Doctor Malini Sur

Doctor Malini Sur

Senior Lecturer in Anthropology,
Anthropology & Sociology


I am a socio-cultural anthropologist with research interests in India, Bangladesh and Australia. My research explores agrarian borderlands, cities and the environment. A first line of inquiry is concerned with infrastructures, transnational flows, and citizenship. The second explores the relationship that degraded air and mobility has to urban space. I also investigate the afterlives of natural disasters, shifting ecologies, air pollution, and climate change in Asia and Australia. I position these themes historically and in productive dialogue with human rights discourses, along with keen attention to visual representation. 

My book Jungle Passports: Fences, Mobility, and Citizenship at the Northeast India-Bangladesh Border (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2021) recasts established notions of citizenship and mobility along violent borderlands. Since the nineteenth century, a succession of states has classified the inhabitants of what are now the borderlands of Northeast India and Bangladesh as Muslim "frontier peasants", "savage mountaineers" and Christian "ethnic minorities" suspecting them to be disloyal subjects, spies, and traitors.In Jungle Passports, I follow their struggles to secure shifting land, gain access to rice harvests, and smuggle the cattle and garments upon which their livelihoods depend against a background of violence, scarcity, and India's construction of one of the world's longest and most highly militarized border fences. I show how the partitioning of sovereignties and distinct regimes of mobility and citizenship push undocumented people to undertake perilous journeys across previously unrecognized borders every day. I have also published on borderlands  in Cultural Anthropology, Comparative Studies in Society and History and Modern Asian Studies. Photographs from my fieldwork on South Asia's borders have been exhibited in Amsterdam, Berlin, Bonn, Chiang Mai, Gottingen, Heidelberg, Kathmandu and Munich. 

My second ethnographic project studies the political terrains that degraded air generates in India. Drawing on insights from three years of ethnographic fieldwork in the city of Kolkata, I explore how daily-wage bicyclists and environmental activists in large postcolonial cities experience, navigate and mobilize air in everyday life and the economies, including repair economies that coalesce around urban cycling. I have co-edited two Special Issues in CITY and Economic and Political Weekly on these themes. My first documentary film Life Cycle, about air pollution and urban cycling in India has been screened at the Perth, Sydney, Canberra, Santiago, Singapore, Kolkata and New York. My interest in the environment, and especially in climatic events, air pollution and dust, and urban mobility now extends to my new research in Australia. I have published collaborative research on construction sites, on ground-breaking and the redistribution of earth’s particles and on dust and bushfire haze. I have written about slow cycling and urban mobility in Australia and commented widely in the media including the ABC on the global impacts of dust and pollution. My public writing has appeared in the Conversation, Himal, The Telegraph, Wire and Scroll.

At Western Sydney University, I divide my time between the School of Social Sciences where I am a Senior Lecturer in Anthropology and the Institute for Culture and Society where I serve as the Deputy Director of Engagement and International.

This information has been contributed by Doctor Sur.


  • PhD University of Amsterdam
  • MA University of Essex (UK)
  • MA Soc Sc Tata Institute of Social Sciences
  • BA Jadavpur University

Organisational Unit (School / Division)

  • Anthropology & Sociology


Phone: (02) 9685 9604
Location: EM.G.06

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  • Sur, M. (2021), 'Jungle Passports: Fences, Mobility, and Citizenship at the Northeast India-Bangladesh Border', : University of Pennsylvania Press 9780812252798.
  • Kalir, B. and Sur, M. (2012), 'Transnational Flows and Permissive Polities: Ethnographies of Human Mobilities in Asia', : Amsterdam University Press 9789089644084.

Chapters in Books

  • Sur, M. (2018), 'Asia's gendered borderlands', Routledge Handbook of Asian Borderlands, Routledge 9781138917507.
  • Sur, M. and Meetren, M. (2018), 'The borders of integration : paperwork between Bangladesh and Belgium', Borders and Mobility in South Asia and Beyond, Amsterdam University Press 9789462984547.
  • Kalir, B., Sur, M. and Schendel, W. (2013), 'Introduction : mobile practices and regimes of permissiveness', Transnational Flows and Permissive Polities: Ethnographies of Human Mobilities in Asia, Amsterdam University Press 9789089644084.
  • Sur, M. (2012), 'Bamboo baskets and barricades : gendered landscapes at the India-Bangladesh border', Transnational Flows and Permissive Polities: Ethnographies of Human Mobilities in Asia, Amsterdam University Press 9789089644084.

Journal Articles

  • Meeteren, M. and Sur, M. (2020), 'Territorial ironies : deservingness as a struggle for migrant legitimacy in Belgium', International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society, vol 33, no 4 , pp 575 - 589.
  • Sur, M. (2020), 'Sounds of trauma', Commoning Ethnography, vol 3, no 1 , pp 144 - 151.
  • Sur, M. (2020), 'Time at its margins : cattle smuggling across the India-Bangladesh border', Cultural Anthropology, vol 35, no 4 , pp 546 - 574.
  • Anwar, N. and Sur, M. (2020), 'Keeping cities in motion : an introduction to the labours of repair and maintenance in South Asia', Economic and Political Weekly, vol 55, no 51 , pp 31 - 33.
  • Sur, M. and Sen, A. (2020), 'Prahlad and Shanta : the city's madness', Contemporary South Asia, vol 28, no 4 , pp 498 - 510.
  • Sur, M. (2019), 'Danger and difference : teatime at the northeast India-Bangladesh border', Modern Asian Studies, vol 53, no 3 , pp 846 - 873.
  • Sur, M. (2019), 'Spiral', Society and Space. Volumetric Sovereignty, vol Part 3: Turbulence .
  • Sur, M. (2017), 'Mobility and art : Life Cycle', Transfers, vol 7, no 1 , pp 130 - 136.
  • Sur, M. (2017), 'The blue urban : colouring and constructing Kolkata', City, vol 21, no 5 , pp 597 - 606.
  • Elinoff, E., Sur, M. and Yeoh, B. (2017), 'Constructing Asia : an introduction', City, vol 21, no 5 , pp 580 - 586.
  • Sur, M. (2016), 'Battles for the golden grain : paddy soldiers and the making of the Northeast India-East Pakistan border, 1930-1970', Comparative Studies in Society and History, vol 58, no 3 , pp 804 - 832.
  • Sur, M. (2015), 'Indelible lines : revisiting borders and partitions in modern South Asia', Mobility in History, vol 6 , pp 70 - 78.
  • Sur, M. (2014), 'Divided bodies : crossing the India-Bangladesh border', Economic & Political Weekly, vol 49, no 13 , pp 31 - 35.
  • Sur, M. (2013), 'Through metal fences : material mobility and the politics of transnationality at borders', Mobilities, vol 8, no 1 , pp 70 - 89.
  • Mann, A., Mol, A., Satalkar, P., Savirani, A., Selim, N., Sur, M. and Yates-Doerr, E. (2011), 'Mixing methods, tasting fingers : notes on an ethnographic experiment', HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, vol 1, no 1 , pp 221 - 243.

Previous Projects

Title: Migrant Workers, Global Logistics and Unequal Citizens in Contemporary Global Context [via National Chiao Tung University] - No funds to WSU
  • Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes
Western Researchers: Brett Neilson, Shanthi Robertson and Malini Sur
Years: 2019-01-01 - 2020-12-31
ID: P00025444


Current Supervision

Thesis Title: The Lived Experience of Migrants: An Ethnographic Exploration of Bangladesh-Born Migrants' Settlement Experiences in Australia
Field of Research:
Thesis Title: MRES International coursework
Field of Research:
Thesis Title: The role of socio-cultural settings of the Orang Rimba Tribe in coping with forest fire hazard in Jambi Province
Field of Research:
Thesis Title: MRES International coursework
Field of Research:

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