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Manali Desai


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 state formation, political parties, social movements, development, ethnic violence, and post-colonial studies. She is currently developing work on three new projects: aspiration and middle class formation in Indian cities; colonial rule and long-term development, and sex selection in 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. 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. 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."

Manali is leading a Research Group titled Infrastructures of Gendered Violence, which is funded by a two-year School of Humanities and Social Sciences grant (

She is also one of the convenors of the Decolonizing the Curriculum Faculty Research Group.

She has recently completed a project titled Colonial State Formation and Developmental Trajectories Within India funded by a Cambridge Humanities Research Grant .


DeLeon, Cedric, M. Desai and C. Tugal (eds.) (2015) Building Blocs: How Parties Organize Society. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press

Chatterjee, Piya, Desai, Manali and and Parama Roy (2009) States of Trauma: Gender and Violence in South Asia, New Delhi: Zubaan Books

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

Articles and Book Chapters

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

Desai, M (2016) ‘Gendered Violence and India’s Body Politic,’ New Left Review, 99, May-June

Desai, Manali (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, Manali (2014) 'Rethinking Hegemony: Caste, Class and Political Subjectivities Among Informal Workers in Ahmedabad,' in Nilsen, Alf and S. Roy eds. New Subaltern Politics: Reconceptualizing Hegemony and Resistance in Contemporary India. Oxford and New Delhi: Oxford University Press

Desai, Manali (2014) 'India', in Stone, John, Dennis, R., P. Rhizova, and A. Smith eds. Encyclopedia of Race, Ethnicity and Nationalism. Wiley-Blackwell

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

Desai, Manali (2012) 'Bengal,' in Singh, Prerna and Atul Kohli (eds.) Handbook of Indian Politics, Routledge: London and New York

Desai, Manali (2009) 'Colonial Legacies, State Formation and Repertoires of Ethnic Violence: The Case of Western India, 1940-2002,' Journal of Historical Sociology, 22(2):147-179

DeLeon, Cedric, Desai, Manali and Cihan Tugal (2009) 'Political Articulation: Parties and the Constitution of Cleavages in the U.S. India and Turkey,' Sociological Theory, 27(3):193-219

Desai, Manali (2009) 'A History of Violence: Gender, Power, and the Making of a Pogrom in Gujarat', in eds. Chatterjee, Desai and Roy, States of Trauma: Gender and Violence in South Asia, Zubaan Books

Riley, Dylan and Manali Desai (2007) 'The Passive Revolutionary Route to the Modern World: Italy and India in Comparative Perspective',  Comparative Studies in Society and History, 49(4)

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

Desai, Manali (2003) 'From Movement to Party to Government: A Comparison of Kerala and West Bengal, India', in ed. Jack Goldstone, States, Parties and Social Movements: Pushing the Boundaries of Institutional Change. Cambridge University Press

Desai, Manali (2002) 'The Relative Autonomy of Party Practices: A Counterfactual Analysis of Left Party Ascendancy, Kerala, India, 1934- 1940', American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 108 (2)

Desai, Manali (2001) 'Party Formation, 'Political Power and the Capacity for Reform: Comparing Social Policies in Kerala and West Bengal, India', Social Forces, 80(1):37-60

Other Publications

'BJP Victory: Leadership Cult of Insitutional Change?' LSE IDEAS blog 2014,

'The Mythology of Modi,' LSE Blogs 2013

Desai Manali and Indrajit Roy (2013) 'Why Doesn't the BJP Face Greater Resistance from Lower Castes in Gujarat,' LSE Blog, March 11.

Desai, Manali (2007) 'Wars of Religion,' Open Democracy, (

She is currently a member of the Editorial Board and Book Review Editor for the British Journal of Sociology.

  • Position: Lecturer in Sociology
  • E-mail:
  • Tel: 01223 334579
  • Address: Department of Sociology, Free School Lane, Cambridge CB2 3RQ
  • Dr Desai supervises graduate students