Reader in the Department of Anthropology, London School of Economics and Political Science
Alpa Shah’s research has been driven by concerns for inequality, how it is produced and addressed, and how ordinary people experience it. She has drawn on extensive long-term ethnographic field research in India, and more recently Nepal, to comment on themes ranging from: the intersection of class, caste and ethnicity/indigeneity in indigenous rights activism and politics; the moral and political economy of the developmental state, programmes of poverty alleviation and practices of corruption; transformations in the agrarian economy and seasonal casual labour migration; citizenship, education and the politics of affirmative action policies; and the spread of emancipatory politics through class struggle, notably the Maoist movements.
Alpa Shah’s first major research, in Jharkhand State in Eastern India, analysed how the region’s indigenous or adivasi people understood the modern liberal developmental state, why they rejected it, and how they resurrected an alternative sacral-polity rooted in values of mutual exchange, consensus in decision-making and egalitarianism. In the Shadows of the State considers the significance of the politics of these alternative values in relation to the discourses promoted by international indigenous rights and development activists. Seeking to promote a class analysis in relation to a culture based politics, Shah argues that these well-meaning activists may unintentionally misrepresent and further marginalise the very people they intend to save.
More recent research focuses on the spread of revolutionary movements and analyses a Marx, Lenin and Mao inspired guerrilla insurgency in India and also Nepal. Windows into a Revolution illuminates the intimacies of everyday life amidst the spread of the class struggles in both countries. Dr Shah is currently working on a book-length manuscript on the Indian Naxalite or Maoist movement and has made a 30 minute documentary with BBC Radio 4, ‘India’s Red Belt|’ for the Crossing Continents series as well as reported for BBC Radio 4’s 'From Our Own Correspondent|' on the guerilla insurgency.
A third strand of research on inequality and affirmative action| analyses the impact of state legislation against institutionalised hierarchy. This work is explicitly comparative and focuses on the lessons learned from Indian policies of affirmative action (in dealing with caste) for the constitution making process underway in Nepal, and also considers the South Asian cases in relation to Latin America (and ethnicity/indigeneity). Explored through this research are: notions of justice and rights in the making of citizenship; the legacies of socialism and the effects of liberalization policies on the possibilities offered by affirmative action; as well as the relationship between political and socio-economic inequality.