Akhil Gupta (born 1959) is an Indian-American anthropologist whose research has focused on the anthropology of the state and of development, as well as on postcolonialism. He is currently Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles.
He is married to Purnima Mankekar.
Akhil attended St. Xavier's School in Jaipur and graduated in 1974. Gupta did his undergraduate studies in Mechanical Engineering from Western Michigan University, following that with a Mechanical Engineering Masters from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Gupta then spent the next eight years getting a Ph.D. in Engineering-Economic Systems from Stanford University.
In 1992, while still at Stanford, Gupta along with fellow Stanford anthropologist James Ferguson wrote the well-known and oft-cited essay, "Beyond 'Culture': Space, Identity, and the Politics of Difference." which argued that the analytic concept of culture had remained largely unproblematized by anthropological discourse, and that anthropologists of the day had failed to recognize and analyze the politics of cultural difference, how such differences were produced, and how such differences were used and abused by the state and by capital. The article argues for the examination of cultural anthropology as an unconscious mechanism of neo-imperialism.
Gupta has done extensive work in rural North India. In his book, Postcolonial Developments: Agriculture in the Making of Modern India, Gupta analyzes whether and how post-colonial theory can be applied to subaltern rural places. He attempts to understand the growth of modern India through its agricultural sector. Most of his work has taken place in the western part of the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Gupta has also tried to understand the ethnography of the state - as lived, understood and discussed in rural India.
He is also a leading figure in the anthropology of the state, and is the co-editor of a book of collected essays called The Anthropology of the State: A Reader.
Gupta was unanimously approved for tenure in 1996 at Stanford, but was then denied tenure by the dean John Shoven. However, in the face of outcry from across the academy as well as mobilization by students, the dean's decision was overturned.<Science 20 June 1997: Vol. 276 no. 5320 pp. 1783-1784>
- Postcolonial Developments: Agriculture in the Making of Modern India, 1997
- Editor, The Anthropology of the State: A Reader (with Aradhana Sharma), 2006
- Editor, Caste and Outcast (with Gordon Chang and Purnima Mankekar), 2002
- Editor, Culture, Power, Place: Explorations in Critical Anthropology (with James Ferguson), 1997
- Editor, Anthropological Locations: Boundaries and Grounds of a Field Science (with James Ferguson), 1997
- Gupta, Akhil; James Ferguson (Feb 1992). "Beyond "Culture": Space, Identity, and the Politics of Difference". Cultural Anthropology 7 (1): 6–23. doi:10.1525/can.1992.7.1.02a00020a. JSTOR 656518.
- Aradhana Sharma; Gupta, Akhil (2007). The anthropology of the state : a reader ([Nachdr.] ed.). Malden: Blackwell. ISBN 1-4051-1467-3.