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Dr Anastasia Piliavsky

Dr Anastasia Piliavsky

Newton/ Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at CRASSH

Fellow and Director of Studies, Girton College


Over the past dozen years I’ve done ethnographic and historical research in the Indian province of Rajasthan, writing about crime, policing, secrecy, publicity, and gangster politics, among other things. But my main preoccupation today is with political life in South Asia. I am especially interested in the normative categories of demotic political thought and the distinctive shape that democracy has assumed in the region. I have written on the symbiosis of democracy and corruption in the region, and how it may inform democratic theory at large, editing recently a collection of essays on Patronage as Politics in South Asia (Cambridge University Press, 2014). I am also a co- Investigator on a large, international study of democracy and political criminalisation in South Asia. I am currently completing a book manuscript on a caste of professional thieves in rural North India and drafting another on Indian democracy.

Research Interests

Political anthropology, South Asia, democracy, hierarchy, the morals of crime, secrecy and publicity, political normativity.

Dr Piliavsky is Co-investigator of ‘Democracy and the criminalisation of politics in South Asia’ funded by the European Research Council and the Economic and Social and Research Council. From March 2016 she will also be working on ‘India’s democratic boom and its implications’ funded by the Leverhulme Foundation.

Key Publications


In Press. Stray People: Hierarchy as hope is a society of thieves. Stanford: University Press.

2014. Patronage as politics in South Asia (ed). Cambridge: University Press.

Reviewed in Foreign Affairs, The Hindu, The Statesman, Economic and Political Weekly, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Political Studies Review, Studies in Indian Politics, South Asia Review, and Politics in Spires (twice).

Chapters and articles

In press.  Hierarchy as a value in Indian democracy: An informal essay. Economic and Political Weekly. 

In press.  Secrecy and Continuity in Rajasthan, inThe scandal of Continuity, edited by Judith Scheele and Andrew Shryock. Bloomington: Indiana UP. In press.

2018.  Egalitarian fantasy and politics in the real world. Anthropology of This Century, 21.

2018.  Disciplinary memory against ambient pietism. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 7/3: 13-17.

2016.  The ethics of efficacy in north India’s goonda raj (rule of toughs), Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 22(2): 373-91 (with Tommaso Sbriccoli).

2015. India’s human democracy. Anthropology Today, 31(4): 24-7.

2015. The ‘criminal tribe’ in India before the British. Comparative Studies in Society & History 57(2): 323-54.

2015. Patronage and community in a society of thieves. Contributions to Indian Sociology 49(2): 135-61.

2014. Introduction to Patronage as politics in South Asia, edited by Anastasia Piliavsky. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1-35.

2014. India’s demotic democracy and its ‘depravities’ in the ethnographic longue durée. In Patronage as politics in South Asia, edited by Anastasia Piliavsky. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 154-75.

2013. The Moghia menace, or the watch over watchmen in British India. Modern Asian Studies 47(3): 751-79.

2013. Where is the public sphere? Political communication and the morality of disclosure in rural Rajasthan. Cambridge Anthropology 31(2): 104-22.

2013. Borders without borderlands: on the social reproduction of state demarcation in western India. In Borderland lives in northern South Asia, edited by David N. Gellner. Duke University Press, 24-45.

2011. A secret in the Oxford sense: thieves and the rhetoric of mystification in western India. Comparative Studies in Society & History 53(2): 290-313.