Ursula Rao

Ursula RaoNetwork Member

Ursula Rao is Director of the Department “Anthropology of Politics and Governance” at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle and Honorary Professor of Anthropology at the University of Leipzig. Her current research focuses on e-governance and the social consequences of digital governance especially for re-making the welfare state in India. She is completing a manuscript on “The experimental state”. In the past Ursula Rao has also written on Hindi- and English journalism, urban space and ritual theory. Her regional focus is India.

Before joining the Max Planck Institute, Ursula Rao held academic positions at the University of Leipzig (2012-2020), the University of New South Wales, Sydney (2007-2012), the University of Halle (2002-2006) and the University of Heidelberg (1998-2002).

Current position
Director of the Department ‘Anthropology of Politics and Governance’
University affiliation
Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology and University of Leipzig


Ursula Rao’s Department ‘Anthropology of Politics and Governance’ brings together scholars who use the tools and techniques of anthropology to research political arrangements, governance initiatives, and social movements that organize the contemporary world and animate future possibilities. This agenda responds to the sense that we live in critical times. Societies are challenged by new health scares; people fear that the changing climate could end human life as we know it; and many people experience war or totalitarian rule, or worry about the spread of extremism and violence. Reactions to these challenges are multiple, ranging from spectacular action and noisy protest to attempts to re-establish control by means of new techniques and technologies of rule. She and her team study how such concerns emerge within specific lifeworlds, and how people’s situated action addresses globally relevant problems and contributes to the repositioning of humans in our times. They focus their attention on the emblematic topics of Ecological Transformations and Well-being, and we address the crucial role Techno-optimism plays in attempts to come to terms with and govern the complexities of (human) life.

Click here for the complete list of publications at the member’s home institution.

Online presentations:
‘A Conversation with Ursula Rao on Digital Identities, Biometric Technology and Bodies of Evidence’, Black Box by Algorithmic Governance Research Network with Tereza Østbø Kuldova, 25.06.2021.

‘The Right to Live at Times of Digital Surveillance’, Presentation at Behind Walls, Beyond Disciplines: Science, Technology, and the Carceral State of the Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program, University of Michigan, 11.06.2021.


  • Rao, Ursula (2020) "Remediating the local through localised news making. India's booming multilingual press as agent in political and social change." in The Routledge companion to local media and journalism , edited by Agnes Gulyas and David Baines, 149-157. London: Routledge. → https://dx.doi.org/10.4324/9781351239943-18
  • Rao, Ursula (2019) "Biometric IDs and the remaking of the Indian (welfare) state." in Economic Sociology 21 (1): 13–21.
  • Rao, Ursula, and Vijayankar Nair (eds.) (2019) "Aadhaar: Governing With Biometrics (Special Issue)." in South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies 42 (3). → https://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00856401.2019.1595343
  • Rao, Ursula (2018) "Biometric Bodies, or How to Make Fingerprinting Work in India." in Body & Society 24 (3): 68-94. → http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1357034X18780983
  • Rao, Ursula (2017) "Writing, typing and scanning: Distributive justice and the politics of visibility in the era of e-governance." in Media as Politics in South Asia , edited by Sahana Udupa and Stephen D. McDowell, 127-140. London: Routledge.
  • Anjaria, Jonathan, and Ursula Rao (2014) "Talking back to the state: Citizens’ engagement after neoliberal reform in India." in Social Anthropologist 22 (4): 410-427.
  • Rao, Ursula, and Graham Greenleaf (2013) "Subverting ID from above and below: The uncertain shaping of India’s new instrument of governance." in Surveillance & Society 11 (3): 287-300.
  • Rao, Ursula (2013) "Tolerated Encroachment: Resettlement policies and the negotiation of the licit/illicit divide in an Indian metropolis." in Cultural Anthropology 28 (4): 760-779.
  • Rao, Ursula (2013) "Biometric marginality: UID and the shaping of homeless identities in the city." in Economic and Political Weekly 48: 1-7.
  • Rao, Ursula (2010) "Making the global city: Urban citizenship at the margins of Delhi." in Ethnos 75 (4): 402-424.
  • Rao, Ursula (2010) "Neoliberalism and the rewriting of the Indian leader." in American Ethnologist 37 (4): 713-725.