Leela Gandhi

Leela Gandhi

Department of English

Office: Walker 511
Phone: (773) 702-3178

My research and teaching interests include sixteenth- and seventeenth-century drama, the culture of late-Victorian radicalism, Indo-Anglian literature, and Postcolonial theory. To date, my scholarly work has been driven by a methodological impulse toward disciplinary intersection and an accompanying inclination toward the overlapping and intertwined legacies borne of colonial encounter. Postcolonial Theory (1998), my first book, gave to me a formative understanding of two paradigmatic themes that have since formed the basis of my writing. The first of these is the view that colonialism instantiates a structural relation of ‘contrapuntality’ between West and non-West, and the second is the notion that colonialism also provokes surprising proximities and intimacies between unlikely cultures and entities: across West and non-West, within the West, and between various non-Western locales. The first theme I explored in a co-authored study, England Through Colonial Eyes (2001), which read ‘contrapuntality’ as shorthand for the discomfiting yet mutually transforming cosmopolitanism between coloniser and colonised. The second theme of counter-colonial proximity and intimacy, closer to my heart, finds its fullest expression in my previous book, Affective Communities (2006). This book seeks to represent anticolonial politics as the product of numerous transnational collaborations, friendships and conversations between western and non-western dissidents. Motivated by what we might call, after M. K. Gandhi, a non-violent or ahimsaic historiography, it turns to the colonial encounter not for evidence of violence and conflict, but rather in search for small subjugated narratives of cross-cultural collaboration between oppressors and oppressed, concerned with a visionary commitment to the end of institutionalised suffering.

Retaining an emphasis upon the tropes of ‘accord’, ‘relation’ and ‘affect’, my current work pays closer attention to the insistent allegiance between ‘politics’ and ‘ethics’ in anticolonial endeavour. Hitherto my concern has been with the way certain ethical mentalities and practices achieved (often inadvertently) an external political effect when elaborated against the discursive background of imperial governmentality. My interest now is in the interiorised techniques or practices—the disciplinary work upon the self—consciously undertaken by the antagonistic yet collaborating subjects of anticolonial accord. The book-length study that I have recently completed examines a series of historical conjunctures, events, phenomena, largely shaped by the events of the first two world wars, that I believe to have been especially congenial to the distillation of a postcolonial askesis.


Graduate: India in English; Postcolonial Theory and Beyond (with Dipesh Chakrabarty); Postcolonial Intersections: The Middle East and South Asia; Same-Sex Love and Desire in Indic Literatures (co-taught with Ruth Vanita); The Afterlives of Gandhi

Undergraduate: Human Being and Citizen; India in English; The Afterlives of Gandhi

 by Leela Gandhi

Selected Publications

  • The Common Cause: Postcolonial Ethics and the Practice of Democracy, 1900- 1955 (forthcoming, University of Chicago Press)
  • "Around 1948," coeditor with Deborah Nelson for forthcoming special issue of Critical Inquiry
  • ‘Acts of Literature: Antonio Lobo Antunes and the Return of the Caravels’, Portuguese Literary and Cultural Studies, 19:20 (2011)
  • "The Pauper’s Gift: Postcolonial Studies and the New Democratic Dispensation," Public Culture (2011)
  • "After Virtue: Notes on C20th Socialist Antimaterialism," English Literary History (2010)
  • "The Spirit of Nonviolence: A Transnational Genealogy for Ahimsa," Interventions (2008)
  • "Postcolonial Theory and the Crisis of European Man," Postcolonial Studies 10, no. 1 (March 2007)
  • Affective Communities: Anticolonial Thought, Fin de Siecle Radicalism, and the Politics of Friendship (Duke University Press, 2006)
  • "Novelists of the 1930s and 40s," in Arvind Krishna Mehrotra ed., A History of Indian Literature in English (Columbia University Press, 2003)
  • Blake, Ann; Leela Gandhi; and Sue Thomas. England Through Colonial Eyes in Twentieth-Century Fiction (Palgrave Macmillan, 2001)
  • Measures of home: Poems (Ravi Dayal, 2000)
  • Postcolonial Theory: A Critical Introduction (Columbia University Press, 1998)
  • "Concerning Violence: The Limits and Circulations of Gandhian Ahimsa or Passive Resistance," Cultural Critique (Winter 1996-97)

Editorial Work

  • Founding co-editor, The Journal of Postcolonial Studies
  • Editorial Board, Postcolonial Text


  • Senior Fellow, School of Criticism and Theory, Cornell University
  • Fellow, Chicago Centre for Contemporary Theory (SCT)
  • The Committee on South Asian Studies
  • Visiting Faculty Fellow, Adishakti Laboratory for Theatre Arts, Pondicherry


D.Phil., Balliol College, Oxford, 1991. Teaching at Chicago since 2007.