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'