Research in Various Disciplines

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Literature and Cultural Studies

Contemporary and Multiethnic American Fiction

American fiction from 1945 to the present addresses a plethora of complex themes such as history, gender, race, capitalism, tragedy, comedy, romance, the American dream, modernism and postmodernism, among others. By facilitating multiple voices belonging to various classes, ethnicities and genders, the recent American novel compellingly articulates the diversity that defines the social, cultural and intellectual milieu of postwar America. Some of the most noted authors of this age include Richard Wright, Saul Bellow, Truman Capote, John Updike, Cormac McCarthy, Philip Roth, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Marilynne Robinson, Anne Tyler, Maxine Hong Kingston, Joyce Carol Oates, Jhumpa Lahiri, Paul Auster, Don DeLillo, and Jonathan Franzen, to name a few. In the contemporary and multiethnic fictional narratives of these authors one discovers the complex dynamics between literature and cultural change shaping contemporary America.

Gender and Body Studies

Discourses in gender and body studies aim to examine how male and female gendered identities are historically created and how the problematic of an ideal body image influences and shapes contemporary subjects hailing from diverse racial, class and ethnic backgrounds. With the help of representative narratives (both films and literary texts) from various cultures across the world and theories on male and female identity construction and body image, gender and body studies address how popular perceptions surrounding body aesthetics influence a subject’s self-esteem and transforms her/him into a gullible patron of the glamor, fitness and beauty business. Further, by keeping in mind its responsibility toward sensitizing genders on identity formation and body image, this branch of scholarship hopes to examine and redefine institutions such as health, education, marriage and media, to name a few, that in turn control gender identities.

The Twentieth Century and After

We study anglophone Modernism and Postmodernism under this rubric. While the emphasis is on British and American poetry, we are not averse to pursuing our research problems into material beyond the transatlantic sphere and genres other than poetry. Our approach is broadly interdisciplinary: the visual arts, philosophy (especially ontology, aesthetics and ethics), political theory, and economic anthropology are particularly important for our current research. Faculty and graduate students in this area are working on topics as diverse as the graphic novel in India, concepts of embodiment and space in late-twentieth-century British and American novels, British small-press poetry, ekphrasis and intermediality in Anglo-American and Indian Modernism, the gift in literature, poetry and complicity, the sociology of death, and lyric theory.

Anthropology and Sociology

The disciplines of anthropology and sociology aim to understand human behavior through an in-depth exploration of how social and cultural attitudes structure people’s worldviews. By closely examining facets of our lives from the perspective of the individual, the family, and the state, scholars at IITH highlight myriad contemporary challenges in India—and globally—be they of health and well-being, role of media, access to clean environments, or documenting arts and music among marginalized peoples. Taking participant observation and long-term fieldwork as cornerstones of the ethnographic method, scholars at IITH also contribute to theoretical and methodological conversations in anthropology, sociology, and allied fields.


Understanding the processes that have come to be described as “globalisation” constitute a key focus of socio-cultural inquiry since the 1980s. Within the discipline of anthropology, for example, a recognition of the deeply intertwined nature of contemporary socialities—such that no peoples or places remain isolated in time and space—has propelled significant theoretical, methodological, and empirical innovation: for example, in the form of experimental research designs that mirror the complexity of the assemblages that they seek to study, a focus on newer ethnographic objects such as infrastructure, mass media, and science and technology, as well as a recasting of themes such as gender and kinship that have been of long-standing interest to anthropologists through transnationalist frameworks. Understanding globalization processes and ways in which they shape imaginaries, materialities, and practices of personhood and belonging in any given place and time is a constitutive dimension of all socio-cultural inquiry at IITH.

Science and Technology

Science and technology shape contemporary societies in fundamental ways: as material infrastructures that connect peoples and places locally and globally, as authoritative institutions of governance within the realm of modern politics, and as knowledge-forms that continually reshape our very ideas of what it means to be human. Understanding how society and culture shape—and are shaped by—science and technology, therefore, has emerged as a vital area of research in anthropology and sociology in recent decades. At IITH, researchers investigate the techno-science-society nexus—both nationally as well as internationally—in a wide variety of domains, including, for example, digital infrastructures, environmental sustainability, and medical technologies.

Urban Environments

The world has experienced unprecedented urban growth in recent decades. For the first time in human history, the percentage of people globally living in urban areas is now roughly equal to those living in rural areas. As much of 70% of the world’s population is projected to be living in urban areas by the year 2050. Such dramatic shifts bring into relief a whole array of challenges: for example, issues pertaining to mobility and infrastructure, livelihoods and public health, social cohesion, and ecology and planning—all need sustained attention to ensure societal well-being and just, equitable, and inclusive growth. Researchers at IITH are engaged in a variety of projects that hone in on the dynamics of emergent urban ecologies: by focusing on, for instance, air quality, water, and waste management, transportation planning, increasing incidence of diabetes among the urban middle classes, and the role of Information Technology industries in the shaping of Indian mega-cities.

Media and Popular Culture

The role of media is variously seen as empowering, interfering, and influencing public opinion detrimentally. From the heydays of the radio in the early 20th century to television coverage in the 1980s, from the hold of cinema on the public mind in the 1950s, to current use of smart phones from even the remotest part of the country, the spread of media in India has been dramatic, which makes it imperative for sociologists and anthropologists to study the phenomenon and its impact on people’s imaginations and concerns. Our objective is to analyse the intricate ways in which media and popular culture forms weave themselves onto our daily lives, and the means by which they act as mediators between the citizen, the family, the state, and the world.

Medical Anthropology

As an emerging area of inquiry with contemporary and topical relevance, Medical Anthropology is an important part of our department’s scholarly focus and engagement. The engagement with health, clinical systems, and embodied practices within medicine has made medical anthropology extremely relevant to theoretical and ethnographic conversations within anthropology. Some of the conceptual themes that we engage are: embodiment, medicalization, illness, ethics, structural violence, normal and pathological, reproduction, public health, narratives, etc. Our past and on-going research focus includes diabetes, intersex, infertility, asthma, midwifery, and others. The thrust towards the understanding of medicine and its concomitant parts stems from the increasing—and necessary—scrutiny into the interactions and interventions that society and the social makes with health and illness. There is a strong influence of ethnography and ethnographic methods in our teaching and research of Medical Anthropology.

Kinship and Family

Foundational theories within anthropology have emerged from, and informed by the study of kinship. As the anthropology of kinship underwent its own trajectory of discussion, debate, rejection, and affirmation, its resurrection in contemporary anthropological theory cannot be discounted. At IITH we study classical kinship theory, with research that chronicles its evolution as a sub-discipline over the decades. Rooted in its deep cultural investigations, the study of kinship and family forms an important part of curricular investigations that seek to inform both teaching and research. Our past and on-going research on kinship and family has looked at particular cultural groups like the Tamil Brahmins and the Bengalis—and at contemporary practices such as surrogacy and in-vitro fertilization.


Theoretical Linguistics

Theoretical linguistics comprises studies on syntax, semantics, morphology and phonology in natural language. At IITH, we investigate the nature of syntactic, semantic and phonological properties of natural language by looking into their manifestation across languages from formal and philosophical perspectives. In particular, the mathematical and computational properties of natural language syntax, semantics and phonology are examined by probing into issues of universality, interface interactions and modularity of linguistic phenomena, representation and encoding of linguistic structures, and also foundational matters in current linguistic theory.

Language and Cognition

Language is the sine qua non of the system of cognition. Language connects to the mind in way that is not only unique but also illuminating and enriching for the construction of explicit models of cognition in general. At IITH, our goal is to relate theoretical and empirical issues in linguistic theorizing to foundational issues in cognitive science since the latter issues are indissociably associated with matters of linguistic theory. The issues of particular concern in our research are the relation between language and the nature and form of thought, the computational character of linguistic cognition, the biological basis of language and its cognitive implementation, the nature of semantic representation and its link to cognition, and also the nature and extent of the linguistic encoding of the mind. The Language and Cognition Lab in the Department of Liberal Arts is set to investigate some of the questions in the topics that we explore.


Positive Psychology

Positive psychology research uses a strength based approach versus the medical or psychopathological approach followed by traditional psychology. This discipline investigates positive outcomes and strengths of individuals with an aim of increasing overall well-being. Ongoing research in the department is focused on character strengths as well as positive outcomes including well-being, protective factors, and resilient adaptation in the clinical and non-clinical population. Application of positive psychology intervention with selected variables is also being explored.

Organizational Behaviour and Industrial Psychology

Organizational behaviour and industrial behaviour aims to understand individual behaviour in large social groups like organizations. Some of the areas of interest of faculty working in this discipline are cross-cultural differences in work behaviors, developmental relationships like coaching and mentoring, work group dynamics, factors influencing effectiveness of cross cultural virtual teams etc.

Culture, Gender and Mental Health

This research area deals with the interface of culture and psychology in everyday life, focusing in particular on the area of mental health. It brings together learnings from cultural psychology, medical anthropology and gender studies. Traditionally, theory and research in clinical psychology focuses on mental health from an individual biomedical perspective. The aim of this course is to emphasize that health and mental health can never be studied solely in abstraction but have to be understood in relation to sociocultural contexts. Thus, even something as personal and private as the ‘self’ is located in a web of social reality. Research focuses on contemporary issues in the fields of transcultural psychiatry and cultural psychology to pay attention to specific local contexts and health and healing. This strand of research also pays particular attention to the gendered nature of experiences of illness and healing, the goal being to highlight women’s voices and narratives.

Critical Psychology

Critical psychology takes the position that the theories developed in psychology are not merely objective and neutral academic constructs but are produced in sociohistorical contexts. A re-reading of the history of psychology is required in order to understand the biases and assumptions that have subtly guided the development of the discipline. Instead of claiming to be a value-free science, critical psychology gives primacy to the values of equity and social justice. Research and action in critical psychology seeks to bring about positive social change by focusing on the welfare of marginalized groups who are often left out of study in traditional psychology. Critical psychology also experiments with new paradigms and methodologies in research, drawing heavily on qualitative methods to study the subjective experience of individuals.

Health and Medical Psychology

How we understand health and respond to illness forms the crux of health and medical psychology. The intersection between health and medical psychology results in research and practice exploring topics such as diet and exercise behaviours, physician communication, patients’ expectations, adherence, cultural representations of illness and so on. Faculty in this discipline at IITH examine what are the determinants of health and illness with specific focus on chronic disease management.