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Thomas Blom Hansen

thomas blom hansen

Thomas Blom Hansen

Habilitation Degree, Roskilde University, 1997
Research Interests: 
Anthropology of political life, ethno-religious identities, violence and urban life in South Asia and Southern Africa. Multiple theoretical and disciplinary interests from political theory and continental philosophy to psychoanalysis, comparative religion and contemporary urbanism


Thomas Hansen is the Reliance-Dhirubhai Ambani Professor of Anthropology. He founded and directed Stanford’s Center for South Asia from 2010 to 2017.

Hansen is an anthropologist of political life, ethno-religious identities, violence and urban life in South Asia and Southern Africa. He has multiple theoretical and disciplinary interests from political theory and continental philosophy to psychoanalysis, comparative religion and contemporary urbanism.

Much of professor Hansen’s early fieldwork was done during the tumultuous and tense years in the beginning of the 1990s when conflicts between Hindu militants and Muslims defined national agendas and produced frequent violent clashes in the streets. Out of this work came two books: The Saffron Wave. Democracy and Hindu Nationalism in Modern India (Princeton 1999) which explores the larger phenomenon of Hindu nationalism in the light of the dynamics of India’s democratic experience, and Wages of Violence: Naming and Identity in Postcolonial Bombay (Princeton 2001) which explores the historical processes and identity formations that gave rise of violent socioreligious conflict and the renaming of the city in 1995.

In the early 2000s, professor Hansen pursued a detailed study of religious revival, racial conflict and transformation of domestic and intimate life from the 1950’s to the present in a formerly Indian township in Durban, South Africa. This resulted in a book entitled Melancholia of Freedom. Social Life in an Indian Township in South Africa (Princeton University Press, 2012).

In addition to these ethnographic engagements, professor Hansen has pursued a number of theoretical interests in the anthropology of the state, sovereignty, modern convictions, religion, violence and urban life in the Global South.

Hansen is currently finishing a book on the global spread of notions of popular sovereignty and the rise of illiberal democracy. He is also engaged in a long term historical and ethnographic investigation of ‘vernacular urbanism’, that is, the dynamics of social segregation and community-based capitalism in the fast-growing provincial cities across South Asia.



Interview in The Nation:

“The Modi Government Is a Regime of Low-Intensity Terror”

Stanford University anthropologist Thomas Blom Hansen discusses the rise of anger, brutality, and violence in Indian public life.

By Ullekh N.P.


Selected Articles

(In press) “The Force of Symbolic Power” Afterword in special issue of the Journal of Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East. (Spring 2020) “Rethinking Sovereignty, Colonial Empires, and Nation-States in South Asia and Beyond".

2018 ‘The state as an object of ethnographic inquiry’, Contributions to Indian Sociology, Special 50th Anniversary Issue. Sage: Delhi.

2018 “Civics, civility and race in post-apartheid South Africa.” Anthropological Theory Volume: 18 issue: 2-3, pages: 296-325 Thomas Blom Hansen 3

2017 “ On Law, Violence and Jouissance in India”, Cultural Anthropology Website, November 1, 2017.

2018 “Whose Public, Whose Authority? Reflections on the moral force of violence”, Modern Asian Studies. 52, 3 (2018) pp.1076–1087. Special Issue entitled “The Politics of Order and Disturbance. Public Authority, sovereignty and Public Contestation in South Asia” Edited by Bart Klem and Bert Suykens

2015. “Communalism, Democracy and Indian Capitalism’. Seminar. (New Delhi), Vol. 674, Oct. 2015. Pp. 40-44.

2015, “The Aesthetics of Arrival: spectacle, capital and novelty in post-reform India” Introduction, co-authored with Ravinder Kaur in 2015 in special Issue of Identities, 2016: vol 23, no. 3, 265-275

2015. Afterword “Citizenship as Horizon” in special issue of the journal Citizenship Studies, Vol 19, no. 2, 229-232.

2014. “Migration, Religion and Post Imperial Formations.” Global Networks, vol 14(3), pp. 273-290.

2011. “From Houses to Barbed Wire: on Houses and Walls in South Africa”, in special issue on ‘Walls’, in Texas International Law Journal, vol. 47 (Fall 2011). Pp. 345-353.

2009. “The Political Theology of Violence in Modern India.” SAMAJ-Revue (on-line academic journal of South Asian studies edited in Paris) January, 2009

2009. “Urban Charisma. On the everyday mythologies in the city”,(with Oskar Verkaaik) in Critique of Anthropology, Vol 29 (1), 5-26

2006a. “Sovereignty Revisited’ Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 35, pp. 295-315.

2006b. “Performers of Sovereignty. On the privatization of security in urban South Africa” Critique of Anthropology, August 2006. Special issue on State Violence, edited by Toby Kelly and Alpa Shah.

2006c. “Sounds of freedom. Music, taxis and the racial imagination in post-apartheid South Africa’, in Public Culture 18 (1)

2005a. ‘Melancholia of Freedom. Humor and Nostalgia among South African Indians.” in special issue of Journal of Modern Drama, Vol. XLVIII, No. 2, Summer 2005.

2003. ‘ Souveraene jenseits des Staates’ (in German) in Berliner Debatte Initial 14 (2003) 3. Pp. 18-28. Special issue entitled “Indien: Postkoloniale Moderne”

2000. ‘Predicaments of Secularism: Muslim Identities in Mumbai’, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. 6, no.2.

2000. ‘ Plays and Politics: Politics and Cultural Identity among South African Indians’ Journal of Southern African Studies, Vol. 26(2). Translated into Italian and published in the journal Afriche e Orienti, (3), 2001, 40-48

1997. ‘Inside the Romanticist Episteme’,. Thesis Eleven, Number 48, February 1997, (pp. 21-41) (an earlier version was published in Social Scientist, New Delhi, Autumn, 1996, and an even earlier version in Arnfred, S (ed.) (1995), Occasional Paper no. 15, IDS, Roskilde).

1996. ‘Recuperating Masculinity: Hindu nationalism, Violence and the Exorcising of the Muslim Other’, Critique of Anthropology, Vol. 16, no. 2, (pp. 137 - 72).

1996. ‘The Vernacularisation of Hindutva: Shiv Sena and BJP in Rural Maharashtra’, Contributions to Indian Sociology, Vol. 30, no. 2 (pp. 177 - 214).

1994. ‘Controlled Emancipation: Women and Hindu nationalism’, (15 p.) in European Journal of Development Research, Vol. 6. no. 2, Dec, 1994. Also printed in Wilson, Fiona and Frederiksen, B. F. (eds.) (1994): Ethnicity, Gender and the Subversion of Nationalism, London, Frank Cass.