Shirin M. Rai

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Shirin M. Rai
Born (1960-12-01)1 December 1960
New Delhi
Residence United Kingdom
Institutions University of Warwick
Alma mater Delhi University
Known for Gender and Development; Democratization; Political Ceremony and Ritual Studies
Influences Foucault, Agamben, Hobsbawm & Ranger, Lukes

Shirin M. Rai is a political scientist, known for her research on the intersections between globalisation, post-colonial governance, processes of democratisation and gender regimes. She is the Director of the Gendered Ceremony and Ritual in Parliament Programme,[1] a four-year interdisciplinary project funded by the Leverhulme Trust[2] that studies the performances of ritual, ceremony, symbolism and affect in the British, Indian and South African parliaments.

Rai's research focuses on gendered readings of governance and developmental policies in post-colonial states (particular India) and most recently, the symbolic and performative aspects of (especially) parliamentary processes from a gendered, racialised, sexualised, embodied perspective.[3]

Rai was awarded the distinction of membership within the Academy of Social Sciences[4] in 2011 and serves as part of the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Warwick, UK . She has also collaborated with international organisations related to the United Nations,[5] such as the United Nations Development Programme, Division for Women's Advancement, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs and Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance and the World Bank[6] for consultancy work, and public speaking engagements.


Shirin M. Rai was born in India and attended Modern School in New Delhi. She went on to study political science at Hindu College graduating in 1982 with a bachelors of arts and then attended Delhi University, where she earned a masters of political science in 1984. She then went to University of Cambridge earning a PhD in 1989. Between 1984–85 she was a temporary lecturer at the University of Delhi, then moving onto the University of Warwick (1989) where she currently holds the post of professor of politics and international studies.

Shirin M. Rai is also a member of various professional societies such as the Political Studies Association and has served on the Governing Council of the International Studies Association[7] (2009–2011). She has also served on the editorial boards of publications such as: International Encyclopedia of Women's Studies, Democratization, Indian Journal of Gender Studies, International Feminist Journal of Politics, Global Ethics.


Shirin Rai's research contribution and leadership in the field of Gender and Development has been enormous. She has authored and edited several books in this area of research, together with many articles, encyclopaedia essays and book chapters. Her work has spanned three specific areas: democratisation, globalisation and governance.

Before her work on gender and development, Shirin Rai worked on political participation in post-Mao China. In her doctoral thesis she focused on the implementation of higher education reforms and suggested that informal and everyday participatory practices can undermine authoritarian regimes’ ability to push through policy and can thus delegitimise their power. She did her field work in China in 1987, where she interviewed many students, lecturers and officials in universities, which were already seething with discontent that spilled over into the streets and Tian’anmen Square in 1989. Rai went to Paris to interview dissidents who had had to flee China after the suppression of students and these interviews formed part of her book [8] (1991, Harvester-Wheatsheaf, Hemel Hempstead). During her research in China Rai became interested in the ways in which gender relations framed debates as well as policies on education and how gender divisions were consolidated through state intervention in policy implementation; this led her to developing a new research agenda.

Rai's work on a gendered analysis of the processes of democratisation, and in particular women's access to political and national and local development institutions has contributed enormously to the debates in the field. In 2000 she edited International Perspectives on Gender and Democratization[9] (2000) which was one of the first books in this area. In this book Rai raised important question about the nature of the third wave of democratisation and its complex effect on gender relations in the developing work. A distinctive framing of democratisation in her work concerns not only new but consolidated democracies such as India; Rai suggests that engendering state institutions in these countries forms part of the democratisation process and should not be overlooked. Her,[10] funded by the Nuffield Foundation, remains one of the only studies of its kind and has led to Rai working with United Nations organisations such as UNDP, Division for Women's Advancement, Department for Economic and Social Affairs and Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance for consultancy work, and public speaking engagements. She also published a.[11]

As the acting Director of the Centre for the Study of Democratisation at the University of Warwick, she (with Wyn Grant) launched a book series with Manchester University Press on Perspectives on Democratisation', which was re-launched under a new title –[12] in 2007. This series is now well-established and is attracting strong proposals resulting in well received publications and has been recognised as making an important contribution in the area of democratisation studies. Rai has also served on the Editorial Board of the journal Democratization.

Globalisation of political economy and its effect on gender relations is the second focus of Rai's work. In 2002 she published Gender and the[13] (Polity Press), which was, in the words of the International Feminist Journal of Politics, "a book that is essential reading – not just for feminists, but for anyone interested in global development",[14] establishing her position as a leading thinker in the field of gender and development. In 2008, Zed Press and Zubaan (India) published a volume of her articles under the title,[15] described as "a comprehensive assessment of how gender politics has emerged and developed in post-colonial states" with a 4/5 star rating on the website.

In 2010 she guest edited (with Kate Bedford) a special issue of,[16] published by the University of Chicago Press. The theme of the special issue is 'Feminists Theorize the International Political Economy'.[17] In her work Rai addressed two fundamental challenges before gender theory and practice: 1) Why certain accommodations regarding gender relations are more feasible than others? 2) What are the dangers of cooption of feminist struggles for equality in governance regimes on the one hand, and marginalisation and therefore lack of policy influence and shift on the other? Addressing these questions from a postcolonial perspective in the context of globalisation, Rai’s work continues to insist on keeping in focus the politics of gender equality as well as the dialectic of agency and structure in reproducing as well as challenging dominant social structures.

In her work on gender and governance Rai developed particular postcolonial theoretical perspectives which emphasise the specificity of third world states and women's engagements with the state. To this end, she was a member on the editorial boards of various high-profile academic journals such as: Political Studies Quarterly, Indian Journal of Gender Studies, International Feminist Journal of Politics and Global Ethics.

Her work on governance has examined the violent as well as fractured nature of the state and how these are constitutive of postcolonial gendered relations. She has written widely on the,[18] the nature of gendered violence and the,[19] through an examination of gender mainstreaming of national political institutions and policy making process and through a gendered examination of the theoretical issues affecting debates on global governance. The special issue of the International Feminist Journal of Politics (2004) and the edited collection on[20] (both with Georgina Waylen) 2008 have explored the gendered nature of governance in a globalised world. She has also developed threads of research exploring issues of citizenship in the context of development practice and has argued that outcome-driven agenda of neoliberal developmentalism treats women's agency as an instrument of social change, without giving sufficient attention to existing power relations in which agential capacities are formulated and exercised, and risk negotiated and managed (with Sumi Madhok, forthcoming).

Rai's work, in a long tradition of feminist scholarship, has been multidisciplinary. Building on her work on states, state institutions, political representation and the spectacularisation of politics, and funded by the Leverhulme Trust, Rai's current work is on Gendered Ceremony and Ritual in Parliament.The programme examines how struggles over the meanings and performance of ceremony and ritual in parliament secure and reproduce as well as challenge and transform institutional norms. Its insights into the theory and practice or representation are intended to inform democratic practice and invigorate political participation.


Rai, who has authored 4 books, edited 12 books, contributed over 30 articles to international journals and 29 chapters in edited books, together with numerous reviews, encyclopaedia entries and other essays has established for herself a prominent place in the scholarship on globalisation, development and governance from a gendered perspective

Authored Books[edit]

  • Resistance and Reaction: University Politics in Post-Mao China, 1991, Hemel Hempstead; Harvester-Wheatsheaf, pp. 229+xvii, ISBN 0-7450-0903-4
  • Chinese Politics and Society: An Introduction (co-author Flemming Christiansen), 1996, Hemel Hempstead, Harvester-Wheatsheaf, ISBN 0-13-354656-X (50%)
  • Gender and Political Economy of Development: From Nationalism to Globalisation, Cambridge, Polity Press, 2002, pp. 264, ISBN 0-7456-1491-4
  • Gender Politics of Development, Essays in Hope and Despair, London and New Delhi, Zed Books/Zubaan, 2008, ISBN 978-1-84277-837-1

Edited Books[edit]

  • Women in the Face of Change: Soviet Union Eastern Europe and China, (co-edited with Hilary Pilikington and Annie Phizacklea), 1992, London, Routledge, pp. 227+x, ISBN 0-415-07540-8, ISBN 0-415-07541-6 (pbk) (33%)
  • Stirring It: Women's Studies in Transition (co-edited with Gabrille Griffins, Marianne Hester and Sasha Roseneil), 1994, London, Taylor and Francis, pp. 231+vi. ISBN 0-7484-0213-6 (25%)
  • Civil Society: Democratic Perspectives (co-edited with Robert Fine), 1997, London, Frank Cass, pp. 172; ISBN 0-7146-4313-0 (pbk) (50%)
  • Rethinking Empowerment: Gender and Development in a Global/Local World (co-ed. with Jane Parpart and Kathleen Staudt) 2002, London, Routledge, ISBN 0-415-27769-8, 2002 (33%)
  • Globalisation and the Challenge of Development (co-ed. Peter Newell and Andrew Scott) 2002, IT Publishers, London, ISBN 1-85339-492-0. (40%)
  • National Machineries for the Advancement of Women: Mainstreaming Gender, Democratising the State? 2003, (ed. for the UN Division for the Advancement of Women) Manchester, Manchester University Press ISBN 0-7190-5978-X
  • Global Governance: Feminist Perspectives (eds. With Georgina Waylen), 2008, London, Palgrave Macmillan; ISBN 978-0-230-53704-0


  • 'Networking Across Borders: South Asian Research Network (SARN) on Gender, Law and Governance’, accepted for publication by Global Networks, 3(1) January 2003, pp. 59–74
  • ‘Knowledge and/as Power: Feminist Critiques of Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights’(with Sharmistha Barwa), Gender, Technology and Development, Vol. 7.No.1 (2003) (75%)
  • ‘Gendering Global Governance’ in International Feminist Journal of Politics, 6(4), 2004, pp. 579–601
  • ‘Legacies of Common Law: 'Crimes of Honour' in India and Pakistan’ (with Pratiksha Baxi and Shaheen Sardar Ali), Third World Quarterly, VOL. 27(7)2006, pp. 1239–1253
  • ‘Recasting the Global Political Economy: Counting Women’s Unpaid Work’, with Catherine Hoskyns, New Political Economy, 12:3,September 2007, pp. 297 – 317
  • ‘Local Democracy and Deliberative Politics: Indian panchayats and the quota for women’ Hypatia: Journal of Feminist Philosophy, 22, no. 4 (Fall) 2007, pp. 64–80
  • ‘Analysing Ceremony and Ritual in Parliament’ in Special Issue of Journal of Legislative Studies, 16: 3, September 2010, pp. 284 – 297
  • ‘Feminists Theorize the International Political Economy’ (with Kate Bedford), Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society; 36:1 Autumn 2010, pp. 1–18
  • ‘Agency, injury and trangressive politics in neoliberal times’ (with Sumi Madhok), Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society; 2010, forthcoming
  • 'Depletion and Social Reproduction [21] for the Center for the Study of Globalization and Regionalization, forthcoming


External links[edit]