I am an anthropologist working at the intersections of the material and the symbolic. 

My research interests have pursued three broad social phenomena and their related questions:

  • social group formation (esp. caste)– how do groups form and persist and generate identities? what makes a group identity and sense of belonging? how does boundary making / marking occur? where, when and how is ‘difference’ demanded and produced as part of group formation?  
  • social inequalities (esp., caste) – how do social inequalities arise and get reproduced? how do social inequalities intersect with economic inequalities and resources and political domination and power? how is social inequality sustained through practices and structures? 
  • legitimation / legitimacy – how is social inequality justified or legitimized? how and where does social inequality and the social group appear ‘natural’ and legitimate in the eyes of believers? how does culture – the capacity and practice of meaning-making – aid the legitimation of inequality? how do forms of inequality adapt to new political-economic conditions?   

These questions have shaped my research on caste associations (in central India and more broadly on caste in South Asia and beyond), on issues of development (domestic work and most recently on toilet use and sanitation), on food and food politics, and on ethnonationalism. 

I am a Professor of Anthropology in the Department of Community and Social Justice at William Paterson University of New Jersey , USA. Most of my students are first-generation college goers, a large proportion are new immigrants, a majority are minoritized, and a majority work at least one job – making my job as a teacher as exciting as it is challenging, and with the classroom being a place for keeping me grounded in reality. 

My journey to anthropology has been from the bilges of Indian merchant naval ships as a marine engineer, and through corporate cubicles as a software developer in the USA. While sailing the seas taught me about dignity of labor, and lessons on power, crisis, hierarchy and work within enclosed spaces, my stint in software development gave me glimpses into racialized workforces and technological change. Neither equipped me however, to answer my dimly articulated questions but long-felt concerns about inequalities and historical subjectivities in social life. That was until I moved in/to anthropology. My research projects interweave these concerns with public engagement.