Principal Faculty

Nidhi Mahajan
  • Title
    • Assistant Professor
  • Division Social Sciences Division
  • Department
    • Anthropology Department
    • Critical Race and Ethnic Studies
  • Phone
  • Email
  • Office Location
    • Social Sciences 1, 333
  • Office Hours By appointment.
  • Mail Stop Social Sciences 1 Faculty Services

Summary of Expertise

Nidhi Mahajan is currently working on a book manuscript titled "Moorings: The Dhow Trade, Capitalism, and Sovereignty in the Indian Ocean." Bringing together feminist political economy, anthropological studies of sovereignty, and Indian Ocean studies, the book centers the social fabric of a marginalized mobile society of Muslim seafarers from Kachchh in western India who move across South Asia, East Africa, and the Middle East. Examining how these sailors become crucial intermediaries in global shipping, the book argues that capitalism must be understood to be heterogeneous, flexible, and ultimately braided with histories of sovereignty.  


A second project examines patronage as a form of labor across the Indian Ocean including histories and forms of slavery, maritime labor, domestic labor, sex work, and migrant labor across the Middle East, South Asia and East Africa. Tracing the historical movement of labor across these spaces, this project suggests that patronage is a key optic to understanding labor migration across the Indian Ocean. 


She has also been working on a project that examines how new forms of legitimacy, notions of indigeneity, and sovereignty based on Indian Ocean imaginaries are currently being revived in East Africa even as the region is being re-shaped by large infrastructure projects. 


Mahajan is also an artist who has developed multi-media exhibitions for the Fort Jesus Museum in Mombasa and the National Museums of Kenya, Khoj International Artists’ Association in New Delhi, and the Sharjah Architecture Triennial in 2019.


Research Interests

Feminist political economy, mobility, transregionalism, maritime labor, migration, port cities, dhow trade, sovereignty, political anthropology, historical anthropology, Indian Ocean, East Africa, the Middle East, South Asia.  

Honors, Awards and Grants

2020-2022. Fatima Mernissi Post-doctoral Fellowship in Social and Cultural Studies, The Africa Institute, Sharjah, UAE. 

2019. Hellman Fellowship, University of California. 

2017-2018. Transregional Research Junior Fellowship: InterAsian Contexts and Connections, Social Science Research Council. 

2016. Engaged Anthropology Grant, Wenner-Gren Foundation, New York.

2013-2014. Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship, American Council of Learned Societies. 



Selected Publications


 Journal Articles


“Locked Up in Lockdown: Patronage as Possibility in the Indian Ocean.” History of the Present 13 (1) (2023): 71-86. (April 2023)


 “Notes on an Archipelagic Ethnography: Ships, Seas, and Islands of Relation in the Indian Ocean.” Island Studies Journal 16 (1): 9–22. (Summer 2021) 


"Dhow Itineraries: The Making of a Shadow Economy in the Western Indian Ocean." Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East  39, no. 3 (2019): 407-419. (Dec 2019)


Forthcoming, 2023. “’The Coast is Not Kenya: Mwambao in a Moment of Danger.” Monsoon: A Journal of the Indian Ocean Rim. 


Book Chapters


“Of Those on Shore: The Dhow Trade and Mobility in the Indian Ocean.” In Cosmopolitan Cultures and Oceanic Thought edited by Dilip Menon and Nishat Zaidi. Routledge, 2023.


"Seasons of sail: The monsoon, Kinship, and Labor in the dhow trade." In Reimagining Indian Ocean Worlds edited by Smriti Srinivas, Bettina Ng'weno, and Neelima Jeychandran. pp. 73-86. Routledge, 2020. (Jul 2020)


At Home, At Sea: Onboard a Dhow in the Western Indian Ocean.” In Prita Meier and Allyson Purpura [eds.],  World on the Horizon: Swahili Arts Across the Indian Ocean Krannert Art Museum. Seattle: University of Washington Press. (Mar 2018)


Forthcoming. “Afro-Indian Migrations and the Indianization of East Africa.” In Eric Tagliacozzo, Donna Gabaccia, Catia Antunes [eds.] Cambridge History of Global Migration, Vol. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Other Essays

“Lamu: A Battleground of Memory and Aspiration.”  Cityscapes Magazine.  (Summer 2017) 


A Dhow's Voyage: Sailors and Saints Across the Indian Ocean" Ajam Media Collective, Sept 12, 2019.


“Kenya: Silencing Dissent in the Face of Terror.” In Compare Afrique. June 16, 2015.


Review Essays


"The Possibilities of Protection." Book review forum for Captured at Sea: Piracy and Protection in the Indian Ocean by Jatin Dua. In Society and Space. November 2021. 


"Remembering Slavery at the Bin Jelmood House in Qatar," Middle East Report 299 (Summer 2021).



Selected Exhibitions


"From Swamp to Sea: The Mangrove Pole Trade on the Swahili Coast." A photographic exhibit at the Fort Jesus Museum, Mombasa and the National Museums of Kenya. 2016.  

"Seasons of Sail: From Aakhar to Mausam,” A mixed-media installation at Khoj International Artist’s Association, Delhi, India. 2017. 

"Silences and Spectres of the Indian Ocean," A mixed-media installation and performance for the Sharjah Architecture Triennial, 2019. Sharjah, UAE. 




Teaching Interests

Anthropology of Africa, South Asia, Indian Ocean, political economy, borders, piracy, contraband, transregional connections, labor.