Professor Sumi Madhok

Professor Sumi Madhok

Professor of Political Theory and Gender Studies

Department of Gender Studies

Room No
English, Hindi, Urdu
Key Expertise
Feminist Political Theory,Human Rights,Coloniality,Transnational Movements

About me

Sumi Madhok is Professor of Political Theory and Gender Studies at the Department of Gender Studies, LSE. Quite unusually, she is a feminist political theorist with an ethnographic sensibility. Her work combines theoretical, conceptual and philosophical investigations with detailed ethnographies of lived experiences, processes of political subjectivation, and of contemporary subaltern political struggles for rights and justice, specifically, in South Asia. 

Her latest book is titled Vernacular Rights Cultures: The Politics of Origins, Human Rights and Gendered Struggles for Justice (Cambridge University Press 2021). You can watch the video of the book launch here. 

Sumi Madhok is also the author of Rethinking Agency: Developmentalism, Gender and Rights (2013); the co-editor of Gender, Agency and Coercion (2013); and of the Sage Handbook of Feminist Theory (2014). 

Professor Madhok’s scholarship goes beyond producing critiques of Eurocentrism and develops new concepts, theoretical frameworks and methodologies, which contribute to setting a new direction for the social sciences focused on epistemic interventions from the Global South.

Sumi Madhok is an anticolonial, transnational and interdisciplinary scholar, and her teaching and scholarship lies at the intersection of feminist political theory and philosophy, coloniality, transnational activism and social movements, rights/human rights, citizenship, developmentalism and feminist ethnographies.  She has been the recipient of numerous grants, prizes and honours, including from the ESRC, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The British Academy, and the Ford Foundation. During 2015-16 she also held the Leverhulme Research Fellowship. Sumi Madhok takes her teaching very seriously. In 2013, she was the winner of the ‘Major Review Teaching Prize for Outstanding Teaching’, and in 2017, she received the LSE Student's Union ‘Teaching Excellence Award for Inspirational Teaching'. In 2019 and 2020, she also received the ‘Excellence in Education’ Prizes for exceptional contribution to education at the LSE

Professor Madhok is a member of the editorial board of the journal, ‘Social Politics’ and of the editorial collective of the Palgrave Book Series Thinking Gender in Transnational Times. She is also a Faculty Associate at  the LSE International Inequalities Institute.

Sumi Madhok welcomes prospective PhD students to apply to work with her on her areas of expertise. Currently, she supervises the PhD of Alia Amirali and is PhD co-supervisor to Nour Almazidi, Lucas Mantilla, Oumou Longley and Nadia Ma (Department of Government). She is also PhD advisor to Niharika Pandit.  However, as she is on sabbatical leave until January 2023, she will not be accepting new PhD students for 2022-23.



Expertise Details

Feminist Political Theory; Agency and Human Rights; Coloniality; Vernacular Rights Cultures; Feminist Epistemologies and Methodologies; Developmentalism; Transnational Social Movements for Justice.

PhD supervision

She welcomes MPhil/PhD applications from students to study at LSE Gender with her on her areas of research expertise, which include feminist politics and theories; transnational rights/human rights politics and movements; feminist ethnographies; and postcolonial gendered politics, citizenship and developmentalism. 

Please see our PhD page for how to apply and what we are looking for in a research proposal.


Global Epistemic Justice: My  current work is on what I call Global Epistemic Justice. By global epistemic justice, I mean the imperative to take seriously epistemic interventions from the global south in a manner that matters epistemically. So, not to treat knowledge production from the Global South as ‘case studies’, or as the local variant of ‘the global’,  or quickly culturalized away as ‘custom’ or as vernacularised. But rather as  knowledges that are speaking to, with, alongside and also ‘speaking back’ to hegemonic forms of knowledge production. By epistemic justice, I also mean to advance critiques of the hardwired ‘colonial unknowing’ (Vimallassery et al 2016) and the ‘methodological insularity’, especially within the scholarship on global justice and human rights on the one hand, but also of the methodological nationalism, when people do talk about worldmaking in the Global South.

Towards this end, in June 2021, together with Mary Evans, I co-organised a two-day global workshop on ‘The Epistemic Urgency of Conceptual Diversity’. The workshop was multi- lingual, and attracted over 500 participants from across the globe. There were more than 100 submissions of abstracts in different languages, including Quechua.

But why insist on conceptual production from ‘most of the world’ and not just only ‘theory from the global South’, you might ask? Well, quite simply because concepts are building blocks of theory and enable us to visualise the world. Importantly, they enable us to envision but also to tell different stories of worldmaking. You can watch the recordings of all the workshop panels here.

In addition to co-editing a special issue on ‘Conceptual Diversity and Global Epistemic Justice’, I am also writing a set of new interventions on global epistemic justice.

Vernacular Rights Cultures and Rights Politics in ‘Most of the World’

My research on global epistemic justice builds on my recent book Vernacular Rights Cultures: The politics of origins, human rights and gendered struggles for justice (CUP 2021). In the book, I argue for the critical importance of an epistemic accounting of the struggles for rights and human rights in ‘most of the world’. 

Importantly, the book tells a different story of rights and human rights. It tells a story of rights and human rights that is articulated and fought for by subaltern groups in India and Pakistan. These are stories of the critical conceptual vocabularies, subaltern mobilisations,  and of conflictual gendered politics of rights; they are stories of the struggles for economic redistributive justice but also for representational justice; and, they are stories of conceptual diversity, of oppositional politics of protest against authoritarianism, and, of the political imaginaries that animate subaltern rights politics but also open up different futures and possibilities for rights and human rights around the globe.  You can watch a video of the book launch here. And, also watch a recent recording of a book talk given at the Centre for Advanced International Theory, Sussex here. 

Theorising Agency and Coercion in the Social Sciences

I started out in the academy with a very deep interdisciplinary interest in the philosophical formulations of autonomy and agency, and also in the empirical and normative life trajectories of developmentalism. Two books emerged from bringing together both these interests. My first book Rethinking Agency, develops a new conception of agency, which I subsequently broaden and develop into a wide-ranging intervention into theorising the thorny relationship between Gender, Agency and Coercion. The book essentially asks: How to  theorise agency in oppressive contexts? Through asking this innovative question, the book reconceptualises agency and thereby changes the conversation on individual agency and autonomy. This new conception of agency neither relies upon the ability to perform ‘free acts’ as a proof of critical consciousness, nor insists upon ‘open’ resistance to the oppressor as a sign of agency and autonomy. Instead, it shifts the theoretical gaze away from overt actions to an analysis of reflexive processes, motivations and desires that lie behind actions or inaction and as expressed in speech practices. To theorise this new conception of agency,  the book shifts the spatial geographies and ‘standard’ philosophical background contexts of ‘negative freedom’, ‘abstract personhood’ and action bias that dominate theoretical and philosophical work on autonomy and agency, and radically transports theory building on agency and coercion to a concrete empirical context of severe oppression in rural India where very marginalised women ‘development workers’ carry out the development work of the Indian state. Drawing on a year-long ethnographic research, the book empirically engages with the new theoretical agency framework but also draws attention to the normative impulses that drives international development in the Global South. 

Alongside my colleagues, Professor Anne Phillips (LSE) and Dr Kalpana Wilson (Birkbeck), I organised a day long research workshop on ‘gender, agency and coercion’ that resulted in a co-edited book, Gender, Agency and Coercion(2013).

Select Research Grants, Awards and Prizes

  • 2020-23. Mercator Professorial Fellow, University of Kassel.
  • 2020. LSE Excellence in Education Award
  • 2019. LSE Excellence in Education Award
  • 2017. LSE Student's Union Teaching Excellence Award for 'Inspirational    Teaching'
  • 2016.  Co-winner, LSE ‘Education Vision Fund’
  • 2015-2016. Leverhulme Research Fellowship
  • 2013. Major Review Teaching Prize
  • 2012. Visiting Fellowship, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi.
  • 2012. LSE Research Committee Seed Grant
  • 2008. 'Standard ESRC Grant' [RES-062-23-1609]
  • 2005-2007.  Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship'
  • 2005-2008--'Small Personal Research Grant', The British Academy; and, an ‘Individual Research Grant’, The Ford Foundation
  • 2003. 'Fieldwork and Travel Grant', The British Academy
  • 1997-2000: Inlaks Doctoral Scholarship
  • 1995: 'Nehru Memorial Fund Prize'




Vernacular Rights Cultures. The Politics of Origins, Human Rights, and Gendered Struggles for Justice by Sumi Madhok (2021)

How to decolonise global human rights? And, how to tell different stories of rights and human rights? Vernacular Rights Cultures argues that decolonising global human rights requires a serious epistemic accounting of the historically and politically specific encounters with human rights, and of the forms of world-making that underpin the stakes and struggles for rights and human rights around the globe. Through combining ethnographic investigations with political theory and philosophy, it goes beyond critiquing the Eurocentrism of global human rights, in order to document and examine the different political imaginaries, critical conceptual vocabularies, and gendered political struggles for rights and justice that animate subaltern mobilisations in 'most of the world'. Vernacular Rights Cultures demonstrates that these subaltern struggles call into being different and radical ideas of justice, politics and citizenship, and open up different possibilities and futures for human rights.


The SAGE Handbook of Feminist Theory (eds) Mary Evans, Clare Hemmings, Marsha Henry, Hazel Johnstone, Sumi Madhok, Ania Plomien and Sadie Wearing (2014)

At no point in recorded history has there been an absence of intense, and heated, discussion about the subject of how to conduct relations between women and men. This Handbook provides a comprehensive guide to these omnipresent issues and debates, mapping the present and future of thinking about feminist theory. The chapters gathered here present the state of the art in scholarship in the field, covering: epistemology and marginality; literary, visual and cultural representations; sexuality; macro and microeconomics of gender; conflict and peace. It is an essential reference work for advanced students and academics not only of feminist theory, but of gender and sexuality across the humanities and social sciences.

It is an essential reference work for advanced students and academics not only of feminist theory, but of gender and sexuality across the humanities and social sciences.


Rethinking Agency: Developmentalism, Gender and Rights by Sumi Madhok (2013)

Through an ethnography of the normative and political trajectory of developmentalism and rights in NW India, Rethinking Agency: Developmentalism, Gender and Rights proposes a new theoretical framework for conceptualising agency and coercion. It  tracks the ‘life trajectories of developmentalism’ and in particular the processes of subjectivation it puts in place-- of how individuals are transformed into subjects and as ‘agents of development’, and the ways in which individual rights and ‘rights based development’ function as a form of governmentality, setting in motion new ways of relating to the self and crafting new selfhoods while rendering marginal subjects ever more precarious and exposed to the technologies of developmentalism.

LSE India has recently blogged about this book.

Book review from the European Journal of Women's Studies


Gender, Agency and Coercion (eds) Sumi Madhok, Anne Phillips, Kalpana Wilson (2013)

This collection aims to think critically about agency and explore the relationship between agency and coercion in a range of regional, intellectual, ethical and political contexts. Contributions from Samantha Ashenden, Ngaire Donaghue, Mary Evans, Rosalind Gill, Clare Hemmings, Marsha Henry, Kimberly Hutchings, Emily Jackson, Amal Treacher Kabesh, Lois McNay, Sadie Wearing and Heather Widdows.


Selected Publications



  • Madhok, S. (2019). 'On Reading The Logics of Gender Justice', Social Politics: International Studies in Gender, State & Society, Volume 26, Issue 4, Winter 2019, Pages 503–511



  • Madhok, S. (2018) .’Coloniality, Political Subjectivation and Gendered Politics of Protest in a ‘State of Exception’, Feminist Review, 119 ( In Press).



  • Madhok, S. ( 2017). ‘Vernacular Rights Cultures and The Political Imaginaries of Haq’, Humanity: An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism, and Development. 8.3 Winter 485-509.



  • 2016.  Madhok, S. ‘Agency and Oppression: Two Views’, in Mary S. Evans ( ed.,) Feminism, Sage Benchmarks in Culture and Society.



  • 'From a Politics of Origins to a Politics of Meanings: Developmentalism, gender and rights' in Jay Drydyk and Ashwani Peetush (eds) Human Rights: India and the West Delhi: Oxford University Press.
  • 'Vernacular Rights Cultures and the "Right to Have 'Rights", Citizenship Studies, With Robin Dunford



  • Madhok, Sumi and Evans, Mary (2014) Epistemology and marginality In: Evans, Mary and Hemmings, Clare and Henry, Marsha and Johnstone, Hazel and Madhok, Sumi and Plomien, Ania and Wearing, Sadie, (eds.) The SAGE Handbook of Feminist Theory. SAGE Publications Ltd, London, UK, 1-8. ISBN 9781446252413
  • Madhok, Sumi and Unnithan, Maya and Heitmeyer, Carolyn (2014) On reproductive justice: ‘domestic violence’, rights and the law in India Culture, Health & Sexuality, 16 (10). 1231-1244. ISSN 1369-1058
  • Evans, Mary and Hemmings, Clare and Henry, Marsha and Johnstone, Hazel and Madhok, Sumi and Plomien, Ania and Wearing, Sadie, eds (2014) Handbook of feminist theory Sage, London, UK. ISBN 9781446252413



  • Madhok, Sumi. Action, agency, coercion: reformatting agency for oppressive contexts. In: Madhok, Sumi and Phillips, Anne and Wilson, Kalpana, (eds.) Gender, agency and coercion. Palgrave MacMillan, London, UK. ISBN 9780230300323. In press.
  • Madhok. Sumi, Anne Phillips and Kalpana Wilson. ‘Introduction’ and ‘Afterword’ in Gender, Agency and Coercion. Palgrave MacMillan, London, UK. ISBN 9780230300323. In press.



  • Madhok, Sumi. ‘Reflexivity’ in Mary Evans and Carolyn Williams (editors), Gender: key Concepts, Routledge. In press.
  • Madhok, Sumi and Rai, Shirin, M. Rai. ‘Agency, Injury, and Transgressive Politics in Neoliberal Times’. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 37 (3). pp. 645-669. ISSN 0097-9740



  • Madhok, Sumi. "Rights talk" and the feminist movement in India. In: Roces, Mina and Edwards, Louise, (eds.) Women's movements in Asia: feminisms and transnational activism. Routledge, London, UK. ISBN 9780415487030
  • Madhok, Sumi.  Poverty, entitlement and citizenship: vernacular rights cultures in Southern Asia. In: Chant, Sylvia, (ed.) The international handbook on gender and poverty. Edward Elgar, London, UK. ISBN 978184844334



  • Madhok, Sumi. Five notions of Haq: exploring vernacular rights cultures in Southern Asia. New working paper series, 25. Gender Institute, London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK



  • Madhok, Sumi. Autonomy, gendered subordination and transcultural dialogue. Journal of global ethics, 3 (3). pp. 335-357. ISSN 1744-9626



  • Madhok, Sumi. Autonomy and human rights. In: Van Den Anker, Christine and Smith, Rhona K., (eds.) The essential guide to human rights. Hodder Arnold, London, UK.
  • Madhok, Sumi .Autonomy, political literacy and the "social woman": towards a politics of inclusion. In: Bates, Crispin and Basu, Subho, (eds.) Rethinking Indian political institutions. Anthem, London, UK.



  • Madhok, Sumi. Heteronomous women? Hidden assumptions in the demography of women. In: Unnithan-Kumar, Maya, (ed.) Reproductive change, medicine and the state: ethnographic explorations of agency in child bearing. Bergahn Press, Oxford, UK, pp. 223-244.



  • Madhok, Sumi. A "limited women’s empowerment": politics, the state, and development in north west India. Women’s studies quarterly, special issue, "Women and development: rethinking policy and reconceptualising practice", 31 (3 & 4). pp. 154-173. ISSN 1934-1520

Teaching and Administration

Winner of Major Review Teaching Prize 2013 for outsanding contribution to teaching.
  • Convener MSc Gender and Gender (Research) degree programmes (not 2015-6);
  • Lecturer on half unit course Gender Theories in the Modern World: an interdisciplinary perspective;
  • Convener and Lecturer of half unit course GI402 Gender, Knowledge and Research Practice (not 2015-6);
  • Convener and Lecturer of half unit course GI411 Gender, Postcoloniality, Development: Critical Perspectives and New Directions (not available 2015-6);