Manisha Desai

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



Manisha Desai is the Head of Sociology and Professor of Sociology and Asian and Asian American Studies at the University of Connecticut and a Senior Research Fellow at the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) in Geneva, Switzerland. Her areas of research and teaching include gender and globalization, transnational feminisms and women’s human rights, and social movements in India. 

Supported by a seed grant from UConn’s Human Rights Institute, her current research examines women’s rights, land rights, and climate justice in India and NE United States. As a member of UNRISD’s Global Network for Research and Action she is also working on an issue brief and an article on Gender Justice as integral to a New Eco-Social Contract and to Climate Justice policies. 

Additionally, she is also working on a conceptual reframing of diversity, equity, and inclusion as justice, equity and transformation to ensure that issues of systemic racism and inequalities are addressed structurally. Committed to decolonizing knowledge production and the academy she is on the Steering Committee of the Federation of Feminist Journal Editors that is seeking to establish a feminist, knowledge commons outside commercial publishing to ensure the free circulation of feminist knowledge across borders and language barriers. 

Her last book, Subaltern Movements in India: The Gendered Geography of struggle Against Neoliberal Development (Routledge 2016) analyzed three subaltern movements by adivasis (indigenous people), farmers, and fishers against “development by dispossession.” She showed how 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 showed 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 to win substantial victories for subaltern groups. Her other books include Gender, Family, and Law in a Globalizing Middle East and South Asia (co-edited with Ken Cuno, Syracuse University Press, 2010) and Gender and the Politics of Possibilities: Rethinking Globalization (Rowman and Littlefield, 2008) and (co-edited with Nancy Naples) Women’s Activism and Globalization: Linking Local Struggles to Transnational Politics (Routledge 2002). 

She is the recipient of several awards including the 2019 Sociologist for Women in Society’s Feminist Mentor of the Year Award, the Department of Sociology’s 2017 Faculty Mentor of the Year award; the 2016 National Compact for Faculty Diversity Mentor of the Year award and the 2015 Sociologist for Women in Society’s (SWS) Distinguished Feminist Lecturer 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 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. Since 2017 she has served on the Everywoman Everywhere’s Global Treaty to End Violence Against Women. 

Committed to buen vivirshe’s also a trained yoga teacher and practitioner as well as a trained Indian classical dancer in the Bharat Natyam style. 

Contact Information
Phone860 486-2303
Curriculum Vitae CURRICULUM VITAE.manisha
Office Location110 Manchester Hall