Dr Insa  Koch

Dr Insa Koch

Associate Professor of Law and Anthropology

Department of Law

020 7849 4992
Room No
New Academic Building 7.17
English, French, German
Key Expertise
The state; class; criminal justice; welfare; austerity; political economy

About me

Insa Koch is Associate Professor and Director of the Anthropology and Law Programme. Trained as both an anthropologist and a lawyer, Insa works on topics including social housing, democracy, politics, the welfare state and the criminal justice system. Her book with OUP, published in December 2018, is an ethnography of class, citizenship and punishment in austerity Britain.

In 2016, Insa was appointed Academic Fellow at Inner Temple. She is also a member of the LSE Mannheim Centre and sits on the management committee of the International Inequalities Institute.

Administrative support: Sarah Lee


Personalizing the State: An Anthropology of Law, Politics, and Welfare in Austerity Britain (OUP, 2018) (Clarendon Studies in Criminology)

Liberal democracy appears in crisis. From the rise of law and order and ever tougher forms of means-testing under austerity politics to the outcome of Britains referendum on leaving the EU, commentators have rushed to explain the current conjuncture. Starting with dominant theories that have seen these developments as indicative of a rise in penal populism or popular authoritarianism, Personalizing the State revisits one of the central paradoxes of our times: the illiberal turn that liberal democracy has taken.

This book goes to where much of the commentary has stopped short: to the lived experiences of citizens who inhabit some of Britains most stigmatized urban neighborhoods, namely its council estates that were once built to house the working classes. Drawing on long-term ethnographic fieldwork, it moves the question from why liberal democracy has taken a punitive turn to the how and the what: to how citizens experience democracy in the first place and what grassroots understandings of politics and care they bring to their encounters with the state.

Personalizing the State challenges dominant narratives of exceptionalism that have portrayed the people as a threat to the democratic order. It reveals the murky, sometimes contradictory desires for a personalized state that cannot easily be collapsed with popular support for authoritarian interventions. These popular forms of engagement reflect, in turn, a longer history of state control exercised against working-class people. Above all, the book exposes the states disavowal of its political and moral responsibilities at a time when mechanisms for collectivizing redistributive demands have been silenced.

click here for publisher's site


External activities

Insa is interested to disseminate her research amongst a broader audience. To this end, she contributes commentary pieces to internet blogs and she has been invited to give presentations to policy-makers and journalists in her area of expertise. Insa has organised a number of workshops and conferences, including a conference on class and identity politics at the University of Oxford and a workshop on the right to a home at the LSE. She is a member of the American Anthropological Association and the Law and Society Association.

Opinion and comment

Research interests

Insa is currently working on three projects: a collaborative ESRC funded project on 'ethnographies on advice' and a collaborative IGA-Rockefeller-funded project on 'challenging urban decline narratives' (see links below). She is also starting new research on modern slavery and exploitation.