Professor Alpa Shah

Professor Alpa Shah


Department of Anthropology

Office Hours
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Key Expertise
India, Nepal

About me

Alpa Shah is Professor of Anthropology at LSE. Her research and writings span many themes including revolutionary insurgency, state and citizenship; terrorism, democracy and human rights; global capitalism, inequality and poverty; agrarian change, precarious labour migration and informal economies of care; indigenous politics, conservation and environmental justice; race, caste, class and gender relations. Professor Shah’s deep immersive field research is among the forest dwelling indigenous people of eastern India – Adivasis – though she has also conducted research in Nepal and among Dalits – stigmatised as Untouchable – and has global comparative interests. Please see for more about Professor Shah’s research, writing and public engagement. 

Professor Shah's latest book, The Incarcerations: BK-16 and the Search for Democracy in Indiais on the Financial Times ‘What to Read in 2024’ list. The Incarcerations is the chilling story of the arrest and ongoing trial of the BK-16 – lawyers, professors, artists, journalists, poets, activists – framed as a terrorist clique, alleged to have incited riots at Bhima Koregaon on 1 January 2018, and waging a war against the Indian state. Diving deep into the lives of the BK-16 to ask why they were so dangerous, The Incarcerations shows the inspiring stories of their fight for democracy for India’s three main minorities – Adivasis, Dalits and Muslims. The book unravels how the Hindu right-wing instigators of the violence at Bhima Koregaon were exonerated and reveals new frontiers of cyber-forensic research which show how evidence was implanted on the computers of some of the BK-16. Through the story of this case and the lives of the BK-16, The Incarcerations charts the unravelling of democracy in the world’s largest democracy and asks what democracy should mean for all of us. 

Professor Shah’s last book, Nightmarch: Among India’s Revolutionary Guerrillas, based on years living in mud hut forest villages and in mobile camps of Naxalite insurgents, reveals the unexpected reasons why India’s indigenous people joined a Marx- Lenin- and Mao-inspired armed revolutionary struggle. Moving arguments beyond greed, grievance or coercion, Nightmarch highlights the role of intimate kinship relations developed between rebel movements and civilians, to explain why such movements spread but also how they fall apart. The story and analyses unfold over the course of a seven-night trek when Professor 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. Through five central characters, Nightmarch explores themes as varied as the relationship between renunciation and revolution, the internal contradictions of revolutionary violence and the spread of capitalism, and the ethnic and gender politics of class struggle. As the book proceeds, Nightmarch itself becomes a tragic metaphor for the history of this insurgency and its contradictions. Nightmarch won many accolades including being a finalist for the 2019 Orwell Prize for Political Writing and the New India Foundation Book Prize, longlisted for the 2019 Tata Live Literary Non-fiction Award, selected as a 2018 Book of the Year for the New Statesman, History Workshop, Scroll India, a Hindu Year in Review Book, a Hong Kong Free Press Best Human Rights Book and a Public Anthropologist Must Read. In 2020, it won the Association of Political and Legal Anthropology Book Prize in Critical Anthropology. 

Professor Shah’s co-authored Ground Down By Growth: Tribe, Caste, Class and Inequality in 21st Century India, a 2018 Book of the Year for the Hindu, draws on a major programme of research she led on inequality and poverty and explodes the myth of trickle-down economics. It shows how and why tribal and untouchable communities – Adivasis and Dalits – 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. Behind the Indian Boomis a major visual exhibition based on this research co-curated by Professor Shah.  

Professor Shah’s first book In the Shadows of the State: Indigenous Politics, Environmentalism and Insurgency in Jharkhand, India  moves the debates on indigenous rights beyond arguments about whether the concept of indigeneity is problematic or politically useful. Instead, it shows how cultural based activism can unintentionally marginalize the people it seeks to help if it neglects an analysis of how material inequalities are generated through an intersection of the state, economy and discriminatory practices. This point is substantiated through a deep analysis of wide-ranging issues – anti-poverty projects and corruption, democracy, environmental conservation, migration policies, insurgency and counter-insurgency. The book is based on two and a half years of living with indigenous people in the undulating forests of the state of Jharkhand, India.  

Professor Shah has edited seven 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. She has published widely not only in the top journals of anthropology but also in those of geography, sociology and development studies. See publications for a full list. Over the years, Professor Shah’s theoretical contribution to anthropology has sought to marry culturalist approaches with a wider political economy lens, shedding light on the processes of social transformation that both unite and differentiate communities. 

Professor 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, or served on, the editorial boards of several prominent journals in Anthropology including American Ethnologist, Journal of Royal Anthropological Institute, Focaal and Dialectical Anthropology, and on journals in South Asia Studies and Development Studies. At LSE, Professor Shah has a long-term involvement in the establishment of the International Inequalities Institute, whose management committee she served on till 2023, and where she convened a research theme on Global Economies of Care (now a research network). She is also on the advisory board of the Gender Department. Professor Shah has served on the juries of several prizes including the BBC Ethnography Prize

Professor Shah has been invited to speak all over the world about her research, from Dunedin to Princeton and has delivered numerous distinguished lectures including the Malinowski Lecture, the Strathern Lecture and the Firth Lecture. Professor 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’. She has also written for newspapers and magazines such as the New Statesman, the New York Review of Books, the Times of India and Hindustan Times. Professor Shah was winner of the 2022 ERC Public Engagement Prize. 

Professor Shah supervises PhD students working on any of the research themes mentioned above, working in any part of the world. 

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

Selected publications


2024 The Incarcerations: BK-16 and the Search for Democracy in India. HarperCollins: London and Delhi

2018 Nightmarch: Among India's Revolutionary Guerrillas. London: Hurst; Chicago: University of Chicago Press; New Delhi: HarperCollins. Also translated into Italian, French, Hindi and Bengali.

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).  Also translated into Hindi.

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).


2024 When Decolonisation is Hijacked. American Anthropologist. (The 2023 Strathern Lecture)

2022 ‘Why I Write: In a climate against intellectual dissidence.’ Current Anthropology. 63 (5): 570-598 (Includes Comments and Shah’s response titled ‘Why Write’)

2022 Understanding patterns of structural discrimination against migrant and other workers in some countries of South and West Asia. International Labour Organisation (with Igor Bosc, Jens Lerche, Miranda Fajerman and Neha Wadhawan).

2021 ‘What if We Selected our Leaders by Lottery? Democracy by Sortition, Liberal Elections and Communist Revolutionaries.Development and Change (The 2020 inaugural David Graeber Memorial Lecture and the 2019 Key Note Lecture for the Development Studies Association annual conference).

2021 ‘For an Anthropological Theory of Praxis: Dystopic Utopia in Indian Maoism and the rise of the Hindu Right.Social Anthropology. 29 (1): 68-86.

2021 ‘Black Lives Matter, Capital, and Ideology: Spiralling out from India’ (with Jens Lerche). British Journal of Sociology 72: 93-105.

2021 ‘Conjugated Oppression: Race, Caste, Tribe, Gender and Class’ (with Jens Lerche). Avneshi. Broadsheet on Contemporary Politics. 15. (Also translated into Tamil).

2020 ‘Migration and the Invisible Economies of Care: Production, social reproduction and seasonal migrant labour in India.’ Royal Geographical Society Transaction of the Institute of British Geographers. 45:719-734.

2018 'Conjugated oppression under contemporary capitalism: class relations, social oppression and agrarian change in India' (with Jens Lerche). Journal of Peasant Studies, 45 (5): 927-949

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 revolutionary praxis'HAU Journal of Ethnographic Theory 7 (1): 45-59. (Translated into Portugese and made into a comic adaptation).

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).