SOAS University of London

SOAS South Asia Institute

SOAS South Asia Institute Research Themes

The SSAI’s research activities address cutting edge issues and areas through the work of our world-renowned community of South Asia scholars. Our research identifies immediate areas of significance and concern, and aims to provide clear-eyed insights and rigorous arguments that aim to influence both policies and public understandings. We focus not only on geographical South Asia but also on South Asian diaspora communities worldwide, both past and present.  

Theme 1: Resources Under Pressure

The environment as a finite resource presents pressing challenges around achieving sustainability for future generations. India, in particular, has the second largest population in the world with a significant shortage of replenishable water supply and mass food insecurity exacerbated by rapid economic growth and climate change. Our specialists in development studies and anthropology focus on pressures on land, the environment and food and water supplies; the delineation of private and public space; the relationships between agriculture, nutrition and health; the effects of climate change; and the development of infrastructure and roads.

Theme 2: Citizenship, Rights and Inequality

The imperatives to address social and economic inequality run across the South Asia region, raising questions about how governments and communities are responding to local and global discourses of inequality and exclusion. Caste discrimination, gender violence and injustice, and the rights of religious minorities and migrants continue to present issues for how political rights are being envisaged and executed in South Asia as well as for South Asian diaspora communities around the world.  SSAI scholars working in the fields of law, history, politics, development studies, and migration and diaspora studies focus on inclusion and exclusion on the basis of gender, caste, language and differing ability; migration networks and regimes; the understanding of political rights; and labour and social movements.

Theme 3: The Politics of Culture and Religion

The cultural realm transcends many facets of South Asian societies, requiring astute linguistic and cultural analysis. Religion, in particular, shapes how mainstream processes and politics have evolved (whether overtly representing religious identities or merely utilizing religion to mould vote banks and publics within postcolonial nations) while also existing on the fringes and margins of society in other forms. Our political scientists and historians as well as our specialists in language, literature, and religion research constructions of national and religious identities; the exercise of Indian soft power; textual production and circulation; the creation of publics across regions and periods; popular religious movements; and linguistic hybridity.

Theme 4: Interactions and Interventions in the Arts

Creative expressions and cultural industries occupy a distinct position in illustrating how South Asian societies are interacting, responding and intervening through artistic media. For example, the Bollywood film industry and the burgeoning ‘art house’ cinema, not only in India but also in other South Asian countries and diaspora contexts, have attracted much attention for voicing cultural analysis and critiques of society. SSAI researchers working in media, music, film studies and anthropology investigate the production, distribution and consumption of films; urban soundscapes; literary festivals; and patterns of broadcasting, listening and viewing.

Theme 5: Lineages of knowledge and power

The means and tools by which power is exercised have been widely acknowledged to rely not merely upon force but perhaps more significantly upon systems of knowledge. The exploration of lineages of knowledge and power is a strength of the SSAI, with a long tradition at SOAS of critical analysis of historical and contemporary trajectories of power. Our historians research South Asian urban modernities; South Asian knowledge systems; pre-colonial regional identities and non-metropolitan cultures; and justice in the pre-modern period.

Theme 6: Prospects for the Indian economy

The Indian economy is known as a fast-growing economy included in the BRICS group along with Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa, and is one of the G-20 major economies, according to the WTO. Our economists and our specialists in financial and management studies focus on India in the global economy; changing patterns of trade specialization and public finance; technological and strategic interactions between Indian firms; formal and informal lending; labour-management relations; and Special Economic Zones.