Academic Director, Humanities Across Borders

International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS),Leiden The Netherlands.
  a.kawlra AT iias DOT nl
  +91 9840047113


Aarti Kawlra is an anthropologist interested in the methods of oral history, geography and cultural studies to discursively interrogate colonial, postcolonial and global discourses of culture, heritage, education, and development.

She is Academic Director of the program “Humanities Across Borders: Asia and Africa in the world” (HAB) and Affiliated Fellow at the International Institute of Asian Studies (IIAS) at the Leiden University, The Netherlands since 2012. She was the Co-principal Investigator of the ICSSR sponsored project “Craft in the discourse of caste-based education in 20th century south India”, Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS) Chennai, 2016-2019. And before that she was Associate (Guest) Faculty at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Madras, Chennai, 2007 - 2012.

As a researcher, I am interested in the complex entanglements of indigo, understood as both a historically charged concept and a people’s knowledge-practice, in the itineraries of communities and nations, the subjectivities around its use, and how it is represented or narrated, both from within academe and without. As a lens of inquiry, indigo offers an opportunity for scholars and educators, to mobilize popular and expert discourses, practitioners, and consumers, for curricular transformation via a multi-modal heuristic of engagement and activism.


Humanities Across Borders (HAB) is a network of institutions, a set of methodologies, and a model of collaboration, initiated by the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS), Leiden in 2016.  Working with university partners in parts of Asia, Africa, Europe, and the USA, HAB’s primary goal is to embed civic-minded pedagogies in higher education. We have developed context sensitive learning formats, like in situ experiential schools, practice-based workshops, and consultative roundtables, to facilitate trans-disciplinary dialogue among our partners together with local practitioners and civil society actors. Using shared themes from lived reality namely, food, place, craft and words, HAB is an experiment in building multi-university clusters for teaching and learning in a globally connected, yet locally situated way. See https://humanitiesacrossborders.org/ for more information. My affiliation at IFP will facilitate IFP researchers and students to become part of the HAB consortium and to contribute to the development of this trans-regional curricular innovation.

Representative publications

“Narrating indigo: Telling and re-telling subjectivities of craft in India” in Ways of Studying Craft edited by Chandan Bose and Mira Mohsini, Routledge, Forthcoming.

“Between culture and technology: Theme saris and the graphic representation of heritage in Tamil Nadu, India”. In Fashionable Traditions: Asian Handmade Textiles in Motion edited by Ayami Nakatani, pp 99-115. London: Lexington Books, 2020.

“An experiment in feminist technology in local governance: Revisiting the question of ‘invited spaces’ of participation in Kerala” co-authored with Binitha Thampi, in Review of Development and Change 24(2) 205-223, MIDS Chennai, January–June 2019.

We Who Wove with Lotus Thread: Summoning Community in South India, Orient Blackswan, India, January 2018.

“Reconstituting craft in the idiom of education for the masses”. In Inclusive Education in India: Concepts, Methods and Practice, edited by Milind Brahme, M. Suresh Babu and Thomas Muller, New Delhi: Mosaic Books, 2018.

“Being human in the world: Towards alternative pedagogies” co-authored with Françoise Vergès in The IIAS Newsletter 75, 2016, pp. 14-15.