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.