a book that examines contemporary forms of labour in/and of time.  

Public engagement is central to Bear’s research. She is the author of a novel based on her first fieldwork, The Jadu House (Doubleday/Black Swan 2000). She has collaborated with Hooghly river workers to produce five films that have been shown at the Persistance/Resistance Film Festival (2011) and the Thames Festival (2015). She organized an art exhibition with twelve artists on Conflicts in Time at Hastings Arts Forum (2011). She is also editor of the LSE Monographs in Social Anthropology.

Expertise Details

South Asia; anthropologies of the economy; state; time and urban/industrial environments.

Public conversations

For a short film on austerity and its alternatives see here.

For a conversation with Anatole Kaletsky, Stephen King and Owen Bennett-Jones on debt see here.

For a statement of the GENS approach to economics (developed with Ho, Tsing and Yanagisako) see the manifesto here.

For a conversation with Graeber and Maurer on Money and Redemption see here.

For a conversation with Piketty on time-insecurity see here.

For a conversation with Graeber and Mathur on austerity states see here.

Selected publications


Navigating Austerity: Currents of Debt Along a South Asian River, Stanford University Press, 2015. 

Lines of the Nation: Indian Railway Workers, Bureaucracy and the Intimate Historical Self,  Columbia University Press, 2007. 

The Jadu House: Intimate Histories of Anglo-India, Doubleday/Black Swan 2000.   

Edited Volumes

Bear and Mathur, Remaking the Public Good: a New Anthropology of Bureaucracy, Cambridge Anthropology (Special Issue), 33(1), 2015. 

Bear, Birla, Puri, Speculation: Futures and Capitalism in India, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East (Special Issue), 35:3, 2015. 

Doubt, Conflict and Mediation: An Anthropology of Modern Time, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (Special Issue), 20(S1), 2014.  


“Anthropological Futures: for a Critical Political Economy of Capitalist Time,” (ASA Raymond Firth Lecture 2016), 142-158, Social Anthropology, 25:2, 2017.

“Time as Technique,“ Annual Review of Anthropology, 45, 487-502, 2016.

“Capitalist Divination: Popularist Speculators and Technologies of Imagination on a South Asian River,” Comparative Studies in South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, 35:3, Winter 2015. 

Bear, L and N. Mathur, “Remaking the Public Good: a New Anthropology of Bureaucracy,” Cambridge Anthropology, 33(1),18-34, 2015. 

“For Labour: Ajeet’s Accident and the Ethics of Technological Fixes in Time,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 20(S1), 71-88, 2014. 

“Doubt, Conflict and Mediation: An Anthropology of Modern Time” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 20(S1): 3-30, 2014. 

“Capital and Time: Uncertainty and Qualitative Measures of Inequality,” Piketty Symposium, British Journal of Sociology, 65(4), 639-649, 2014.

“The Antinomies of Audit: Opacity, Instability and Charisma in the Economic Governance of a Hooghly Shipyard,” Economy and Society, 42(3), 375-397, 2013.

“Making a River of Gold: Speculative State Planning, Informality and Neo-Liberal Governance on the Hooghly,” Focaal, 61, 46-60, 2013.

“At the Vanguard of the Knowledge Revolution: Nationalism, Freedom and Consumption in the lives of international call centre workers in Kolkata,” Berliner Debatte 3, 14 Jg, 37-46, 2003.

“Public Genealogies: Nations, Documents and Bodies in Anglo-Indian Railway Family Histories,” Contributions to Indian Sociology, 35(3), 355-388, 2001.

“Miscegenations of Modernity: Constructing European Respectability and Race in the Indian Railway Colony, 1857-1931”  Women’s History Review, Vol. 3, No. 4, 531-48, 1994. 

Book Chapters

“’This Body is Our Body’: the Productive Powers of Viswakarma and Ranna Puja in a Neo-Liberal Shipyard” in F. Cannell and S. McKinnon (eds) Vital Relations: Kinship as a Critique of Modernity, SAR Press, 155-178, 2013.

“Sympathy and its Material Boundaries: Necropolitics, Labour and Waste on the Hooghly,” in C. Alexander and J. Reno (eds), Recycling Economies, Zed Press, 185-203, 2012.

J.M.Burki, C. Carolin, G. Pollock & L. Bear, “Warte Mal! And Interventionist  Art” in P. Basu and Sharon Macdonald, Exhibition Experiments: Technologies and Cultures of Display,Oxford: Blackwell, 154-174, 2007.

“Ruins and Ghosts: the Domestic Uncanny and the Materialisation of Anglo-Indian Genealogies” in J. Carsten, (ed), Ghosts of Memory: Essays on Remembrance and Relatedness, Blackwell, 36-57, 2007.

“An Economy of Suffering: Addressing the Violence of Discipline in Railway Workers’ Petitions to the Agent of the East Indian Railway, 1930-47” in A. Rao and S. Peirce (eds), Discipline and the Other Body, Durham NC: Duke University Press, 243-272, 2006.

“School Stories and the Interior Frontiers of Citizenship: Tracing the Domestic Life of Anglo-Indian Education” in V.Benei (ed), Education and Nationalism in Europe, South Asia, China: Manufacturing citizenship, London: Routledge, 236-261, 2005. 

My research