Department Head, Sociology
Professor of Sociology and Asian and Asian American Studies
PhD, 1990, Sociology, Washington University, USA
MSW, 1982, Bombay University, India
BSc, 1978, Microbiology, Bombay University, India
Spring 2020 Course(s):
SOCI 5003 – 001: Teaching Sociology
Manisha Desai is Professor of Sociology and Asian and Asian American Studies at the University of Connecticut. Committed to decolonizing knowledge and social justice, her research and teaching interests include Gender and Globalization, Transnational Feminisms and women’s movements, Human Rights movements, and Contemporary Indian Society.
Currently, she’s completing a book manuscript on the Changing Dynamics of Four Decades of Women’s Movements in India. Based on eight months of field research in Maharashtra, India, funded by the American Institute of India Studies Senior Research Fellowship, this work examines the changing understanding of gender-based violence and justice, the new actors including LGBTKQHI who are also working on these issues, and the relationships among the various actors and the Brahmanic, neoliberal state.
Additionally, she’s writing about Dalit activists who were part of the Satya Shodak Samaj (Truth Seekers Society) and their contributions to feminist theory in particular and social theory in general.
Her most recent book is Subaltern Movements in India: The Gendered Geography of struggle Against Neoliberal Development (Routledge 2016). Based on nine months of ethnographic research, funded by Fulbright Hays Faculty Research Abroad Fellowship, she analyzes three subaltern movements by adivasis (indigenous people), farmers, and fishers against “development by dispossession.” She shows that the movements succeeded because of the deepening of democracy in India, albeit in tandem with coercive state initiatives, but gender remains a challenge for the movements, the state, and social theory. Drawing upon innovative perspectives in social-legal studies, critical geography, and feminist studies she defines several new concepts to show how ongoing relationships among various local fields of protest enabled activists and advocates to use legalism from below to exploit the changing legal architecture of the Indian state and to win substantial victories for subaltern groups.
Among her other books are: Gender, Family, and Law in a Globalizing Middle East and South Asia (co-edited with Ken Cuno, 2010, Syracuse University Press); Gender and the Politics of Possibilities: Rethinking Globalization (2008, Rowman and Littlefield) and Women’s Activism and Globalization: Linking Local Struggles to Transnational Politics (co-edited with Nancy Naples, 2002, Routledge).
She was the 2015 Sociologist for Women in Society’s (SWS) Distinguished Feminist Lecturer, an award that recognizes a body of feminist scholarship that has made important contributions to further our understanding of Gender. She has held several elected offices in the International Sociological Association, American Sociological Association and SWS, including President of SWS in 2007, and served on numerous editorial boards including American Sociological Review and the International Feminist Journal of Politics.
Her commitment in all these offices has been to bring in voices from the Global South and marginalized communities in the Global North to engage in a critical public sociology that is centered around social justice and a critical human rights perspective. For example, as President of Sociologists for Women in Society, she organized the annual winter meeting in post-Katrina New Orleans and brought together local African American, Huma Indian, and Vietnamese activists working for justice with women activists from India, Nicaragua, and Florida who had worked in post-disaster situations to share knowledge and experiences of rehabilitation when natural disasters reinforce existing social inequalities.
As a scholar activist, she has been involved in advocacy and activism around social and gender justice issues at the United Nations, as SWS’s Representative to its Economic and Social Council, at the World Social Forum, and US Social Forum, among other sites. She serves on the Everywoman Everywhere Committee, https://everywoman.org, that has launched a Global Treaty on Violence Against Women.
Committed to buen vivir, she’s also a trained yoga teacher and practitioner as well as a trained Indian classical dancer in the Bharat Natyam style.