Penn Calendar Penn A-Z School of Arts and Sciences University of Pennsylvania

Amrita A. Kurian

Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Amrita A. Kurian is an anthropologist by training. Her work investigates the role of intermediaries in commercial agriculture in India. Using historical and ethnographic lenses, she studies how key intermediaries and their practices have shaped the contours of agrarian social relations and geographies in postcolonial India. Her research finds that intermediaries—including scientific experts, state administrators, affluent farmers, and labor contractors (or maistrees)—are not only foundational but inevitable to the rise of capitalist markets in erstwhile colonies. Her research is based on twenty months of ethnographic field research and archival research conducted with the support of the Wenner-Gren Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in the Flue-Cured Virginia (FCV)/cigarette tobacco sector in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

Dr. Kurian completed her Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of California San Diego in 2020. Her doctoral dissertation, In Pursuit of Quality: The Politics of Expertise and Transforming Agrarian Geographies in India, examined various technical interventions and standardization measures that experts implement to “improve” the quality of FCV tobacco grown in India. Her research of tobacco agriculture in India arose from her interest in the history of colonial agriculture, science, and global health. Her Master’s thesis in 2013 examined the growth of epidemiology and statistics in medical sciences that led to the rise of cigarettes as one of the most popular consumer products in the 20th century in the US before its descent into notoriety. Before her Ph.D. at UCSD, she was trained in sociology at Delhi University. Her work in India’s development sector and as a lecturer at UCSD has taught her a lot and strengthened her research.

"Accusations of Corruption: A Cautionary Tale from Indian Tobacco Auctions"
India in Transition, January 30, 2023