Laura Bear

Laura Bear (PhD University of Michigan) specializes in the anthropology of the: economy; state; time; and urban ecology. Her work began with an exploration of the Indian railways as an intimate economy that reshaped politics, bureaucracy and domestic life (Lines of the Nation 2007). These themes continued in her work with Indian call centre workers, and more recently, on global trade and austerity on the Hooghly River in West Bengal (funded by the ESRC). A wish to support 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 a new ESRC funded research network Rebuilding Macroeconomics. This last project is in collaboration with the National Institute of Social and Economic Research and leading economic policy institutions in the UK.

Her most recent book, 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 it proposes a social calculus. This measures policy according to the qualities of the social relations it generates. The book also develops new theories of state debt, speculation and time. She is now scaling up this research by tracking the infrastructures of maritime trade and new concepts of ‘resilience’ as they stretch from Japan, to India and the UK. In addition she has a growing research interest in the uncertainties of the ‘post-growth’ economy in Japan, innovative institutional experiments and the possibilities for new practices of the public good.

Time is a topic that Bear has examined in a number of collaborations. She was the director of the ESRC-funded research network, Conflicts in Time. This led to her editorship of a volume on Conflict, Doubt, Mediation: the Anthropology of Modern Time. Currently she is writing a book that examines contemporary forms of labour in/and of time.

Public engagement is central to Bear’s research. She is the author of a novel based on her first fieldwork, The Jadu House (Doubleday/Black Swan 2000). She has collaborated with Hooghly river workers to produce five films that have been shown at the Persistance/Resistance Film Festival (2011) and the Thames Festival (2015). She organised an art exhibition with twelve artists on Conflicts in Time at Hastings Arts Forum (2011). She is also editor of the LSE Monographs in Social Anthropology.

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