Dr Alpa Shah

Dr Alpa Shah

Associate Professor

Department of Anthropology

Office Hours
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Key Expertise
India, Nepal

About me

Alpa Shah is Associate Professor-Reader in Anthropology at LSE and leads a research them at the LSE International Inequalities Institute on ‘Global Economies of Care’.  More details about her work are at https://www.alpashah.co.uk/.  

Dr Shah's "Nightmarch: Among India’s Revolutionary Guerrillas” was winner of the 2020 Association of Political and Legal Anthropology Book Prize, shortlisted for the 2019 Orwell Prize for Political Writing and the New India Foundation Book Prize. It was also a 2018 Book of the Year for the New Statesman, History Workshop, Sroll India, a Hindu Year in Review Book, a Hong Kong Free Press Best Human Rights Book and a Public Anthropologist Must Read. Nightmarch refers to a seven-night trek when Dr Shah found herself dressed as a man amidst a Naxalite guerrilla platoon, walking 250 km across the dense forests of eastern India at the peak of counterinsurgency operations in 2010. Framed by the government and the media as a deadly terrorist group, the Naxalites are Marx, Lenin and Mao-inspired ideologues and tribal combatants, seeking to overthrow a system that has abused them for decades, in what is now the world’s longest running armed insurgency. Based on years of living as an anthropologist with indigenous communities, Shah explores why they have taken up arms to fight for a fairer society and asks how they may be undermining their own aims. 

Dr Shah has also co-authored “Ground Down by Growth: Tribe, Caste, Class and Inequality in 21st Century India”, a 2018 Book of the Year for the Hindu. Drawing on major programme of research led by Dr Shah on inequality and poverty spanning India, this book explores how and why Adivasi and Dalit communities, who make up one in twenty-five people in the world, remain at the bottom of social and economic hierarchies despite the country’s economic growth. Dr Shah has also co-curated a photo exhibition, ‘Behind the Indian Boom’ based on this research. 

Dr Shah’s first book “In the Shadows of the State (2010)” is about indigenous politics, environmentalism, migration and development, and is based on long term participant observation amongst indigenous people in the forested state of Jharkhand, India. Dr Shah has edited seven other volumes on issues ranging from affirmative action, agrarian change, revolution in India and Nepal, emancipatory politics, economic growth in India, and Adivasi and Dalit political pathways. 

Dr Shah’s research has been generously funded by major research grants from the EU European Research Council, the UK Economic and Social Research Council, the British Academy and the Wenner-Gren Foundation. She serves on the editorial boards of several prominent journals in Anthropology including American Ethnologist, Focaal and Dialectical Anthropology, and on journals in South Asia Studies and Development Studies. At LSE, she has a long-term involvement with the International Inequalities Institute whose management committee she served on and is currently on the advisory board of the Gender Institute. Dr Shah is committed to public engagement and has reported and presented on the underbelly of India for BBC Radio 4 and the World Service including making a thirty-minute documentary on ‘India’s Red Belt’ for R4.


Expertise Details

India and Nepal; political and economic anthropology; the state; citizenship and revolutionary struggle; indigeneity; ethnicity; caste and class; agrarian transitions and labour; inequality and poverty

Public contributions

2017 Behind the Indian Boom: Inequality and Resistance at the Heart of the Economic Growth - an exhibition of photographs co-curated with Simon Chambers. Brunei Gallery, SOAS. An exhibition book was published by Adivaani. 

2017 BBC Radio 4 Thinking Allowed - 'Ethnography Shortlist Award', with Laurie Taylor, Sarah Neal and Shane Blackman broadcast on 10/4/2017. 

2015 BBC Radio 4 Four Thought - 'Lessons in Development', democracy, mining and development for tribal people broadcast on 9/12/2015.

2015 BBC Radio 4 From Our Own Correspondent - 'Uprooted but Unbowed', Adivasis driven out by anti-Maoist militia re-building lives in the forests of Central India broadcast on 30/5/2015 and on BBC World Service. Five minutes from 12.44.

2014 BBC Radio 4 Thinking Allowed  - 'Faith and Doubt', political and spiritual convictions in an age of uncertainty with Laurie Taylor and Mathijs Pelkmans broadcast on 20/1/2014. 

2012 BBC Radio 4 Thinking Allowed - 'Red Tape', a discussion with Laurie Taylor and Akhil Gupta on poverty programmes in India broadcast on 28/11/12.

2010 BBC Radio 4 Crossing Continents – ‘India's Red Belt', 30 minute radio documentary on India's Maoist inspired Naxalites broadcast on 6/5/2010 and on BBC World Service ‘Assignments Series’ on 27/5/2010.

2010 BBC Radio 4 From Our Own Correspondent - on India's Maoist guerrilla insurgency broadcast on 1/5/2010 and on BBC World Service on 30/4/2010.

2010 'Annihilation is the Last Choice: An Interview with Gopali, Special Area Committee of the Communist Party of India (Maoist)'Economic and Political Weekly 45 (19): 24-29. 

2008 Resonance 104.4 FM - Is Yosemite a Better Home for the Wild Elephants of Jharkhand, India? broadcast on 22/08/2008.

Selected publications


2018 Nightmarch: Among India's Revolutionary Guerrillas. London: Hurst; Chicago: University of Chicago Press; New Delhi: HarperCollins.

2017 Ground Down by Growth: Tribe, Caste, Class and Inequality in 21st Century India. London: Pluto Press (co-authored with Jens Lerche, Richard Axelby, Dalel Benbabaali, Brendan Donegan, Jayaseelan Raj and Vikramditya Thakur). 

2017 Behind the Indian Boom: Inequality and Resistance at the heart of the economic growth. Kolkatta: Adivaani. 

2010 In the Shadows of the State: Indigenous Politics, Environmentalism and Insurgency in Jharkhand, India. Durham (N.C.): Duke University Press. An Indian edition has been published in 2011 by New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Edited works

2016 'Beyond citizenship: Adivasi and Dalit Political Pathways in India' (edited with Nicholas Jaoul). Special issue of Focaal  Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology,vol 76: 3-14.

2015 'Emancipatory Politics: A Critique' (Edited with Stephan Feuchtwang). Open Anthropology Cooperative Press. 

2014 ‘Savage Attack: Adivasi Insurgency in India' (Edited with Crispin Bates). New Delhi: Social Science Press.

2013 ‘The Underbelly of the Indian Boom' (Edited with Stuart Corbridge). Special issue of Economy and Society 42: (3).

2013 ‘Agrarian Questions and Left Politics in India' (Edited with Jens Lerche and Barbara Harriss-White). Special issue of Journal of Agrarian Change 13: (3).

2013 ‘Towards an Anthropology of Affirmative Action: the Practices, Policies and Politics of Transforming Inequality in South Asia' (Edited with Sara Shneiderman). Special issue of Focaal, Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology, vol 65.

2012 ‘Windows Into a Revolution: Ethnographies of Maoism in India and Nepal’ (Edited with Judith Pettigrew). New Delhi: Social Science Press. An earlier version of this edited collection was published as a special double issue of Dialectical Anthropology 33 (3/4), 2009.

2006 ‘A Double-edged Sword: Protection and State Violence’ (Edited with Toby Kelly). Special issue of Critique of Anthropology 26 (3).


2017 'Naxalbari at its Golden Jubilee: Fifty Recent Books on the Maoist Movement in India'. Modern Asian Studies: 1-55. 

2017 'Ethnography? Participant observation, a potentially revolutionnary praxis'. HAU Journal of Ethnographic Theory 7 (1): 45-59. 

2017 'Humaneness and Contradictions: India's maoist-inspired Naxalites'. Economic and Political Weekly  52 (21): 52-56. 

2015 'Class Struggle, the Maoists and the Indigenous Question in Nepal and India'  (with Feyzi Ismail). Economic and Political Weekly  L (35): 112-123. 

2015 'Maoist Movement (Naxalites)' in Key Concepts in Modern Indian Studies,  Gita Dharampal-Frick et al (eds). New Delhi: Oxford University Press. 

2014 'The Muck of the Past: Revolution and Social Transformation in Maoist India'Journal of Royal Anthropological Institute 20: 337-356 (the Malinowski Memorial Lecture, 2012).

2014 'Religion and the Secular Left: Subaltern Studies, Birsa Munda and Maoists'. Anthropology of this century 9.

2014 'La Lutte Révolutionnaire des Maoïstes Continue en Inde' (article adapted by Jean-Paul Gaudillère and Stéphanie Tawa Lama-Rewal). Mouvements 77 (1): 55-75.

2013 'Response to Nandini Sundar's Response to 'The Tensions Over Citizenship in a Marxist-Leninist Revolutionary Situation: The Maoists in India'Critique of Anthropology 33: 476.

2013 ‘The Intimacy of Insurgency: Beyond Coercion, Greed, or Grievance in Maoist India'. Economy and Society 42 (3): 480-506.

2013 ‘Introduction: The Underbelly of the Indian Boom’ (with Stuart Corbridge). Economy and Society 42 (3): 335-347.

2013 ‘The Agrarian Question in a Maoist Guerrilla Zone: Land, Labour and Capital in the Forests and Hills of Jharkhand, India'. Journal of Agrarian Change 13 (3): 424-450.

2013 ‘Introduction: Agrarian Questions and Left Politics in India’ (with Jens Lerche and Barbara Harriss-White). Journal of Agrarian Change 13 (3): 337-350.

2013 ‘The Tensions Over Liberal Citizenship in a Marxist Revolutionary Situation: The Maoists in India'. Critique of Anthropology 33 (1): 91-109.

2013 ‘Preface’ (with Bernard D’Mello). An Anthology of José Carlos Mariátegui. Translated by Mark Becker and Harry E. Vanden. New Delhi: Cornerstone Publications.

2013 ‘Conservative Force or Contradictory Resource? Education and Affirmative Action in Jharkhand, India’ (with Rob Higham). COMPARE: A Journal of Comparative and International Education 43 (6): 718-739.

2013 ‘Affirmative Action and Political Economic Transformations: Secondary Education, Indigenous People and the State in Jharkhand, India' (with Rob Higham). Focaal, Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology (65): 80-93.

2012 ‘In Search of Certainty in Revolutionary India', in Windows into a Revolution, Alpa Shah and Judith Pettigrew (eds). New Delhi: Social Science Press. An earlier version of this edited collection was published as a special double issue of Dialectical Anthropology 33 (3/4), 2009.

2012 'Éliminer la Classe, la Caste et l'Indigénéité dans l’Inde Maoïste’. Terrain: Revue d’Ethnologie de l’Europe  58: 64-81.

2011 ‘Resurrecting Scholarship on Agrarian Studies in India' (with Barbara Harriss-White). Economic and Political Weekly XLVI (39): 13-18.

2011 ‘India Burning: the Maoist Movement’ in A Companion to the Anthropology of India, Isabelle Clark-Decès (ed). Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

2010 ‘Alcoholics Anonymous: the Maoist Movement in Jharkhand, India'.  Modern Asian Studies 45 (5): 1095-1117.

2009 ‘Morality, Corruption and the State: Insights from Jharkhand, Eastern India'. Journal of Development Studies 45 (3): 295-313.

2007 ‘Keeping the State Away: Democracy, Politics and Imaginations of the State in India’s Jharkhand'. Journal of Royal Anthropological Institute 13 (1): 129-145.

2006 ‘The Labour of Love: Seasonal Migration from Jharkhand to the Brick Kilns of Other States in India'. Contributions to Indian Sociology (n.s) 40 (1): 91-119.

2006 ‘Markets of Protection: The Maoist Communist Centre and the State in Jharkhand, India’. Critique of Anthropology 26 (3): 297-314.


2016 'The First Naxal: An Authorised Biography of Kanu Sanyal'  – By Paul Bappaditya. Pacific Affairs 89 (2): 472-474.

2015 'India's Democracy: Illusion of Inclusion'Economic and Political Weekly 50 (41): 33-36 (co-authored with Jens Lerche).

2015 'The Saint in the Banyan Tree: Christianity and Caste Society in India' – By David Mosse. South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal.

2014 'The World Before Her' – Film directed by Nisha Pahuja. Pacific Affairs 87 (3): 662-664 (co-authored with Simon Chambers).

2013 'The Anti-politics of 'Declarations of Dependence' (Comment on 'Declarations of Dependence' (2013) by James Ferguson). Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute19 (2): 254-255. 

2012 'Eco-Incarceration? Walking with the Comrades' (Comment on Broken Republic(2012) by Arundhati Roy).  Economic and Political Weekly 47 (21): 32-34. 

2009 'Asian Voices in a Postcolonial Age' – By Susan Bayly. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 15 (2): 430-431.

2009 'Ghosts of War in Vietnam' – By Heonik Kwon. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 15 (1): 194-194. 

2008 'A Brief History of Neoliberalism' – By David Harvey. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 14 (3): 707-708.

2008 'Social Movements: an Anthropological Reader' – Edited by June Nash. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 14 (2): 469-470.

2007 'Life and Words: Violence and the Descent into the Ordinary' – By Veena Das. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 13 (4):1056-1057.

2006 'Migration, Modernity and Social Transformation in South Asia' – By Filippo Osella and Katy Gardener. Journal of Royal Anthropological Institute 11 (4): 878-879. 

2000 'Food Policy and the Indian State: the Public Distribution System in South India' – By Jos Mooij. Biblio V (9/10): 11-12 (co-authored with Stuart Corbridge).