Leela Fernandes studies the relationship between politics and culture through both qualitative empirical research and theoretical scholarship. Her research examines the ways in which cultural meanings, practices and identities shape political behavior and deepen our explanations of political conflicts and processes. She has pursued this research agenda through extensive field research on labor politics, democratization and the politics of economic reform in India. Her focus on identity, culture and politics has led her to work extensively on qualitative and interdisciplinary methods including ethnographic and interpretive methods.
A central dimension of Professor Fernandes' research is the study of gender in shaping cultural, economic and political processes. She has worked on theories of intersectionality and has also examined the gendered dimensions of nationalism and transnationalism. An ongoing foundation of Professor Fernandes' research is the study of social inequality with a particular emphasis on researching and theorizing class identity and inequality.
Leela Fernandes recently finished two books. Transnational Feminism in the United States engages in a critical discussion of interdisciplinary research and theory on transnationalism. She also edited the Routledge Handbook on Gender and South Asia which provides a broad overview of feminist scholarship on South Asia drawing on the work of twenty three scholars from South Asia, Europe and North America. She is currently working on a new research project, The Politics of Water: Inequality and India's Post-Liberalization State which analyzes changes in the state and the emergence of new forms of inequality through a study of the water sector in contemporary India.
Leela Fernandes is the Glenda Dickerson Collegiate Professor in Women's Studies at the University of Michigan. She previously taught at Rutgers University, New Brunswick and Oberlin College and is currently the South Asia Editor of the journal Critical Asian Studies.
- India's New Middle Class: Democratic Politics in an Era of Economic Reform. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, December 2006.
- "Hegemonic Aspirations: New Middle Class Politics and India's Democracy in Comparative Perspective," (with Patrick Heller), Critical Asian Studies, December 2006.
- Producing Workers: The Politics of Gender, Class and Culture in the Calcutta Jute Mills, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997. Reprinted edition published in India (English Edition). New Delhi: Sage Publications, 1999.
- "Unsettling 'Third Wave Feminism: Feminist Waves, Intersectionality and Identity Politics in Retrospect" in Nancy Hewitt, ed., No Permanent Waves: Recasting Histories of U.S. Feminism. NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2009.
- "The Politics of Religious Conversion: Unsettling State/Civil Society Boundaries in India", Religion and Politics, 4 (1), 2011 (April).
- "Reading 'India's Bandit Queen': A Trans/National Feminist Perspective on the Discrepancies of Representation," Signs: A Journal of Women, Culture and Society, 25, 1 (Autumn): 123-152, 1999.
- "The Politics of Forgetting: Class Politics, State Power and the Restructuring of Urban Space in India," Urban Studies, 41 (12): 2415-2430, 2004.
- "The Boundaries of Terror: Feminism, Human Rights and the Politics of Global Crisis" in Wendy Hesford and Wendy Kozol, eds., Just Advocacy? Transnational Feminism, Women's Human Rights and the Politics of Representation, New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2005: 56-74.