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Sociology Research


Professor Manali Desai received her PhD in Sociology from the University of California, Los Angeles where she trained as a comparative and historical sociologist. Her work encompasses the areas of parties and political articulation, social movements, ethnic and  gendered violence, and post-colonial studies.

Her current research, which is funded by the ESRC/GCRF Large Grant (£1.76 million) is a comparative qualitative project titled Gendered Violence and Urban Transformation in India and South Africa. Manali's first book State Formation and Radical Democracy in India, 1860-1990 (2007) was a historical analysis of the emergence of two different welfare regimes in India where social democratic parties have ruled consistently since independence.

She has also published her research in the American Journal of Sociology, Social Forces, Social Science History, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Journal of Historical Sociology and Critical Asian Studies, among others. Manali has co-edited two books titled States of Trauma: Gender and Violence in South Asia (2009) and Building Blocs: How Parties Organize Society (2015).

Research Interests

Manali's current work includes three projects: (1) Gendered Violence and Urban Transformation in India and South Africa (ESRC 2020-23) which examines gender and sexual violence in urban and peri-urban India and South Africa; (2) An analysis of the long-term articulation of ethnographies-nationalist politics in India and its relationship to the transforming political-economy; (3) A comparative study of colonial rule and long-term development in India funded by a grant from the Cambridge Humanities Research Grant. The project uses historical quantitative and qualitative data to examine state infrastructural power across India, and its effects on patterns of inequality, growth and basic goods provision.



SOC1: Introduction to Sociology

SOC3: Modern Societies II: Global Social Problems and Dynamics of Resistance

SOC11: Racism, Race, and Ethnicity

MPhil in Sociology: Political and Economic Sociology stream

Current Doctoral students:

Rashmi Singh

Shaaroni Leionaonapoina'ole Wong

Farhana Rahman (Centre for Gender Studies)

Ilaria Michelis

Graduate supervision availability and interests:

Manali is available to supervise graduate students in the areas she is currently researching, namely, postcolonial politics, gender, ethno-nationalism and violence. Potential applicants are encouraged to write to her with a CV and 2-page proposal of research clearly stating how your research fits her current interests. Regrettably she is unable to discuss admission requirements, or discuss research ideas that are not fully developed into a proposal.

Key Publications - Books

Roy, Indrajit and Desai, Manali (eds). 2023 (forthcoming). Handbook of Indian Politics and Society. Cambridge University Press

DeLeon, C., M. Desai and C. Tugal (eds.). 2015. Building Blocs: How Parties Organize Society. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press. (ASA Political Sociology Section: Distinguished Contribution to Scholarship (Article or Book Chapter) Award  (Honorable Mention)

Chatterjee, P., M. Desai and P. Roy (eds.). 2009. States of Trauma: Gender and Violence in South Asia.  New Delhi: Zubaan and Cambridge University Press.

Desai, M. 2007. State Formation and Radical Democracy in India, 1860-1990. [Studies in Asia's Transformations Series]. London and New York: Routledge. 

Key Publications - Book Chapters

Desai Manali, and Singh, Rashmi. Forthcoming ‘Chapter 18: Political Parties: Machines Politics and Clientelism’. The New Handbook of Political Sociology, edited by Janoski, Mishra, Mudge and de Leon. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Desai, Manali. 2019. “Democratic Trajectories IV: Comment,” in Alf Gunvald Nielsen and Srila Roy, eds. Indian Democracy:Origins, Trajectories, Contestations.” London: Pluto Press.

Desai, M. 2017. ‘The Emergence of Governance Discourse in Liberalizing India,’ in eds. Sekhar, M., Parasuraman, P, and R. Kattumuri, Governance and the Governed: Multi-Country Perspectives on State, Society, and Development. Springer: Singapore.

Desai, M. 2015. 'Weak Party Articulation and Development in India, 1991-2014,' in DeLeon, Cedric, M. Desai and C. Tugal (eds.) Building Blocs: How Parties Organize Society. Stanford: Stanford University Press. 

Desai, M., 2015. “Political Articulation: The Structured Creativity of Parties,” in Building Blocs: How Parties Organize Society, edited by Cedric de Leon, Manali Desai, and Cihan Tugal. Stanford: Stanford University Press. pp. 1-35 

Desai, M. 2015. ‘Hegemony and Ambivalent Subjectivity: Caste and Generation in Western India,’ in Roy, S. and A. Nielsen (eds.) Rethinking Subaltern Studies. Oxford and New Delhi: Oxford University Press, pps. 1-19.

Desai, M. 2009. 'A History of Violence: Gender, Power, and the Making of a Pogrom in Gujarat,' in eds. Chatterjee, P., Desai, M. and Roy, P. (2009) States of Trauma: Gender and Violence in South Asia, Zubaan Books and Cambridge University Press, India, pps: 293-313.

Key Publications - Journal Articles

Desai, Manali. 2023 (forthcoming). ‘An Eventful Critique of Crisis Language in Historical Sociology’, Social Science History, Vol. 47(1).

Desai, M. 2016. ‘Gendered Violence and the Body Politic in India', New Left Review, May/June.

Desai, Manali and Indrajit Roy. 2016. ‘Development Discourse and Popular Articulations in Urban Gujarat,’ Critical Asian Studies, Vol. 48, no. 1. 

Desai, M. 2012. "Parties and the Articulation of Neoliberalism: From 'the Emergency' to Reforms in India, 1975-1991," Political Power and Social Theory, Vol. 23. 

DeLeon, C., Desai, M., and Cihan, T., 2009. "Political Articulation: Parties and the Constitution of Cleavages in the U.S. India and Turkey," Sociological Theory, 27(3):193-219. 

Dylan, R. and Desai, M. 2007. "The Passive Revolutionary Route to the Modern World: Italy and India in Comparative Perspective," Comparative Studies in Society and History, 49(4).

Desai, M. 2005. "Indirect British Rule, State Formation and Welfare in Kerala, India, 1860-1960," Social Science History, Vol. 29:3, 2005. 

Grants and Projects

Desai, M. (PI) Gendered Violence and Urban Transformation in India and South Africa. ESRC Large Grant (2020-2023): £1.76m

Desai, M. (PI) Comparative Study of Gendered Violence: India and South Africa. School of the Humanities and Social Sciences (2016-18): £67,845

Desai, M. (PI) Colonial State-Building and Development Trajectories within India. Cambridge Humanities Research Grant (2016): £11,563

Desai, M. (PI) Beyond Identity?: Markets and Logics of Democratization in Post-1991 India. Leverhulme Trust Research Project Grant (2010-2013): £78,500

Desai, M. (PI) Ethnic Violence and State Formation in Western India. British Academy Research Grant (2006-2008): £6,750

Research Groups & Affiliations

Job Title:
Professor of Comparative and Historical Sociology, Fellow of Newnham College
Dr Manali Desai
Contact Information:
Please use 'Head of Dept" (hod) for department business