Nayanika Mathur is an Anthropologist of South Asia with wide-ranging research and teaching interests in the anthropology of politics, development, environment, law, human-animal studies, and research methods. I was educated at the Universities of Delhi (B.A. and M.A.) and Cambridge (MPhil and PhD). I have held postdoctoral research fellowships awarded by the Leverhulme Trust and the British Academy at Cambridge’s Centre for the Research in Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH).
My first monograph, Paper Tiger: Law Bureaucracy and the Developmental State in Himalayan India, was published in 2016 by Cambridge University Press as part of their ‘Law and Society’ series. Paper Tiger is a winner of the Sharon Stephens Prize awarded by American Ethnological Society for a first book. This book traces the translation of two widely commended laws into practice through an ethnography of quotidian bureaucratic life. Paper Tiger rejects standard explanations for developmental/state failure – rooted in inefficiency, incapacity, dysfunctionality, corruption, or violence – to present an alternate, ethnographically driven reconceptualisation. One of its original contributions has been to demonstrate the counter-intuitive effects of the push for ‘transparency’ in the functioning of the post-liberalisation Indian state.
I am currently engaged in two major research projects.
Firstly, I am writing a book centered upon human-big cat conflict in South Asia, tentatively entitled Crooked Cats: Human-Big Cat Entanglements in the Anthropocene. Crooked Cats works through fieldwork conducted with victims of attacks by big cats, hunters, conservationists, wildlife biologists, animal rights activists, and photographers as well as archival work in India. It describes how humans share space with big cats that might - but also might not - be predatory.
Secondly, I have begun a new project that studies the effects of the use of new technologies in the everyday working of government in India. This research builds upon my doctoral research on bureaucracy, welfare, and techniques of government in South Asia but substantially extends it by moving into a study of utopia, technology, and the intersection of technocracy and politics.
I am committed to decolonizing the Academy through my writing and teaching. I am convenor of the Qualitative Research Methods course (for South Asia) and an optional course on The Anthropocene. In addition to core course contributions, I co-teach the South Asian Ethnography course as well as the Public Policy and Development in South Asia course. I am also committed to diverse forms of public engagement, which is reflected in my popular writings, podcasts, as well as media pieces.