Associate Professor

Email: ctm22(@)

Phone: 919 962-2683

Associate Professor


Phone: 919 962-2683

Office: 409G Alumni Building

Area of Interest:

Political Anthropology; Politics of Recognition, Belonging, and Autonomy; the State; Affect and Anxiety; Logistics and Infrastructure; Postcolonial Theory; South Asia; India; Nepal


Ph.D. Cornell University 2010

Recent Publications:

2015     The Demands of Recognition: State Anthropology and Ethnopolitics in Darjeeling. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

2015     “Ethnography and Social Theory: A Dialectic to Hang Our Hats On.” In Theory Can Be More Than It Used To Be: Learning Anthropology’s Method in a Time of Transition. Dominic Boyer, James Faubion, & George Marcus (eds.) Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

2014   Fieldwork(ers): Research Assistants, Researchers, and the Production of Ethnographic Knowledge. A special issue of Ethnography 15(3). Edited by Townsend Middleton & Jason Cons.

2014    “Coming to Terms: Reinserting Research Assistants into Ethnography’s Past and Present.” Introduction to Fieldwork(ers). Special Issue of Ethnography 15 (3). Co-authored with Jason Cons. 279-290.

2014    “Dynamic Duos: On Partnership and the Possibilities of Postcolonial Ethnography.” in Fieldwork(ers). Special Issue of Ethnography 15(3). Co-authored with Eklavya Pradhan. 355-374.

2013     “Anxious Belongings: Anxiety and the Politics of Belonging in Subnationalist Darjeeling.” American Anthropologist 115(4). Pp. 608-621.

2013    “States of Difference: Refiguring Ethnicity and its ‘Crisis’ at India’s Borders.” Political Geography 35 (July)  (Special Issue: Geographies at the Margins: Interrogating Borders in South Asia.): 14-24.

2013     “Scheduling Tribes: A View from Inside India’s ‘Ethnographic State’.” FOCAAL: Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology 65. (Special Issue: Affirmative Action in South Asia). 13-22.

2011    “Across the Interface of State Ethnography: Rethinking Ethnology and its Subjects in Multicultural India.” American Ethnologist 38(2): 249-266.

2011    “Ethno-logics: Paradigms of Modern Identity” in Modern Makeovers: A Handbook of Modernity in South Asia. Ed. Saurabh Dube. Oxford University Press. 200-213.

Research Interest:

I am a cultural anthropologist who specializes in South Asia. To date, my research has organized primarily around interests in the postcolonial state, the affective dimensions of political life, and the politics of recognition, belonging, and autonomy in India. My recent book, The Demands of Recognition: State Anthropology and Ethnopolitics in Darjeeling (Stanford University Press, 2015), follows communities in their quests for tribal recognition and autonomy in India. My fieldwork for this project focused extensively on communities’ efforts to become Scheduled Tribes (a coveted affirmative action designation). I simultaneously worked with government anthropologists who certify India’s Scheduled Tribes. Examining tribal recognition from ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ the postcolonial state, I have sought to understand the workings of late liberal governance and its impacts on indigeneity and the ethnos today. This has involved, at once, an engagement with the ever-evolving lives of anthropology in India and a broader theorization of our ethnologically-informed present—what I call the ethno-contemporary.

I am currently pursing a number of new research projects. Most immediately, I am the lead investigator of a NSF supported collaborative research project entitled Chokepoints: A Comparative Global Ethnography. This project brings together ethnographers from across the disciplines to examine a series of critical ‘chokepoints’—for instance, geo-political corridors, canals, straights, tunnels, etc.– around the world in order to contribute to broader understandings of infrastructure and logistics. I have also begun a long-term ethnographic and historical investigation provisionally titled, The Lives and Lands of Cinchona: A Short History of Quinine in India.   This project examines the colonial history of cinchona (the tree from which quinine, the principle anti-malarial during the colonial period, was harvested) and the current quandaries of its still-existing plantations. My aim is to theorizes cinchona as lynchpin of the colonial era and a window into the entanglements and shifting techno-political terrains of post-liberalization India. Along with these projects, I am currently co-editing a book (with Sara Shneiderman), Darjeeling Reconsidered: Histories, Environments, Politics, and writing on topics of political violence, assassination, and the current state of anthropology.


Working with students, I try to teach anthropology as a means to academic knowledge and socially aware living. Whenever possible, my classes incorporate student ethnography into their design, so as to give students the chance to ‘do’ anthropology and gain first-hand knowledge of our subject matters and the craft itself. I offer courses on general topics within discipline, as well as more specialized courses pertaining to my research interests. At present, I am working to develop UNC’s offerings in the anthropology of South Asia. I am also a contributing member of UNC’s Curriculum in Global Studies, which means that my courses typically involve significant cross-cultural comparison in a variety of international contexts.


ANTH 063:  The Lives of Others:  Exploring Ethnography

ANTH 142: Local Cultures/Global Forces

ANTH 259:  Culture and Identity

ANTH 361:  Community in India and South Asia

ANTH 461:  Colonialism and Postcolonialism:  History and Anthropology

ANTH 691:  Honors Thesis Seminar

ANTH 701: Sociocultural Theory and Ethnography


Townsend Middleton CV