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Centre for South Asian Studies: Research


Research Projects

Current and Recent Research Projects

Staff associated with the Centre have received exclusive grants, or a share of grants, totalling approximately £7.5 million (€9.4 million) in the academic years 2006-15. Most of these projects lasted for two or more years. Current and past projects are listed below.

2019-2022: Gurus, anti-gurus, and media in north India

Funded by the Leverhulme Trust (approximately £260k) and led by Jacob Copeman (Senior Lecturer, Social Anthropology).

The project builds on the applicant’s ethnographic studies of the modern Indian spiritual guru and the anti-superstition movement, applying methods from religious and media studies in order to understand the hitherto unrecognised ways visual media has become a site of intense interaction between gurus and the anti- superstition movement. The project seeks to promote a step-change in the elucidation of the relationship between Indian religion and media.

2018-2020: From the margins: Exploring Low-income Migrant Workers' Access to Basic Services and Protection in the context of India's Urban Transformation

Funded by the ESRC (total value £368,411) and led by Jeevan Sharma (PI, Social Anthropology) with Anuj Kapilashrami (CoI, Social Policy) and Patricia Jeffery (CoI, Sociology)

This two year project (May 2018-May 2020) aims to generate new understanding of access to health care, the social determinants of health, and experiences of violence, inclusion/exclusion and accessing justice, from the vantage point of diverse low-income migrant workers, from within India as well as cross-border. Based on fieldwork in Guwahati (Assam) and Jalandhar (Punjab), two of India's fastest growing cities, the project will focus on migrants' perceptions and lived experiences and will generate evidence to advance the rights and protection mechanisms that must be planned and provided for low-income urban migrants. Low-income migrants are mobile, dispersed and invisible, so they present methodological challenges, especially for creating a sampling frame or mapping in a particular locality. A distinctive strength of the project is its innovative methods for accessing these 'hard-to-reach' groups. This is a collaboration between School of Social and Political Science in Edinburgh and Department of Sociology at Delhi University (Dr Radhika Chopra). It is funded by UK's Economic and Social Research Council ESRC) in partnership with India’s Indian Council for Social Science Research (ICSSR). 

2017-2019: Teaching Feminisms, Transforming Lives: Questions of Identity, Pedagogy and Violence in India and the UK

Funded by the UK-India Educational Research Initiative (approximately £132,000) and led by Radhika Govinda (Sociology), this is a 2.5 year North-South research and pedagogic collaboration between the University of Edinburgh, UK and Ambedkar University Delhi, India. Co-Is from the University of Edinburgh are Meryl Kenny (PIR), Fiona Mackay (PIR), Kanchana Ruwanpura (Geography) and Pablo Schyfter (STIS).

The project offers a unique opportunity for us as feminist academics to reflect collectively and comparatively on the transformative potential of feminist classrooms at the University-level, delving into questions of identity and violence in two differently diverse yet hierarchical, neoliberal contexts in Northern and Southern locations. The central questions of interest are: How has feminism become institutionalised in the academy, and what part have women’s movements played in this regard in contemporary UK and India? What opportunities and challenges do students and teachers encounter in present-day feminist classrooms, especially with respect to questions of identity and violence? Given the push for digital social sciences, can digital technology be used to develop innovative pedagogic tools to confront social inequalities within feminist classrooms? How is neoliberalism affecting feminist activism and knowledge production, and are feminist classrooms addressing this issue? By engaging with these questions comparatively and within a single project, we hope to make an important contribution to ongoing efforts to decolonise the academy and decentre feminist knowledge production and dissemination.

2017-18 : Dr Arko Longkumer (Divinity) holds a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship on Fractured Landscape: Hindutva, nation and identity in Northeast India. With the 2014 election of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in India, Hindu nationalism (Hindutva) is on the rise. Like many nationalist movements, Hindutva seeks to promote a singular identity, but one that runs contrary to the aspirations of other groups in India. This project is the first to examine the impact of Hindutva in the sensitive borderlands of Northeast India, an area often considered to be ‘un-Indian’ due to its ethnically diverse population distinct from the rest of India. Firmly rooted in ethnographic research, the study explores four themes: Christianity and representations of patriotism; assimilating indigenous traditions with ‘Hinduism’; secularism and political theology; and ‘place-making’ and national belonging. The project will provide insight into Hindutva’s transformation in this region by broadening our understanding of the ambiguous relationship between religion, culture, and national identity. It will investigate the propagation of Hindu nationalism in the recalcitrant periphery of the Indian state, and its relation to the very concept of ‘India’.

2017-2018: ‘Negotiating the ‘paradox of participation’ to increase the social equity of participatory ecological monitoring in Nepal’, £119k

Funded by ESRC Grant (approximately £119k) and led by Sam Staddon, (GCRF Postdoctoral Fellow, Geoscience).  This Fellowship addresses the ‘paradox of participation’; that whilst communities adjacent to natural resources are increasingly engaged in their management, this engagement serves to reinforce existing social inequalities rather than counter them. Local elites are empowered at the expense of women, dalit castes and other marginalised groups. This Fellowship directs attention to the ‘paradox’ associated with participatory approaches to ecological monitoring, used for sustainable forest management and REDD+ (Reducing Emissions through Deforestation and Degradation) initiatives in the community forests of Nepal. It will engage practitioners and policy-makers in Nepal in a critical reflection and dialogue around the social outcomes of participatory monitoring and potentially in the co-design of approaches which focus explicitly on promoting social equity. I am particularly interested in understanding the role of development and community forest professionals, and the structures within which they operate, in configuring opportunities for such projects to become more socially just.

2015-20: Roads and the politics of thought: Ethnographic approaches to infrastructure development in South Asia

Dr Kanchana N. Ruwanpura (Geography) and Dr Laura Jeffery (Social Anthropology) are the academic team from the University of Edinburgh that will work together with Drs Deborah Menezes and Luke Heslop, as post-doctoral researchers to work, on an European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator grant awarded to Dr. Edward Simpson at SOAS, University of London.

The almost €2 million grant, with approximately £452,847 coming towards the University of Edinburgh, is a research project that involves ethnographic approaches to infrastructure development in South Asia.  The five-year project, entitled 'Roads and the politics of thought: Ethnographic approaches to infrastructure development in South Asia' will provide the first ethnographic account of the culture of road builders, their knowledge practices, interrelations and motivations. The academic team at the University of Edinburgh will focus on Maldives and Sri Lanka as their field studies.

2015-18: Becoming Coolies: Rethinking the Origins of the India Labour Diaspora, 1772-1920 AHRC £770,000 and led by Professor Crispin Bates, PI (UoE) and Dr Andrea Major, Co-I (University of Leeds), this 2 and ½ year grant (from March 2015) focuses on indentured labor migration from a historial perspective.

By placing Indian indentured labour migration in the context of longer histories of labour mobility in the Indian Ocean region in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Becoming Coolies project seeks to challenge existing assumptions about who 'first wave' Indian migrants were, how much information they had, and why they decided to migrate.

Read report here

2014-17: Continuity and Change in Indian Federalism : Leverhulme International Network 

Funded by the Leverhulme Trust (£118,000) this international network led by Dr. Wilfried Swenden, (UoE) brings together three UK partners (University of Edinburgh, University of Nottingham and University of Bristol) and three India based partners (University of Burdwan, University of Delhi and University of Hyderabad) with a view to study the dynamics of centre-state relations. The network focuses on three aspects: intergovernnmental relations, the management of ethnic conflict, particularly in the North East and the political economy of Indian federalism. It is primarily concerned with how these dynamics have changed as a result of the liberalization of the Indian economy and the legacy of coalition government at the centre (1996-2014).

Link to Publications Here

2014-16: Conversion, Translation and the Language of Autobiography: Re-inventing the Self in Transitions to Christianity in India (1700 - 1947) 
Funded by the AHRC £195,774 this is a two year project that started in  November 2014 and is led by Dr Hephzibah Israel. This is an interdisciplinary project that investigates the role of translation in the movement of religious ideas and beliefs across cultures and historical periods. The project explores to what extent translation theory and methods can offer conceptual and linguistic frameworks to study the way religions travel; and to what extent linguistic and conceptual elements of translation are linked to the articulation of religious identity. Focusing on narratives of religious conversion written by South Asians, the team explore links between the translation of Protestant values across languages and how religious conversions to Protestant Christianity were represented through a range of narratives.

To this effect, the project led by Dr. Hephzibah Israel has brought together an international team of academics from the UK, India and Germany: Dr. John Zavos (University of Manchester), Dr. Milind Wakankar (Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi) and Dr. Matthias Frenz (German research consultant). The team will identify and study conversion accounts written in and translated into one of the four languages of the project: English, German, Marathi and Tamil. They will study how conversion to Protestant Christianity was signalled through choice of words, narrative structures and ‘paratextual’ materials that accompanied the accounts. How does an individual who has self-consciously converted from one religious system to another indicate their ‘translation,’ so to speak, from one linguistic perceptual universe to another? What is lost or gained in translation?
More details can be found on the project website.

2013-15: Off the Grid: Relational Infrastructures for Fragile Futures - This is an ESRC Transforming Social Science Award that Drs Alice Street and Jamie Cross have successfully secured.

Their project sets out to visualise the relationships that make up infrastructures for health services and energy in places where infrastructure is celebrated or experienced as being ""off the grid"". Through a novel collaboration between two anthropologists and a visual theorist the project explores what can be learned theoretically and methodologically from thinking about infrastructure as relational across diverse spaces of wealth, growth and poverty - and how we can make these ideas speak to the challenge of building strong, resilient infrastructures for our fragile futures.

 2013-15: G04Health: Setting health-related development goals beyond 2015 - Professor Devi Sridhar leads the global governance work package in this project

G04 Health stands for goals for global health and for governance for global health. Goals and governance are the essential elements of a social contract, which is a political philosophy concept explaining the relationship between citizens and governments: together, citizens agree on a set of goals, and accept an authority empowered to take the necessary measurements to achieve those goals. Formulating new goals for global health, and proposing new governance for global health that allow the achievement of these goals is the focus of Professor Sridhar's work package.

2013:  The Politics of Names and Naming In India

An Independent Social Research Foundation Early Career Fellowship awarded to Dr Jacob Copeman, aims to examine historical strategies in naming and renaming practices in India with special reference to caste and religion. It also looks into what clues of Indian society in times of transition can be found through present naming strategies. Jacob Copeman staff profile

2012-17:  Understanding TB Control: technologies, ethics and programmes

This five year project awarded to Professor Ian Harper by Wellcome Trust to examine how TB programmes are practiced and will include research in India, Nepal, Papua New Guinea and South Africa. 

2012-15:  The Making Of A Solar Market In Rural India

A three year research project funded by the Leverhulme Trust was awarded to Dr. Jamie Cross. This project aims to develop a deeper understanding of the social relationships that are being built into and shaped by Bottom Of Pyramid markets for solar technology. The project was grounded in ethnographic research methods.

2012-15: Political Violence and Climate Change? Resource governance and post-conflict reconstruction in Nepal

This British Academy funded project (2012) was awarded to Dr Andrea Nightingale and Professor Crispin Bates. It explored how post-conflict politics and environmental change collide. In Nepal, over a decade of civil unrest has culminated in a tenuous democracy that has ramifications on climate change priorities and resource governance. This project focuses on these vectors as a point of departure.

2012-15:  Advances in Research on Globally Accessible Medicine (AROGYAM)

A research network which included the University of Edinburgh, Heidelberg University, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Achutha Menon Centre for Health Science Studies, Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology is interested in promoting and advancing research that focuses on globally accessible medicine for those most in need of such medical care. The project was led by Professor Roger Jeffery.

2012-14:   Marginal Populations, Social Mobilisation and Development

Dr. Hugo Gorringe (University of Edinburgh) and Suryakant Waghmore (TISS) won funding from the UK-India Educational Research Initiative [UKIERI] for an innovative collaboration on the theme of 'Marginal Populations, Social Mobilisation and Development'. This thematic collaboration will revisit the old and newer marginal populations – Dalits, Muslims, and Scheduled Tribes – facing development exclusions in India. 

2011-15: Rural change and Anthropoligical Knowledge in post-colonial India

Professor Patricia Jeffery was the institutional lead for the University of Edinburgh on this ESRC funded project. This project was a comparative 'restudy' of FG Bailey, Adrian C Mayer and David Pocock. A team of researchers led by Edinburgh's Professor Patricia Jeffery and Dr. Edward Simpson, (SOAS),  revisited the villages studied in 1950s by Bailey, Mayer and Pocock.

2012-13: Dalit Politics and Demoncratisation in Tamil Nadu

Dr. Hugo Gorringe and  Professor Rogr Jeffery secured an ESRC grant to study dalit politics in Democratisation in Tamil Nadu. In this ESRC funded project Hugo Gorringe (PI) revisited previous work on Dalit movements in Tamil Nadu. He charted the institutionalisation of the Dalit movement into political parties and worked with Roger Jeffery to analyse changing trends in Dalit voting in the state. The project was primarily based on qualitative, ethnographic fieldwork in Tamil Nadu.

2011-14: Politics, Ritual and Religion in India

Dr. Paul Dundas was involved ina Leverhulme funded project bringing together a team of researchers and institutions such as the British Musuem and British Library with Paul Dundas as one of its lead members. The team uncovers and asseses the widespread pan-Asian impact of the Gupta Age and its significance.  Paul Dundas staff profile

2010-13: Access to medicines in Africa and South Asia (EU FP7) -

Professors Allyson Pollock & Roger Jeffery, with partners in Ghent, Basel, Uganda, India and South Africa (€3 million), won a 3-year project from the EU. The project behan on 1 May 2010 and it was interested in focusing on howmedicine is accessed in South Asia and Africa - in comparative perspective.

2010-12: Biomedical and Health Experimentation in South Asia: Critical Perspectives on collaboration, governance and competition  ESRC/DFID

This was a ESRC/DFID funded project, amount to £399,514 awarded to Professor Roger Jeffery, with Professor Ian Harper, Dr. Robert Simpson & Dr. Salla Sariola (Durham) and Dr. Amar Jesani (Mumbai). It ran for two years from September 2010 and focused on how governance, collaboration and competition occur in the field of bio-medicine and health in South Asia.

2010-12: The Conversion Of Asylum Applicants' Narratives Into Legal Discourses In The UK And France

Professor Anthony Good was awarded an AHRC funded project. This project, has the primary objective of comparing processes of cultural translation involved in writing down and re-presenting South Asian and other asylum applicants' narratives of persecution by their legal representatives in the UK and France.

2009-10:  Subalterns, Rebellion and Migration

Professor CrispinBates built upon research into 'Mutiny at the Margins' and assisted by a grant from the British Association for South Asian Studies (2009-10), in this project to enquire into the massive upswing in out-migration to the sugar colonies of the British Empire that immediately followed the Indian Uprising of 1857.

2006-09: Tracing Pharmaceuticals

A research group under the leadership of Professor Roger Jeffery were awarded an ESRC-DFID research grant for the project Tracing pharmaceuticals in South Asia: regulation, distribution and consumption.  

2006-09: Mutiny at the Margins

Professor Crispin Bates was awarded an AHRC grant amounting to £450,00 and the grant period commenced in September 2006. 'Mutiny at the Margins' aimed to provide long overdue revisionist perspectives on the Indian Uprising of 1857 through thematic, collaborative research, a network of international scholars, and a major international conference held in Edinburgh in July 2007 to coincide with the 150th anniversary of this event.

2005-10: Educational Outcomes for the Poor

This £2.5 million project running from October 2005 until September 2010 involved Roger Jeffery, Neil Thin, Patricia Jeffery and colleagues in the Centre for African Studies here in Edinburgh and at the University of Cambridge, University of Oxford, and 4 partners in India, Pakistan, Kenya and Ghana.

2003-05: Demographic change in north India

Proferror Roger and Patricia Jefferywere in the lead in this project. This research in 2003-5 was the third round of qualitative and small-scale  quantitative demographic data collection from two villages (one Hindu  and one Muslim in Bijnor district in north-west Uttar Pradesh, India) first studied in 1982-83. They explored demographic changes,  educational experiences, aspects of gender politics (e.g. young women's  schooling, prevalence and scale of dowry payments), commercialisation  and the impact of economic liberalisation on village life.

2000-03: Schooling And Social Exclusion In Western UP, India

This ESRC-funded project awarded to Professor Patricia Jeffery examined how the growth of secondary schooling was changing patterns of social inequality and social exclusion in rural western Uttar Pradesh (UP). The project was led by Patricia Jeffery and involved Roger Jeffery (Sociology and CSAS) and Craig Jeffrey (Geography). For further details please visit the project web page at 

Group of workers about to start the next shift