Professor Barbara Harriss-White

Senior Research Fellow, Area Studies; Co-ordinator South Asian Research Cluster

I joined SIAS in 2007 but I joined Oxford in 1987 after 7 years teaching social science to medical doctors at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. My interests are Political economy; agriculture, energy and food; aspects of deprivation; India’s informal capitalism; rural and local development; low carbon transition. I used to teach Indian political economy on the MSc in Contemporary India. (Before that – M Phil in Development Studies: core course, options in gender and development, Indian political economy, health and development, rural development)

In 2005 while I was director of Queen Elizabeth House, and the Indian PM received an Honorary Doctorate from Oxford, the VC asked me to set up a Masters in Contemporary India to confirm Oxford’s commitment to the two emerging giants of the 21st century, China (well established in SIAS) and India. This Masters, subsequently found to be the world’s first, engaged its pioneering year of students in 2008-9. We were the first non-environmental Masters degree course to mainstream the environment. Then we created the Contemporary South Asian Studies Programme (CSASP) with a launching pad for post-docs, a home for visiting research fellows and a network of associates, a stream of international workshops and conferences, a work in progress website, and now outside funded research projects. In 2010-11 we consisted of 8 women which is probably also an Oxford first. Now the future of CSASP beckons an engagement with the other countries of South Asia.

I retired in 2011 after 25 years at Oxford, almost all in Queen Elizabeth House teaching agricultural economics, development economics, development studies and then the political economy of India. I have been hired back part time to direct an ESRC-DFID research project networked in India and labouring under the title of RESOURCES, GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS, TECHNOLOGY AND WORK IN PRODUCTION AND DISTRIBUTION SYSTEMS: RICE IN INDIA see

Area studies needs an engagement between disciplines (and paradigms within disciplines) and regions, between attempts at universal theory and the particular, between local and outsiders’ knowledge. It recognises that space, time and society are unique. Unlike development studies, which is a similar kind of modern, themed discipline in which I spent my working life, Area Studies doesn’t carry the burden of a focus on ‘progress’ and, at its best and most difficult, it links humanities, science and social science in a truly trans-disciplinary way. I like this kind of intellectual project and people with similar interests.

Personal Interests:

Art enamelling, walking the Cotswolds; music; low carbon Oxford north/million climate jobs campaign.

View Publications, Awards and Research