Nirmal Puwar, Research Officer 1994-1997

Nirmal is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Goldsmith's

Nirmal is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Goldsmith’s

I  came to the Sociology Department at Essex in 1994, as a Research Officer on an ESRC project with Prof. John Scott, titled ‘New and Established Elites’.

Essex left an enduring and informative influence on my life.  I was part of a very vibrant department of staff and students. Travis Kong, Lyndsey Moon, Ayesha Gill, Junko Sakia, Miriam Glucksman, Catherine Hall, Vicky Randall, John Scott, Ken Plummer, Ted Benton, Mike Roper, Sean Nixon & Ian Craib made it a lively, heterodox, supportive learning environment. I still remember the shared Sociology common room, coffee trolley and the intellectually charged jolly away weekends  with staff and PG students in Great Yarmouth. The coming together of Judith Butler with Mary McIntosh was a moment full of suspense. So much so that I did not take off my red leather coat while I Chaired this event organised by the student led Gender and Ethnicity Group.

Today I am a Senior Lecturer in the Sociology Department at Goldsmiths and Director of the Methods Lab, co-founded with Les Back.  To foreground this approach we have co-edited the book‘Live Methods’ (2012, Sociological Review monograph).  Both Ken Plummer and John Scott have delivered the Annual Methods Lab Lecture here (see

When I came to Essex it was to work on an ESRC project with Prof. John Scott, titled ‘New and Established Elites’.  My fieldwork was conducted in Westminster and Whitehall, where I interviewed over a 100 MPs and senior civil servants. In my analysis, I widened the scope and pushed the boundaries of  political sociology by bringing insights from gender studies, post-colonial theory and cultural geography. From this research  I gained my PhD  – examined by Prof. Miriam Glucksman & Prof. Anne Phillips; and published as the book Space Invaders: race, gender and bodies out of place’ (2004). The Australian political philospher Moira Gatens endorsed the book by saying::

Space Invaders is the book we’ve all been waiting for! Puwar masterfully shows how neither bodies nor the spaces they occupy can be neutral…Her insights are original, her analysis clear and forceful, and the overall result is surprising, convincing and breathtakingly illuminating. Absolutely essential reading for anyone interested in power and politics.”

(For a fuller review by Gatens see Feminist Review :

Different sectors, ranging from science to art, politics and academia have made productive use of the processes highlighted  in my book  – using the concept ‘Space Invaders’ for understanding the co-existence of bodies in spaces which have not been historically or conceptually reserved for them. Perhaps the most well known contemporary globally known figure of the ‘space invader’, has been the arrival of Barack Hussein Obama in the White House in 2008.

As Director of the Methods Lab  I have been working across disciplinary fields towards a creative public sociology that speaks to both academic and non-academic environments.   Developing the notion of ‘curating sociology’  I have  worked with different situations to expand understandings and practices of space invading. The co-edited book with Les Back on ‘Live Methods’ (2012, Sociological Review monograph) foregrounds this approach.

I have also led a number of creative projects activating a sociological imagination in the sense of C W Mills. The most high profile of these has been the AHRC funded Noise of the Past, which involved a public event curated in Coventry Cathedral The attempt to re-route militaristic nationalistic notions of war and memory through the insertion of post-colonial bodies has been central to this project. Noise of the Past launched the award winning film Unravelling, directed by Kuldip Powar with a new score by Nitin Sawhney and, the music performance ‘Post-colonial War Requiem’ composed in spatial dialogue with the live architecture of Coventry Cathedral, a site of both the trauma and memory of war.  The evening screening and performance was compered by the historian Carolyn Steedman and opened by the war correspondent Martin Bell. This public event was proceeded by a conference in the Guildhall, located next to the cathedral, with a key note by the oral historian Alessandro Portelli from Rome.  We now hope to take the project to Dresden,  the city that was blitzed to bits soon ater Coventry Cathedral. To read more, see the Special Issue of The Senses & Society (2011) edited with S. Sharma:

Other projects have included the installation at Goldsmiths of the photographic exhibition ‘Pierre Bourdieu in Algeria: testimonies of uprooted’, which ran alongside a series of seminars and produced the Special Issue on ‘Post-colonial Bourdieu’ for Sociological Review (2009, co-edited with Les Back & Azzedine Haddour).

The theme of space, public sphere & cinema have been articulated around what I have termed as ‘Social Cinema Scenes’ – . This arose after she worked on an exhibition with the Herbert Art Gallery and co-directed the film, with Kuldip Powar, Khabi Ritz, Khabie Palladium, see:

This was followed by two further short films, Coventry Ritz (funded by the BFI) and Cinema III, directed with S.Sharma (funded by the British Academy).

She has also edited ‘Intimacy in Research’ in The History of the Human Sciences (2008) with M. Fraser; South Asian Women in the Diaspora (2003) with P.Raghuram; ‘Orientalism’ for Fashion Theory (2003, English & Brazilian Portuguese) with N. Bhatia; as well as ten issues of the international journal Feminist Review, including celebration Issue 100. She has published on the space of the ‘migrant’ as a figure of fantasy and attachment in the activist journals including Multitudes (2004, in French) and Derrive Approdi (2004, in Italian)

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