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The Cambridge Migration Research Network

Studying at Cambridge


Dr Manali Desai

Department of Sociology

Lecturer in Sociology

State formation, political parties, social movements, development, ethnic violence, and post-colonial studies


Manali Desai's work encompasses the areas of state formation, political parties, social movements, development, ethnic violence, and post-colonial studies. She is currently developing work on sex selection, violence against women, as well as work on emerging political subjectivities in urban India.

Her first book State Formation and Radical Democracy in India, 1860-1990 (2006) is a historical analysis of the emergence of two different welfare regimes in India where social democratic parties have ruled consistently since independence. This book teased out the 'relative autonomy of politics' in the making of policy regimes, tracing long and complex transformations from the colonial to post-colonial period in the two states. She has published her research in the American Journal of Sociology, Social Forces, Social Science History, Comparative Studies in Society and History, and Journal of Historical Sociology.

Among her recent projects is a British Academy funded project (2006-8),that focused on the history of urban communal violence in India. She has co-edited a volume with Priya Chatterjee (UC-Riverside) and Parama Roy (UC-Davis) titled States of Trauma: Gender and Violence in South Asia (2009) which was funded by a Ford Foundation Grant. Her most recent research was funded by a Leverhulme Research Project Grant (2011-13) titled "Beyond Identity? Markets and Logics of Democratization in India, 1991-Present." This project examines the different logics of democratization that have emerged during the period of market reforms and neoliberalization in India. It investigates how caste and religion, in particular, have framed emerging political claims, and the consequences of these frames for participatory and social democratic outcomes. The project involved the collection of national-level data on specific political events, protests and various forms of contention from newspapers and other primary sources. A second part of the project involved in-depth interviews with informal workers in the city of Ahmedabad, examining how notions of 'development' after liberalization have informed political subjectivities.

She is now working on a comparative study of the political articulation of liberalization. In addition she is beginning work on how male preference and sex selection in the context of liberalization in India.