About

This blog is a space I use to share various things connected to my work and professional interests. This page of the blog summarises my professional work to date.

The focus of my professional work has been teaching, social research and various forms of civic engagement and activism. The core of my expertise and experiences lies in

  • a focus on the research methods and philosophy associated with social anthropology and ethnography (see below for a brief explanation of this),
  • a focus on the UK and India,
  • a focus on economic and social development, community work, and the potential for productive collaboration between university-based social scientists and practitioners working in the ‘real world’.

After studying for a BA in Economics, Politics and International Studies and an MA in Politics at the University of Warwick, I completed my PhD in Social Anthropology at SOAS, University of London, in 2012, as a recipient of an ESRC 1+3 doctoral scholarship. My thesis is an ethnographic study of community health work in rural areas of Maharashtra state, in western India (more details below).

From 2006 until 2009 I was a member of a small team running the Development and Human Rights Institute (DHRI), a not-for-profit organisation based in India that offered UK students a short course on development and human rights issues in India followed by an internship with a grassroots development organisation (I co-authored an article on this experience with the founder of DHRI in 2012). In 2011 I worked as a policy intern for two Members of Parliament, David Lammy (MP for Tottenham, where I lived at that time) and Paul Farrelly (MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme, where I lived in 2009 and 2010). I also worked as a researcher in the LSE-Guardian Reading the Riots project, and one of the interviews I conducted featured in the BBC documentary The Riots: In Their Own Words.

Between September 2012 and September 2013 I worked as a lecturer in Goldsmiths Anthropology Department, teaching in courses on India, Environmental Anthropology, and Applied Anthropology and Community/Youth Work. In September 2013 I joined the Centre for Community Engagement Research at Goldsmiths as a Research Associate, and initiated two community research projects in collaboration with voluntary sector organisations in the London Borough of Lewisham.

Since January 2014 I have been based in the Department of Anthropology at the London School of Economics. I am researching industrialisation and economic development in rural Tamil Nadu state, in southern India.

What is Social Anthropology?

My friend Giulia Battaglia recently suggested to me that Social Anthropology can be thought of as the work of cultural mediation: finding ways to help individuals and organisations understand each other across cultural difference. She pointed out that in the world we live in today there is a need for such work everywhere, whether the situation is a government body trying to understand why a scheme is having unanticipated effects in a particular neighbourhood or a company trying to understand how to work with contractors or clients from a different country. She also noted that such work continues to be undervalued, partly because it is often misunderstood; it is easier to grasp the idea of expertise in carrying out particular functions or tasks than to grasp the idea of expertise in making sense of how particular functions or tasks are connected to each other and embedded in particular webs of social relations.

My PhD thesis

Thesis abstract: This thesis is an ethnographic account of a community of activists in western India. Taking as its focus the relationship between reality and representation in the field of activism, the thesis develops new ways of analysing activism by drawing on contemporary scholarship on the study of narratives and controversy. Fieldwork over 20 months (2007-2009) was multi-sited. Although much of it was carried out in the city of Pune and adivasi (tribal) areas of Thane district in the state of Maharashtra, the thesis focuses on the national and international connections of activists based at these sites, in particular their links with the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan (People’s Health Movement).

The thesis is concerned with the practices of activists in relation to other activists. It explores how the narratives of activists about each other are mutually determined, describing the framework within which this mutual definition takes place as an ‘economy of stances’. The thesis examines the way in which these narratives are productive and useful for their narrators. Each chapter uses specific ethnographic data to develop this argument, documenting the activists’ rights-based campaign work, their involvement with the government’s National Rural Health Mission, and the distinctions they make between different types of social action. Each chapter finds different ways to problematise the categories used by activists, and examines how activists are constantly engaged in the work of managing the boundaries between the following: funded activities and actors versus voluntary ones; working with or against the government; service delivery versus campaign activities. Managing the boundaries between these categories is crucial to the activists: their ability to do what they do depends on it. This thesis challenges the idea that activist categories are peripheral to activism or can be taken for granted, and shows they are central to how activism works.

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