Dr Insa  Koch

Dr Insa Koch

Associate Professor of Law and Anthropology

LSE Law School

020 7849 4992
Room No
New Academic Building 7.17
English, French, German
Key Expertise
The state; class; criminal justice; welfare; austerity; political economy

About me

Insa Koch is Associate Professor in the law school and Director of the Anthropology and Law Programme at the LSE. Trained as both an anthropologist and as a lawyer, Insa  works on topics including the democratic crisis and populist movements, processes of inequality, the welfare state and the criminal justice system. 

Insa's book with OUP, published in December 2018, is an ethnography of class, citizenship and punishment in austerity Britain. The book was awarded the 2020 Hart Book Prize for Early Career Academics by the Socio-Legal Studies Association. It was also shortlisted for the Hart-SLSA Book prize in the generic rubric. 

Insa's current research is on 'modern slavery' and its moral-legal ramifications in relation to the illicit economy of county lines. She is also researching social polarisation in the Britain, including with respect to the unequal effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on vulnerable communities. 

In 2016, Insa was appointed Academic Fellow at Inner Temple. She is also a member of the LSE Mannheim Centre and a Faculty Associate of the International Inequalities Institute. She regularly contributes to public debates on inequality, law, politics, and the social effects of policy making.

Administrative support: Law.Reception@lse.ac.uk

Research interests

Insa is currently working on three projects: a collaborative ESRC funded project on 'ethnographies on advice' and a collaborative IGA-Rockefeller-funded project on 'challenging urban decline narratives' (see links below). She is also starting new research on modern slavery and exploitation.


Personalizing the State: An Anthropology of Law, Politics, and Welfare in Austerity Britain (OUP, 2018) (Clarendon Studies in Criminology)

Liberal democracy appears in crisis. From the rise of law and order and ever tougher forms of means-testing under austerity politics to the outcome of Britains referendum on leaving the EU, commentators have rushed to explain the current conjuncture. Starting with dominant theories that have seen these developments as indicative of a rise in penal populism or popular authoritarianism, Personalizing the State revisits one of the central paradoxes of our times: the illiberal turn that liberal democracy has taken.

This book goes to where much of the commentary has stopped short: to the lived experiences of citizens who inhabit some of Britains most stigmatized urban neighborhoods, namely its council estates that were once built to house the working classes. Drawing on long-term ethnographic fieldwork, it moves the question from why liberal democracy has taken a punitive turn to the how and the what: to how citizens experience democracy in the first place and what grassroots understandings of politics and care they bring to their encounters with the state.

Personalizing the State challenges dominant narratives of exceptionalism that have portrayed the people as a threat to the democratic order. It reveals the murky, sometimes contradictory desires for a personalized state that cannot easily be collapsed with popular support for authoritarian interventions. These popular forms of engagement reflect, in turn, a longer history of state control exercised against working-class people. Above all, the book exposes the states disavowal of its political and moral responsibilities at a time when mechanisms for collectivizing redistributive demands have been silenced.

click here for publisher's site


External activities

Insa is interested to disseminate her research amongst a broader audience. To this end, she contributes commentary pieces to internet blogs and she has been invited to give presentations to policy-makers and journalists in her area of expertise. Insa has organised a number of workshops and conferences, including a conference on class and identity politics at the University of Oxford and a workshop on the right to a home at the LSE. She is a member of the American Anthropological Association and the Law and Society Association.

Opinion and comment

'Social polarisation at the local level: why inequality must be repoliticised from within different localities' (March 2021). With Mark Fransham. LSE British Politics and Policy

'Twenty-first century slavery, young victims and county lines' (January 2021). LSE Research for the World

'Urban struggles: governance, resistance, and solidarity' (July, 2020). With Raúl Acosta, Flávio Eiró, and Martijn Koster. Introduction to special blog issue on urban struggles. Focaal Blog

'The Making of Modern Slavery in Austerity Britain' (June 12, 2020) Focaal Blog

'Who are the slave masters of today? County lines, drug trafficking, and modern slavery policies' (2019). Centre for Crime and Justice 

'Everyday authoritarianism: an anthropology of citizenship and welfare in austerity Britain' (2019) LSE British Politics and Policy Blog

'The Myth of the Mob Rule or the Myth of Democracy? An Anthropological Take' (2018) Howard Journal of Crime and Justice 57(1): 124-126.

'The labour of care: why we need an alternative political economy of social care' (2018) LSE British Politics and Policy Blog.

'Brexit Referendum: first reactions from anthropology'  (2016) Social Anthropology

'A vote of no confidence in the people in power: we need local control!' (2016) LSE Brexit Blog

'A policy that kills’: The bedroom tax is an affront to basic rights' (2014) LSE British Politics and Policy

'Bedroom Tax an "attack on public welfare"' (2013) LSE Comment and Opinion.

'The Bedroom Tax: A Two-Prolonged Attack' (2013) New Left Project

Public engagement

2021. 'Themed Special Issue on 2020 – a year of crisis or Kairos?' The Howard League for Penal Reform. Available to listen at: https://www.mixcloud.com/HowardLeague/

2021. 'Turning 12 year olds into drug dealers/the war on drugs'. VICE NEWS. 

2019. 'Estates'. BBC Radio 4 - Thinking Allowed.