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Svati Shah

Associate Professor

Dr. Svati Shah is an anthropologist and queer feminist scholar who works on questions of sexuality, gender, migration and caste capitalism in India. Dr. Shah earned their doctorate in Columbia University’s joint program in Anthropology and Public Health and, previously, a Master’s in Public Health from Emory University. They are an undergraduate alum of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s Department of Anthropology.

Dr. Shah’s first ethnographic monograph, Street Corner Secrets: Sex, Work and Migration in the City of Mumbai, was published in 2014 by Duke University Press and by Orient Blackswan in India. It discussed sex work as an aspect of labor migration that is mediated by the politics of space, urbanization and caste. Drawing on a decade of ethnographic and archival research, the book showed that sex work is part of a range of economic strategies for survival among informal sector workers in Mumbai. Dr. Shah’s work has also appeared in a number of recent anthologies, including Paradoxes of Neoliberalism (Routledge 2021), Women in the Worlds of Labour (Orient Blackswan 2021), and Gender, Caste and the Imagination of Equality (Women Unlimited 2018), and in earlier collections, including Poverty, Gender and Migration (Sage 2006) and Non-Governmental Politics (Zone Books 2007). They have published peer-reviewed articles in a range of scholarly journals, including Antipode, the Economic and Political Weekly, New Left Review, Interventions, Cultural Dynamics, and South Atlantic Quarterly, and in blogs and magazines, including Himal Magazine, The Caravan, Seminar, Anthropology News, the Huffington Post, and Open Democracy. They have served as a guest editor for special issues of SAMAJ: South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal and the Anti-Trafficking Review

Dr. Shah is currently working on a book that is based on long term ethnographic research on the shifting political landscapes of queer and transgender social movements in India. The book, Dissent in Queer Times: Sexuality Politics and India’s Second (Undeclared) Emergency, offers genealogy of LGBTQI+ spaces that emerged from the autonomous feminist groups and the civil liberties and democratic rights organizations that initially formed in response to the declared (first) Indian Emergency of 1975-77. The book engages with the rise of authoritarianism and the histories of left social movements, queer feminist critique, and anthropology in South Asia.

Dr. Shah’s external affiliations include serving as a Research Associate in the Department of Anthropology, Archaeology and Development Studies at the University of Pretoria, South Africa as well as being a member of the South South Forum at Dartmouth College, and of the Global Research Programme on Inequality (GRIP) at the University of Bergen, Norway. Their research has been supported by the American Institute of Indian Studies, the Fulbright Foundation, and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.





“Borders and Boundaries: Thinking Migration, Sexuality, and Precarity in a Neoliberal Age,” co-authored with Sine Plambech, Mark Padilla, and Sealing Cheng, in Paradoxes of Neoliberalism: Sex, Gender and Possibilities for Justice. Edited by Elizabeth Bernstein and Janet Jacobsen, New York: Routledge. 2021.

“Impossible Migrants: The Debate on Sex Work and the Crisis of Global Migration.” South Atlantic Quarterly, 120(3): 515-532. 2021.

“Sex Work, Sex for Work, and the Spaces Between,” in Women in the Worlds of Labour: Interdisciplinary and Intersectional Perspectives. Edited by Mary John and Meena Gopal, New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2020. 

“Sedition, Sexuality, Gender and Gender Identity in South Asia,” a special issue of SAMAJ: South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal, Issue 20. 2019.

“Materialising Sexuality, Poverty and the Law” in Gender, Sexuality and Social Justice: What’s Law Got to Do with It? Edited by Kay Lalor, Elizabeth Mills, Arturo Sánchez García, and Polly Haste. Brighton: Institute of Development Studies. Pp. 72-73. 2016.

“Queering Critiques of Neoliberalism in India: Urbanism and Inequality in the Era of Transnational “LGBTQ” Rights.” Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography, 47(3): 635-651. 2015.

“Brothels and Big Screen Rescues: Producing the Idea of ‘Prostitution in India’ Through Documentary Film.” Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies, 15(4): 549-566. 2013.

“True Sex and the Law: Prostitution, Sodomy and the Politics of Sexual Minoritization in India,” in Sexuality Studies Reader. Edited by Sanjay Srivastava. New Delhi, India: Oxford University Press. Pp. 161-183. 2013.

“Sex Workers’ Rights and Women’s Movements in India: A Very Brief Genealogy,” in New South Asian Feminisms: Paradoxes and Possibilities. Edited by Srila Roy. New York:  Zed Press. Pp. 27-43. 2012.

“Sexuality and ‘The Left’: Thoughts on Intersections and Visceral Others.” The Scholar and Feminist Online, 7(3): Summer. 2009.

“Producing the Spectacle of Kamathipura: The Politics of Red Light Visibility in Mumbai.” Cultural Dynamics, 18(3): 269-292. 2006. 

“Solicitation, Migration and Day Wage Labour: Gender, Sexuality and Negotiating Work in the City.” Poverty, Gender and Migration. Edited by Sadhna Arya and Anupama Roy. Volume 2, Women and Migration in Asia Series, New Delhi: Sage Publications. 2006. Pp. 236-250. 

Courses Recently Taught

  • Worlds of Migration
  • Race, Class and Capital
  • Decolonial and Postcolonial Theories of Gender and Sexuality
  • Queer Temporalities
  • Gender and Sexuality in South Asia
  • Sexuality and Postcolonial Theory
  • Anthropological Perspectives in LGBTQ Studies
  • Marx, the Subject, and the Global South