Professor Naila Kabeer , who will be conferred an Honorary Doctor of the University at the University of Sussex winter graduation on Thursday 23 January, has spent her career focusing on individuals and groups in South Asia who are on the margins of their societies, and trying to understand social change from their perspective.
A feminist economist, she was born in Calcutta and grew up in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). Her book The Power to Choose: Bangladeshi Women and Labour Supply Decision-Making in London and Dhaka (Verso, 2000 and Kali for Women, 2001) was one of the inspirations behind author Monica Ali’s Booker-shortlisted novel Brick Lane, which was also made into a film of the same name in 2007.
Naila says: “One of the unexpected by-products of Brick Lane is that a lot of students in English Literature departments, not normally among my readers, ended up reading my book.”
For 25 years Naila was Professorial Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) on the University of Sussex campus. “IDS is a small community, a little island on the Sussex campus, but with lots of bridges to people working in the University,” she says.
“There was a lot of collaboration between us, including a joint MA in Gender and Development, the first I think in the UK. I first went there because there was a ‘critical mass’ of feminist anthropologists who were using anthropology to rethink economics in a way that made sense to me. I stayed on because I enjoyed the intersection between theory, research and policy engagement that is a defining feature of work at IDS.”
Now joint Professor of Gender and Development at the Departments of International Development and Gender Studies, London School of Economics and Political Science, where she was first an undergraduate and then a doctoral student, Naila continues to focus on various aspects of inequality and how they play out within households, labour markets and the wider economy.
She is also interested in forms of collective action by poor and marginalised groups that seek a more just distribution of power, resources and political voice and in what this tells us about the relationship between individual empowerment and societal justice.
Naila was named in the second edition of Key Thinkers on Development (Routledge, 2019). She is on editorial committees for the journals Feminist Economics and Gender and Development. Her publications include Reversed Realities: Gender Hierarchies in Development Thought (Verso Press, 1994) and Organizing Women Workers in the Informal Economy: Beyond the Weapons of Weak (Zed Press, 2013).
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By: Jacqui Bealing
Last updated: Monday, 20 January 2020