TED NewsDesk, Cambridge: In a historical moment for India and the Commonwealth community, Dr Manali Desai, who is a fellow at Newnham College (Cambridge University), was appointed the Head of Department of Sociology. She is the first Indian origin woman do so in the 800- year old history of the University. Dr Desai is a reader in Comparative and Historical Sociology; her body of work is based on civil movements, ethnic and gendered violence and postcolonial studies.
She started her tenure as the Chair of the department in September. Referring to her appointment, Dr Desai commented, “Sociology gives us the tools to be able to investigate and understand the world around us, and so I think the department is a good place to be during periods of such upheaval.”
“We are living through a period of ferment, and we are at a crucial juncture when fundamental questions about our very existence are at stake. The discipline of sociology has always tackled the big questions, be it climate change, war, poverty, and intersectional social inequalities.”
Dr Desai shifted to Britain after spending her childhood and teenage years in India and the US. She earned her PhD in Sociology from the University of California, Los Angeles in the capacity of a Comparative and Historical Sociologist. Her oeuvre includes social movements, postcolonial studies, ethnic and gendered violence and parties and political articulation. She is working as Principle Investigator on GendV Project which is facilitated by the ESRC/GCRF Large Grant of GBP 1.76 million. The title of her project is called ‘Gendered Violence and Urban Transformation in India and South Africa’.
She emphasized that as the Head of Sociology Department, postcolonialism and decolonisation will serve as the central area of her inquiry. She adds,
“In Britain, there’s a massive reluctance to address the colonial past and issues such as racism and anti-immigration are often justified by such myopia. At the same time, paradoxically, imperial nostalgia emerges in all sorts of places,” and that,
“This has been a priority for the Sociology Department: we set up a working group with both staff and students in 2017, and it’s been pushing for changes, not just in our curriculum but also in terms of the pedagogy we use.”
Dr Desai, in her first publication, ‘State Formation and Radical Democracy in India, 1860-1990’, presented a historical view of two sovereignties in India. She also has worked as co-editor of several books and several journals have included her research work.
In her role as the HoD at Cambridge, Dr Desai hopes to go on working on academic journals and discourses. She also wishes to step out and construe a positive change in welfare law and current dialogues.