Rashmi Sadana

Rashmi Sadana

Rashmi Sadana

Associate Professor

Urban space, gender, and social mobility; infrastructure, design, and the built environment; language politics and ideologies; cultural identity formation; ethnography of literature; postcolonial theory, globalization, India

Rashmi Sadana is a cultural anthropologist whose field research focuses on changing forms of identity (class, caste, gender, religious, linguistic) in postcolonial, urban India. She is especially interested in how Indians express their modern and increasingly global selves, and the cultural and political ramifications of doing so. Her current research concerns the globalization of India’s cities with a focus on gendered citizenship, notions of the public and public spaces, and the politics of urban design and development as witnessed in the construction of Delhi’s new metro rail system. Book Cover for The Moving City: Scenes from the Delhi Metro and the Social Life of InfrastructureHer book emanating from this research, The Moving City: Scenes from the Delhi Metro and the Social Life of Infrastructure is forthcoming in December 2021 from the University of California Press. This project has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, American Council of Learned Societies, American Institute of Indian Studies, and Weatherhead Foundation/School for Advanced Research. The book brings into relief the contradictions of a globalized middle-class modernity that privileges capital interests in urban planning – the “world-class” model – versus creating city services for the majority of low-income Delhi-ites. It probes the relationship between the Delhi Metro as infrastructural mega-project and the on-the-ground social and material impact of the system on people’s lives, aspirations, and senses of self. It is also an experimental ethnography whose very form mimics the book’s main arguments about the fleeting yet generative encounters of people in the Metro, the impact of the system on the urban landscape, and the way two forms of mobility – social and transport – intersect, often in contradictory ways. 

Professor Sadana’s first book, English Heart, Hindi Heartland: The Political Life of Literature in India (University of California Press, 2012) is also an ethnography of Delhi, but in a different way. The book examines the changing and sometimes conflicted relationship Indians have to language (especially Hindi and English) through an ethnographic study of publishers, writers, translators, booksellers and others involved in producing literature in India and for a global literary market. By analyzing how language ideologies are produced in a society whose socio-economic inequalities are partly fueled by who has access to which language, the book takes apart normative understandings of the relationship between language and nation. The book argues that there is no single idea of what is linguistically authentic in the Indian context – not even the numerically dominant Hindi language – since notions of authenticity themselves are in flux.

In addition to her scholarly publications, Professor Sadana writes for newspapers such as The Hindustan TimesIndian Express, The Hindu and DNA.

Selected Publications


English Heart, Hindi Heartland: The Political Life of Literature in India. Berkeley:University of California Press, 2012. Available open access as a downloadable PDF.

The Cambridge Companion to Modern Indian Culture, co-edited with Vasudha Dalmia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Book cover Book cover 2


"Urban Transport and The Politics of Sensation in Delhi." In Roadsides 6: pp. 15-23, (Nov. 2021).

"Regarding Others: Metro Crowds, Metro Publics, Metro Mobs." In Crowds: Ethnographic Encounters, edited by Megan Steffen, pp. 91-103. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2020.

“‘We are visioning it’: Aspirational Planning and the Material Landscapes of Delhi’s Metro.” City & Society. Vol. 30, No. 2: pp. 186-209, (2018).

“At the ‘Love Commandos’: Narratives of Mobility Among Intercaste Couples in a Delhi Safe House.” Anthropology and Humanism. Vol. 43, Iss. 1: pp. 39-57, (2018).

"Reading Delhi, Writing Delhi: An Ethnography of Literature," Theorizing Fieldwork in the Humanities: Methods, Reflections, and Approaches to the Global South, edited by Shalini Puri and Debra A. Castillo, pp. 151-163. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.

"Sanskritization," The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Race, Ethnicity and Nationalism, edited by John Stone, et al. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2016.

"Found in Translation: Self, Caste, and Other in Three Modern Texts," A History of the Indian Novel in English, edited by Ulka Anjaria, pp. 147-161. Cambridge University Press, 2015.

"The City as Literary Field," Public Books, October 2012.

"The Metro and the Street," Seminar, Issue 636, August 2012: pp. 16-21.

Four-part series on the Delhi Metro, The Wall Street Journal, India Real Time. May 30-June 2, 2012. 

Managing Hindi: How we live multilingually and what this says about our language and literature,” The Caravan: a Journal of Politics and Culture. Vol. 4, Issue 4: 62-71. April 2012.

On the Delhi Metro: An Ethnographic View,” Economic and Political Weekly. Vol. XLV, No.46, November 13-19, 2010: 77-83.

Two Tales of a City: The Place of English and the Limits of Postcolonial Critique.” Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies. Vol. 11, No. 1, 2009: 1-15.

A Suitable Text for a Vegetarian Audience: Questions of Authenticity and the Politics of Translation,” Public Culture: an Interdisciplinary Journal of Transnational Cultural Studies. Vol. 19, No. 2, 2007: 307-328. *Reprinted in Modern Indian Culture and Society, Vol. 4, (ed.) Knut Jacobsen. London: Routledge, 2009.

Grants and Fellowships

Professor Sadana's most recent grants and fellowships include:

National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Stipend (NEH)

American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship (ACLS)

Weatherhead Fellowship, School for Advanced Research (SAR)

American Institute of Indian Studies Senior Fellowship (AIIS)

Courses Taught

ANTH 309 - Peoples and Cultures of India

ANTH 382 - Urban Anthropology

ANTH 396 - Asian Megacities

ANTH 390 & 490 - Theories, Methods, and Issues I & II

ANTH 450 - Qualitative Methods

ANTH 535 & 536 - Anthropology and the Human Condition I & II

ANTH 616 - Anthropology of the City

ANTH 635 - Regional Ethnography (India)


Postdoc, Committee on Global Thought, Columbia University

Postdoc, National Science Foundation-funded fellowship, Anthropology Department, Columbia University

Ph.D. in Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley

M.A. with Distinction in South Asia Studies, University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)

B.A. in English, University of California, Berkeley

Recent Presentations

Interviewed for SAR Press Blog Series, October 2021: How to Publish Your First Book

Lecture presented at the School for Advanced Research, Santa Fe, NM on October 16, 2019: On the Delhi Metro: Urban Landscape, Transport Infrastructure, and Social Mobility in a 21st-century Megacity

Podcast for the School for Advanced Research: Lessons from the Delhi Metro

In the Media

2021 "The Understudied Lives of Public Transport." University of California Press Blog. Nov. 8.

2020    “Racism and Inequality: Protesting for a Better, Truer U.S." The Wire, June 8.

2017    “Was the Delhi Metro Ever for the People?” The Hindustan Times (Delhi-based, national newspaper; circulation: 993,645). Op-ed. October 23, print edition, pp. 12. 

2017    NDTV, Special Report on Delhi Metro Fare Hike. Aired on November 24.  

2016   “Letter from Karachi.” The Hindu (Chennai-based, national newspaper; circulation 1.21 million). October 18.