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

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 the lived experiences, processes of political subjectivation, and of 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).  She 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 epistemic direction for the social sciences focused on knowledge production from the Global South.

Sumi Madhok is a committed 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 prestigious 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 an affiliate of the Politics of Inequality research theme at the LSE International Inequalities Institute. She also sits on the LSE’s Advisory Board for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.

Sumi Madhok warmly welcomes PhD students to apply to work with her on areas of expertise. Currently, she supervises the PhDs of Alia Amirali, Nour Almazidi and Lucas Mantilla. She is also PhD advisor to Niharika Pandit.

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.


Her current work engages broadly with questions of feminist politics and more specifically, with questions of agency and coercion, with practices, discourses and circulations of rights/human rights and with ‘vernacular rights cultures’. She is also very interested in the empirical and normative life trajectories of developmentalism. In her first book, Rethinking Agency: Developmentalism Gender, and Rights (2013), she argues that taking up the question of oppression and subordination seriously, requires modifications in our conceptual understandings of agency. Through ethnography of the normative and political trajectory of developmentalism and rights in northwest India, her book focuses both on a specific question, i.e. how to think about agency in oppressive contexts, but also how to think more broadly about the relationship between gender, agency and coercion. It not only proposes certain modifications to our agency thinking – arguing for a move away from free action to evaluating speech practices – but also examines and illustrates this new theoretical framework through extensive ethnographic work documenting narratives of human rights and justice of women development workers in rural Rajasthan, India, carefully tracking the entry of developmentalist ideas, especially those related to individual rights, analysing their mode of deployment, operation, and the nature of transformations these induce, including new kinds of subjectivities, injuries, risks and forms of subjection. 

While carrying out several rounds of this ethnographic fieldwork, she became very aware of the innovative use of the literal and conceptual language of rights deployed by these development workers, and of the sociological and political relationships including identities that this language signified/upheld. This creative engagement and employment of rights by her fieldwork participants led her to think more broadly of the wider deployment of rights and human rights, particularly in citizenship movements in the South Asian region  and consequently, to her current  research project on vernacular rights cultures.

Her second monograph,Vernacular Rights Cultures, Citizenship and Gendered Politics in Southern Asia seeks to examine and conceptually capture the innovative language of citizenship entitlements in South Asia. The book puts forward a genealogical view of rights in South Asia, provides a detailed and a ‘grounded’ understanding of the contemporary articulation and practices of rights in the region and through documenting extensive rights ethnographies of citizenship movements in India and Pakistan, offers an assessment of how rights operate politically and of the political cultures they create paying particular attention to the forms of citizenship practices and subjectivities produced.

Recent Research Grants and Awards

  • 2020. LSE Excellence in Education Award
  • 2019. LSE Excellence in Education Award
  • 2017. LSE Student's Union Teaching Excellence Award for 'Inspirational Teaching'
  • 2015-2016. Leverhulme Research Fellowship
  • 2013. Major Review Teaching Prize
  • 2012. Visiting Fellowship, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Dehli.
  • 2012. LSE Research Committee Seed Grant
  • 2008. 'Standard ESRC Grant' [RES-062-23-1609]
  • 2005-2007. 'Mellon Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship'
  • 2005-2008--'Small Personal Research Grant', The British Academy; Individual Research Grant; The Ford Foundation
  • 2003. 'Fieldwork and Travel Grant', The British Academy
  • Among other prizes, she has been the recipient of the INLAKS doctoral Scholarship and the '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);