Meera Ashar

AsPr Meera Ashar


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Personal profile


Meera Ashar is the Director of the ANU’s South Asia Research Institute (SARI). She is a historian of ideas at the School of Culture, History and Language. Her research interests lie at the intersection of history, political theory and literary studies. Her work analyses the ineffectiveness of existing concepts and modes of representation to set the stage for a framework more grounded in the lived experience of the people of South Asia. This research makes critical contributions to history and South Asian studies and to pressing debates on the enduring effects of colonialism, the postcolonial state, democracy and nationalism.

She has published in high quality journals such as Modern Asian Studies, History and Theory, South Asia, and Cultural Dynamics. Her manuscript on the social history of colonial Gujarat examines the region through the lens of a controversial nineteenth-century novel, Saraswatichandra, its author, and its audience. She has previously worked as an Assistant Professor at the City University of Hong Kong and has been the LM Singhvi Fellow at the Centre of South Asian Studies at the University of Cambridge. Meera reads and writes in several South Asian languages and in a couple of European ones. 

Researcher's projects

Modes of representing the past: The development of alternative lenses to that of veracity to view vernacular represenations of the past and an analysis of different types of sources and the historical narratives they produce. Past work on this includes a paper in History and Theory on vernacular narratives about the past. Current work in this stream includes an analysis of AL Basham's photographic archives.

Codification in self-representation and social instruction: An analysis of the difficulties that arise from the codification of pratices and actions using abstract universal categories. Past work in this area includes a study published in Modern Asian Studies on the use of codification in Saraswatichandra, the first novel in Gujarati, intended as a vehicle of social instruction. Current work includes a manuscript based on my historical analysis of Saraswatichandra, tentatively called "Quotidian Pasts: Govardhanram's Saraswatichandra and the Search for the Vernacular Subject" and an examination of the role of stories in social instruction using Gijubhai Badheka's 19th-century book of Gujarati children's stories.

The meaning of political concepts in postcolonial societies: I examine the various meanings and the effectiveness of key concepts such as 'democracy' and 'nation' used by commentators to characterise Indian politics. Past work on this theme includes an analysis published in the journal South Asia and an article in Cultural Dynamics that shows how the post-independence retention of colonial political institutions and concepts that are not fully suited to postcolonial societies leads to an obscuring of alternative political concepts and a narrative of ‘lack’. Current work includes a book project, tentatively titled "Lumpen Publics: Vigilantism and Political Subjectivity", that is a deep historical analysis of the changing conception of ‘the public’ under a variety of political regimes in India.

Current student projects

PhD students

Safdar Abbas, (Chair of Committee and Primary Supervisor, 2020-Present)
Thesis title: Ethics and Aesthetics of the Self: A Postcolonial Ontology of Indo-Islam

Jacob Wray (Associate Supervisor, 2019-Present)
Thesis title: From the colony to the Republic: Controlling Population Movement in Revolutionary Indonesia 1945-1949

Research interests


Colonial and Modern South Asia; British Empire; Western India and Pakistan; Colonial Education; Identity, Selfhood and Belonging; Coloniality and Postcolonialism; Legal Histories; Gandhi; Keywords, Categories and Concepts of Politics; History of Ideas. 


Past student projects

Completed PhD students

Past students:

Mark Jones (Chair of Phd Committee, completed)
Thesis title: Rule of law for Zomia: Colonial Rule in Kumaon

Nonie Tuxen (Supervisor, completed)
Thesis title: Desiring Overseas Education: accumulating capital in the "new" urban Indian middle class

M. Mizanur Rahman (Chair of Committee and Primary Supervisor, Discontinued, 2021) 
Thesis title: Dilemma of Responsibility to Protect: International Communities and the Rohingya Crisis in Myanmar

Megan Downes (Supervisor)
Thesis title: Tradition and modernity: Negotiating constructed binaries in Indonesian popular culture 

Maria Myutel (Supervisor)
Thesis title: Media representation of Indian diaspora in Indonesia

Lisa Stewart (Adviser)
Thesis title: Going with the Flow: Social Context, Uncertainty and Decision Making

Completed MPhil students

Mark Jones
Thesis title: From Zomia to Cosmopolitanism 

Completed Honours students

Felix Pal
Thesis title: Everyday Communalisms: How Hindu Nationalist constructions of citizenship 
affect Indian Muslim perceptions of their own 'Indianness' 

Ben Langley
Thesis title: Elephants watching Dragons- The changing perceptions of China in India from 1947 to the present. 

Mirabella Wawn
Thesis title: The Concept of Corruption in India


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