Professor Edward Simpson

Key information

Director, SOAS South Asia Institute Department of Anthropology and Sociology Professor of Social Anthropology Centre for the Study of Pakistan Academic Staff, Centre for the Study of Pakistan​ Centre for Migration and Diaspora Studies Member
BSoc.Sci (Manchester), PhD (London)
Brunei Gallery
Email address
Telephone number
+44 (0)20 7898 4481
Support hours
By appointment


I am Professor of Social Anthropology and Head of Anthropology and Sociology at SOAS. My PhD is from the London School of Economics. I have conducted many years of research in western India. I collaborate with artists and film-makers in the production of anthropology in the belief that academic research is a public good. My primary research interest is in how abstract ideas are made into concrete/real things, particularly in relation to infrastructures, climate change, humanitarianism and sustainability politics.

I have written three monographs, edited four collections of essays, and written over forty peer reviewed journal articles and book chapters. I have been centrally involved in the production of five anthropological films and two major exhibitions. Many of these works have been collaborative and have involved partnerships across disciplines, institutions and countries. In the last 15 years, have been awarded around £3 million of competitive research funding and supervised 10 PhD students to completion. I have spoken in around 50 universities (in Europe, South Asia and North America) within the last 5 years. Most of all however, I remain committed to the university as a place of learning, critical exploration and ideas.

Research interests

I am interested in the relationship between infrastructure, automobility and the global-sustainability agenda. In South Asia, as elsewhere in the world, infrastructure has become an asset class, a form of politics and development, and a way of defining and redefining territory as geopolitics.

Thinking anthropologically about infrastructures such as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC and part of the greater Belt and Road Initiative) allows us to confront the ideology, intent and transformative potential of such interventions. India’s Look/Act East policies similarly look set to redefine post-colonial geographies and identities.

These are exciting times of both change and uncertainty in the region. I believe that anthropology allows us to confront such enormous challenges on a human scale. As such, anthropology has an important role to play in informing debate and decision-making processes.

My current research on infrastructure explores how ideologies become worth acting on and why some forms of knowledge are more convincing than others. How do people 'know' about carbon, mobility and changing climate?

I am also interested in methodology, writing and forms of representation, notably film and visual media, and have an enduring collaborative relationship with the Mumbai-based artists CAMP

Current Project:

'Roads and the politics of thought: Ethnographic approaches to infrastructure development in South Asia' funded by the European Research Council.

Explores the politics of infrastructure in South Asia, asking: Why are so many roads being built in South Asia? On this project I am conducting fieldwork in India and on the Island of Réunion, France.

Work in India is being undertaken in Madhya Pradesh. I am attempting to untangle a stretch of toll road from the global financial system. Earlier this century, public-private infrastructure projects took off in a big way in the state, enticing a wide variety of investors into the market. Toll booths along the road became places of sociality, friction and surveillance (through CCTV technologies). They also became the sites of intense resource extraction from where tolls are ushered on a long journey of island hopping and cruising through the world of international finance.

On the volcanic outcrop of Réunion Island in the western Indian Ocean, the research focus shifts to climate change and infrastructure. The enthusiasm of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit took a few years to wash up on the island’s shores. When it did, ambitious plans for a tram were put in place to combat chronic car congestion (now 450,000 vehicles for a population of 850,000) and climate change. In 2010, with a change of government, these plans were scrapped and replaced with the idea of building a four-lane road bridge at sea parallel to the cliffs in the north-west corner of the island. This component of the project focuses on the history of island mobility against a backdrop of island life and the Metropolitan France and the discussions evoked by the New Route along the Littoral: extreme climate adaptation or a pharaonic environmental crime?

Recent Projects:

'Rural change and anthropological knowledge in post-colonial India: A comparative 'restudy' of F.G. Bailey, Adrian C. Mayer and David Pocock' funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. 

Critically engaged with change in rural post-colonial India through the 'restudy' of the work of a previous generation of anthropologists.

Previous Projects:

A comparative study of natural disasters funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. 

Examined the long-term aftermath of a number of disasters in Asia, with a strong ethnographic focus on the earthquake in Gujarat, 2001. The project resulted in the publication of The political biography of an earthquake: Aftermath and amnesia in Gujarat, India (2013).

Muslim Society and the Indian Ocean: The Seafarers of Kachchh (2006) explores the lives of sailors from Gujarat against the backdrop of migration and politics in the Indian Ocean. This book emerged from my doctoral project and established the foundation for a long-term research interest in Gujarat. 

PhD Supervision

Name Title
Cherry Briggs The politics and ethics of climate change adaptation in Sri Lanka's Dry Zone (working title)
Himalay Gohel Caste Genealogies: Myths and Histories of Dalit Communities from Saurashtra, India
S. Seigoulien Haokip Borderland and capital: a study of mobility, networks and social change in India's North East
Teesta Sengupta Working Title: "Sex Crimes and Socio-Legal Process in Northern India"
Mr Chris Weeks Human trafficking in the wake of natural disaster: the case of Typhoon Haiyan


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