Smitha Radhakrishnan

Marion Butler McLean Professor in the History of Ideas and Professor of Sociology

A feminist qualitative sociologist interested in finance, development and globalization in India, the U.S. and South Africa.

My scholarship and teaching illuminate how local and global dynamics of culture and the economy reflect and challenge one another. In the two major research projects that have defined my scholarship so far, I have examined the institutional contexts of work, finance, and international development in the geographical contexts of urban India, the U.S., and South Africa. In my classroom and in my writing, am particularly attentive to how contemporary forms of racial, caste, class, and gender inequality are products of the interconnected legacies of colonialism and slavery. My methodological preference for fine-grained ethnography and interviews, and my theoretical bent towards the world-systemic dynamics of economy and culture link, at every turn, the individual/personal with the public, the social, and the political.

color:#454545">My new book, Making Women Pay: Microfinance in Urban India color:#454545">, examines the taken-for-granted practices and institutional arrangements of commercial microfinance institutions in urban India, a sector that reaches over 40 million poor and working class women through small, high-interest loans. Through interviews and ethnographic work in India and the United States, this project investigates how exploitative financial practices expand to vulnerable populations while ensuring profit for lending institutions. I pay close attention to the relationships between loan officers and working women clients. Developing the notion of a gendered microfinance chain, I show how commercial microfinance institutions, with the support of the state, extract financial and reputational value from working class women to more powerful groups in the industry, especially privileged men.

I have just completed an edited volume with Dr. Gowri Vijayakumar, Sociology of South Asia: Postcolonial Legacies, Global Imaginaries (forthcoming from Palgrave-Macmillan). This volume envisions how the discipline of sociology may be transformed when we place the region of South Asia at the center of our empirical analyses. In addition, I am currently working on a new book with Dr. Cinzia Solari that examines the gender order of neoliberalism, with comparative examinations of South and Southeast Asia, the U.S., and the former Soviet Union.
My first book, Appropriately Indian: Gender and Culture in a Transnational Class was a multi-sited ethnographic examination of transnational Indian information technology (IT) workers. Prior to this book, I studied the cultural politics of post-apartheid South Africa, based on extensive research with South African Indian communities in Durban and its surrounding townships.
At Wellesley, I teach courses that examine globalization, race, gender, and diaspora studies, among other topics. My courses offer students an opportunity to think deeply about social difference in the context of an interconnected, albeit fragmented world. I have produced the following massively open online courses on the edX platform: Global Sociology, Global Inequality, and Global Social Change. The educational materials I developed for these courses, including onsite lectures and interviews with prominent scholars, have reached thousands of learners around the world, and I continue to integrate them into my on-campus teaching at Wellesley.
I am a strong advocate for anti-racist transformation in our education system. At Wellesley, I have served on numerous committees to advance the goals of inclusive excellence on our campus. As a Natick parent, I promote diverse books in public schools through education and advocacy.
Alongside my academic life, I perform and promote classical and contemporary Indian dance forms, especially Bharatanatyam. In 2015, I established NATyA Dance in Natick, which includes a performance collective as well as classes for children and adults.


  • A.B., University of California (Berkeley)
  • M.A., University of California (Berkeley)
  • Ph.D., University of California (Berkeley)

Current and upcoming courses

  • How are your personal problems related to larger issues in society and the world? In what ways do global economic and political shifts affect your personal trajectory as a college student in the United States? In this course, you will come to understand sociology as a unique set of tools with which to interpret your relationship to a broader sociopolitical landscape. By integrating classic readings in the discipline of sociology with the principles of global political economy, we will analyze and contextualize a range of social, economic, and political phenomena at the scales of the global, the national, the local, and the individual.