SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Professor Edward Simpson

BSoc.Sci (Manchester), PhD (London)
  • Teaching
  • Research
  • Expertise
  • Publications


Edward Simpson
SOAS South Asia Institute

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


Executive Board

Head of Anthropology

Academic Board

Head of Anthropology

Professor Edward Simpson
Email address:
+44 (0)20 7898 4481
+44 (0)20 7898 4699
SOAS University of London
Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG
Russell Square: College Buildings
Office No:
Academic 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.


Programmes Convened
Modules Taught
PhD Students supervised
  • Abhishek Mohanty, Blurred Imaginaries: Future-making and digital health in Delhi
  • Cherry Briggs, The politics and ethics of climate change adaptation in Sri Lanka's Dry Zone (working title)
  • Chris Weeks, Human trafficking in the wake of natural disaster: the case of Typhoon Haiyan
  • Craig Ryder, Algorithms @ Work: How are digital technologies reimagining media production in Sri Lanka?
  • Himalay Gohel, Caste Genealogies: Myths and Histories of Dalit Communities from Saurashtra, India
  • Nora Wuttke, Architecture and Aspirations: An Ethnographic Exploration of Hospital Infrastructure in Myanmar
  • Pooja (Jo) Krishnakumar , Social Space and the Sex Worker: Family, Networks and Collectivisation in the Indian Sex Workers' Movement (Working Title)
  • Teesta Sengupta,

I am interested in supervising students seeking to undertake anthropological research in South Asia, as well as those wishing to work elsewhere in the world who are interested in the broader themes of history, religion, development and natural disaster.


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. 


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For all press and media enquiries please call +44 (0)20 7898 4135 or email

Available for
Regional Expertise
  • South Asia
Country Expertise
  • India


Authored Books

Simpson, Edward (2022) Highways to the End of the World: Roads, Roadmen and Power in South Asia. London: Hurst. [Forthcoming]

Simpson, Edward (2013) The political biography of an earthquake: Aftermath and amnesia in Gujarat, India. London: Hurst.

Simpson, Edward (2006) Muslim society and the western Indian Ocean: The seafarers of Kachchh. London: Routledge.


Simpson, Edward (2021) 'Obituary (I): F. G. Bailey (24 February 1924–8 July 2020)'. Contributions to Indian Sociology, (55) 1, pp 123-125.

Simpson, Edward (2020) 'Forgetfulness without memory: Reconstruction, Landscape and the Politics of Everyday in Post-Earthquake Gujarat, India'. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, (26) 4, pp 786-804.

Simpson, Edward (2019) 'The Point of Death II'. Somatosphere: Science, Medicine, and Anthropology, (July).

Tilche, Alice and Simpson, Edward (2018) 'Marriage and the crisis of peasant society in Gujarat, India'. Journal of Peasant Studies, (45) 7, pp 1518-1538.

Simpson, Edward and Tilche, Alice and Sbriccoli, Tommaso and Jeffery, Patricia and Otten, Tina (2018) 'A Brief History of Incivility in Rural Postcolonial India: Caste, Religion, and Anthropology'. Comparative Studies in Society and History, (60) 1, pp 58-89.

Tilche, Alice and Simpson, Edward (2017) 'On trusting ethnography: Serendipity and the reflexive return to the fields of Gujarat'. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, (24) 4, pp 690-708.

Simpson, Edward (2016) 'Prospecting in Rajasthan'. Religion and Society: Advances in Research, (7), pp 27-31.

Simpson, Edward (2016) 'Village restudies: Trials and tribulations'. Economic and Political Weekly, (51) 26-27, pp 33-42.

Otten, Tina and Simpson, Edward (2016) 'F.G. Bailey's Bisipara revisited'. Economic and Political Weekly, (51) 26-27, pp 25-32.

Simpson, Edward (2016) 'Is anthropology legal? Earthquake, blitzkrieg, and ethical futures'. Focaal: European Journal of Social Anthropology, (74) 1, pp 113-128.

Simpson, Edward and Serafini, Michele (2015) 'The neoliberal aftershock'. Himal (Southasian), (28) 2, pp 12-25.

Sbriccoli, Tommaso and Simpson, Edward (2013) 'Enacting nationalist history: Buildings, processions and sound in the making of a village in Central India'. Quaderni Asiatici: rivista di cultura e studi sull'Asia, (104), pp 13-44.

Parry, Jonathan and Simpson, Edward (2011) 'David Pocock's Contributions and the legacy of Leavis'. Contributions to Indian Sociology, (44) 3, pp 331-359.

Simpson, Edward (2011) 'Blame Narratives and Religious Reason in the Aftermath of the 2001 Gujarat Earthquake'. South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, (34) 3, pp 421-438.

Simpson, Edward (2009) 'The influence of Hindu nationalism on rural reconstruction after the 2001 Gujarat Earthquake (translated into Chinese by Dong Wenqi)'. China Non Profit Review, (3), pp 82-112.

Simpson, Edward and de Alwis, Malathi (2008) 'Remembering natural disaster: Politics and culture of memorials in Gujarat and Sri Lanka'. Anthropology Today, (24) 4, pp 6-12.

Simpson, Edward (2007) 'State of play six years after Gujarat earthquake'. Economic and Political Weekly, (XLII) 11.

Simpson, Edward (2007) 'The changing perspectives on three Muslim men on the question of saint worship over a 10-year period in Gujarat, western India'. Modern Asian Studies, (42) 2 & 3, pp 377-403.

Simpson, Edward (2006) 'Apprenticeship in western India'. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, (12) 1, pp 151-171.

Simpson, Edward (2006) 'The state of Gujarat and the men without souls'. Critique of Anthropology, (26) 3, pp 331-348.

Simpson, Edward and Corbridge, Stuart (2006) 'The geography of things that may become memories: The 2001 earthquake in Kachchh-Gujarat and the politics of rehabilitation in the pre-memorial era'. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, (96) 3, pp 566-585.

Simpson, Edward (2005) 'The 'Gujarat' earthquake and the political economy of nostalgia'. Contributions to Indian Sociology, (39) 2, pp 219-249.

Simpson, Edward (2003) 'Migration and Islamic reform in a port town in western India'. Contributions to Indian Sociology, (37) 1 & 2, pp 83-108.

Edited Books or Journals

Simpson, Edward and Tilche, Alice, (eds.), (2016) The future of the rural world? India's villages 1950-2015. London: SOAS.

Simpson, Edward, (ed.), (2011) Society and history of Gujarat since 1800: A select bibliography of the English and European language sources. New Delhi: Orient Blackswan.

Simpson, Edward and Kapadia, Aparna, (eds.), (2010) The idea of Gujarat: History, ethnography and text. New Delhi: Orient Blackswan.

Simpson, Edward and Kresse, Kai, (eds.), (2007) Struggling with history: Islam and cosmopolitanism in the western Indian Ocean. London: Hurst and Company.

Book Chapters

Rankin, Katharine and Simpson, Edward (2021) 'Roads and the politics of thought: Climate in India, democracy in Nepal'. In: Heslop, Luke and Murton, Galen, (eds.), Highways and Hierarchies: Ethnographies of Mobility from the Himalaya to the Indian Ocean. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, pp 197-220.

Simpson, Edward (2021) 'Dharamsey: Assembler of Tradition'. In: Bjorkman, Lisa, (ed.), Bombay Brokers. Durham NC: Duke University Press, pp 278-285.

Simpson, Edward and Serafini, Michele (2019) 'Earthquake Citizens: Disaster and Aftermath Politics in India and Nepal'. In: Holbraad, Martin and Kapferer, Bruce and Sauma, Julia F., (eds.), Ruptures: Anthropologies of Discontinuity in Times of Turmoil. London: UCL Press, pp 193-217.

Simpson, Edward (2019) 'The Transnational Life and Political Philosophy of Shyamji Krishnavarma'. In: Keller, Sara, (ed.), Knowledge and the Indian Ocean: Intangible Networks of Western India and Beyond. Switzerland: Palgrave MacMillan (Springer), pp 245-258.

Simpson, Edward and de Alwis, Malathi (2018) 'Memory Interventions: Gujarat and Sri Lanka'. In: Reddy, Sunita, (ed.), The Asia Tsunami and Post-Disaster Aid. Singapore: Springer, pp 253-269.

Simpson, Edward (2018) 'Memory and Earthquake Forgetfulness in India'. In: Lakhani, Vikas and de Smalen, Eveline, (eds.), Sites of Remembering: Landscapes, Lessons, Policies. Munich: Rachel Carson Center, pp 85-88.

Heitmeyer, Carolyn and Simpson, Edward (2014) 'The culture of prohibition in Gujarat, India'. In: Fischer-Tine, Harald and Tschurenev, Jana, (eds.), A history of alcohol and drugs in modern South Asia: Intoxicating affairs. Abingdon: Routledge, pp 203-218.

Simpson, Edward (2012) 'The anthropology of a "Disaster Boom" economy in western India'. In: Luig, Ute, (ed.), Negotiating disasters: Politics, prepresentation, meaning. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, pp 235-252.

Simpson, Edward (2012) 'The anthropology of aftermath'. In: Fardon, Richard and Harris, Olivia and Marchand, Trevor H.J. and Nuttall, Mark and Shore, Cris and Strang, Veronica and Wilson, Richard A., (eds.), The Sage Handbook of Social Anthropology (vol. 2). London: Sage, pp 329-338.

Simpson, Edward (2011) 'Kutch and the sea'. In: Varadarajan, Lokita, (ed.), Gujarat and the sea. Vadodara: Darshak Ithias Nidhi, pp 537-548.

Simpson, Edward (2008) 'Sailors that do not sail: Hinduism, anthropology and parochialism in the western Indian Ocean'. In: Basu, Helene, (ed.), Journeys and dwellings: Indian Ocean themes in South Asia. Hyderabad: Orient Longman, pp 90-120.

Simpson, Edward (2008) 'Why Bhatiyas are not "Banias" and why this matters: Economic success and religious worldview among a mercantile community of western India'. In: Lachaier, Pierre and Clémentin-Ojha, Catherine, (eds.), Divine richesses: religion et économie en monde marchand indien. Paris: École français d’Extrême-Orient, pp 91-111.

Simpson, Edward and Kresse, Kai (2007) 'The history of Bhuj as told by its own historians'. In: Simpson, Edward, (ed.), Struggling with history: Islam and cosmopolitanism in the western Indian Ocean. London: Hurst, pp 93-124.

Corbridge, Stuart and Simpson, Edward (2006) 'Militant cartographies and traumatic spaces: Ayodhya, Bhuj and the contested geographies of Hindutva'. In: Raju, Saraswati and Kumar, M. Satish and Corbridge, Stuart, (eds.), Colonial and post-colonial geographies of India. New Delhi: Sage, pp 70-84.

Simpson, Edward (2006) 'The rituals of rehabilitation: Rebuilding an urban neighbourhood after the Gujarat earthquake of 2001'. In: De Neve, Geert and Donner, Henrike, (eds.), The meaning of the local: Politics of place in Urban India. London: Routledge, pp 206-231.

Simpson, Edward (2004) ''Hindutva' as a rural planning paradigm in post-earthquake Gujarat'. In: Zavos, John and Wyatt, Andrew and Hewitt, Vernon, (eds.), The politics of cultural mobilization in India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, pp 136-165.

Monographs and Working Papers

Simpson, Edward (2018) An anthropologist among the transport specialists: Social science insights on the political-economy barriers to the implementation of low-carbon transport in urban South Asia and Africa. London: Department for International Development.

Kresse, Kai and Simpson, Edward (2011) Between Africa and India: Thinking comparatively across the western. ZMO Working Papers 5.

Simpson, Edward (2008) Was there discrimination in the distribution of resources after the earthquake in Gujarat? Imagination, epistemology, and the state in western India. London: London School of Economics and Political Science.

Simpson, Edward (2008) The rise and fall of collective public action in the aftermath of the Gujarat Earthquake of 2001. London: London School of Economics and Political Science.

Simpson, Edward (2008) The politics of loss, alienation and nostalgia after the ‘Gujarat’ Earthquake. Colombo: International Centre for Ethnic Studies.


This list was last generated on Saturday, 1st October 2022, 21:49 Europe/London.