Professor Laura Bear FBA

Professor Laura Bear FBA


Department of Anthropology

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Key Expertise
South Asia

About me

Professor Laura Bear (PhD University of Michigan) specializes in the anthropology of the economy, infrastructures and time. Her cross-disciplinary work rooted in anthropology has led Bear to take up positions as a board member in the: editorial collective of Economy and Society; LSE International Inequalities Institute and ESRC Rebuilding Macroeconomics Research Network. Her current research focusses on the unequal effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on vulnerable UK communities and emerging practices of the public good. She is co-leading an LSE Anthropology research group on the theme of “Innovations in Care: Supporting Vulnerable Households during the Covid-19 Pandemic.” Their report on “A Good Death,” can be found here

Her most recent book based on ESRC funded research in India, Navigating Austerity (2015), addresses two key questions of our era: why does austerity dominate in state policy and how can we change this? Drawing on the experiences of boatmen, shipyard workers, hydrographers, port bureaucrats and river pilots on the Hooghly in West Bengal it proposes a social calculus. This measures policy according to the qualities of the social relations it generates and the ability it creates to plan for the future among precarious communities. This has led to comparative research on communities along the Thames in the UK and into local experiments in cooperative and post-growth economies in rural Japan. The goal of all of these projects is to build an innovative practice of the public good that can renew communities and citizen-state relations.

Expertise Details

South Asia; anthropologies of the economy; state; infrastructures; time

Public conversations

For a short film on austerity and its alternatives see here.

For a conversation with Anatole Kaletsky, Stephen King and Owen Bennett-Jones on debt see here.

For a statement of the GENS approach to economics (developed with Ho, Tsing and Yanagisako) see the manifesto here.

For a conversation with Graeber and Maurer on Money and Redemption see here.

For a conversation with Piketty on time-insecurity see here.

For a conversation with Graeber and Mathur on austerity states see here.

Selected publications


Navigating Austerity: Currents of Debt Along a South Asian River, Stanford University Press, 2015. 

Lines of the Nation: Indian Railway Workers, Bureaucracy and the Intimate Historical Self,  Columbia University Press, 2007. 

The Jadu House: Intimate Histories of Anglo-India, Doubleday/Black Swan 2000.   

Edited Volumes

Bear and Mathur, Remaking the Public Good: a New Anthropology of Bureaucracy, Cambridge Anthropology (Special Issue), 33(1), 2015. 

Bear, Birla, Puri, Speculation: Futures and Capitalism in India, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East (Special Issue), 35:3, 2015. 

Doubt, Conflict and Mediation: An Anthropology of Modern Time, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (Special Issue), 20(S1), 2014.  


“Anthropological Futures: for a Critical Political Economy of Capitalist Time,” (ASA Raymond Firth Lecture 2016), 142-158, Social Anthropology, 25:2, 2017.

“Time as Technique,“ Annual Review of Anthropology, 45, 487-502, 2016.

“Capitalist Divination: Popularist Speculators and Technologies of Imagination on a South Asian River,” Comparative Studies in South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, 35:3, Winter 2015. 

Bear, L and N. Mathur, “Remaking the Public Good: a New Anthropology of Bureaucracy,” Cambridge Anthropology, 33(1),18-34, 2015. 

“For Labour: Ajeet’s Accident and the Ethics of Technological Fixes in Time,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 20(S1), 71-88, 2014. 

“Doubt, Conflict and Mediation: An Anthropology of Modern Time” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 20(S1): 3-30, 2014. 

“Capital and Time: Uncertainty and Qualitative Measures of Inequality,” Piketty Symposium, British Journal of Sociology, 65(4), 639-649, 2014.

“The Antinomies of Audit: Opacity, Instability and Charisma in the Economic Governance of a Hooghly Shipyard,” Economy and Society, 42(3), 375-397, 2013.

“Making a River of Gold: Speculative State Planning, Informality and Neo-Liberal Governance on the Hooghly,” Focaal, 61, 46-60, 2013.

“At the Vanguard of the Knowledge Revolution: Nationalism, Freedom and Consumption in the lives of international call centre workers in Kolkata,” Berliner Debatte 3, 14 Jg, 37-46, 2003.

“Public Genealogies: Nations, Documents and Bodies in Anglo-Indian Railway Family Histories,” Contributions to Indian Sociology, 35(3), 355-388, 2001.

“Miscegenations of Modernity: Constructing European Respectability and Race in the Indian Railway Colony, 1857-1931”  Women’s History Review, Vol. 3, No. 4, 531-48, 1994. 

Book Chapters

“’This Body is Our Body’: the Productive Powers of Viswakarma and Ranna Puja in a Neo-Liberal Shipyard” in F. Cannell and S. McKinnon (eds) Vital Relations: Kinship as a Critique of Modernity, SAR Press, 155-178, 2013.

“Sympathy and its Material Boundaries: Necropolitics, Labour and Waste on the Hooghly,” in C. Alexander and J. Reno (eds), Recycling Economies, Zed Press, 185-203, 2012.

J.M.Burki, C. Carolin, G. Pollock & L. Bear, “Warte Mal! And Interventionist  Art” in P. Basu and Sharon Macdonald, Exhibition Experiments: Technologies and Cultures of Display,Oxford: Blackwell, 154-174, 2007.

“Ruins and Ghosts: the Domestic Uncanny and the Materialisation of Anglo-Indian Genealogies” in J. Carsten, (ed), Ghosts of Memory: Essays on Remembrance and Relatedness, Blackwell, 36-57, 2007.

“An Economy of Suffering: Addressing the Violence of Discipline in Railway Workers’ Petitions to the Agent of the East Indian Railway, 1930-47” in A. Rao and S. Peirce (eds), Discipline and the Other Body, Durham NC: Duke University Press, 243-272, 2006.

“School Stories and the Interior Frontiers of Citizenship: Tracing the Domestic Life of Anglo-Indian Education” in V.Benei (ed), Education and Nationalism in Europe, South Asia, China: Manufacturing citizenship, London: Routledge, 236-261, 2005. 

My research