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20 February 2024

King's academic wins prize for book on anthropology of South Asia

Dr Kriti Kapila won the Bernard S Cohn prize for her book on the anthropology of ownership, sovereignty and the law in India.

Nullius Book Cover

The Association for Asian Studies has awarded the 2024 Bernard S Cohn prize for first book on South Asia to Dr Kriti Kapila, Lecturer in Social Anthropology and Law at the King’s India Institute and the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine.

Bernard S Cohn was an influential anthropologist who contributed significantly to the understanding of colonialism, law and social structures, particularly in India. Dr Kapila received the award for her 2022 book titled ‘Nullius: the anthropology of ownership, sovereignty, and the law in India’ (The University of Chicago Press, 2022).

Nullius is an anthropological account of the troubled place of ownership and its consequences for social relations in India. The book provides a detailed study of three doctrinal paradigms where proprietary relations have been erased, denied or misappropriated by the Indian state.

I am thrilled and honoured to receive the Bernard S Cohn Book Prize. It is especially humbling to receive a prize named after a scholar whose scholarship was formative to my work.

Dr Kriti Kapila, Lecturer in Social Anthropology and Law

It examines three occurrences of negation, where the Indian state de facto adopted the doctrines of terra nullius (nobody’s land) in the erasure of indigenous title, res nullius (nobody’s thing) in acquiring museum objects, and, controversially, corpus nullius (nobody’s body) in denying ownership of one’s personhood in citizens’ data collected through biometric identification.

In Nullius, Dr Kapila contends that even though property rights and ownership are a cornerstone of modern law, they are a spectral presence in the Indian case.

The Association for Asian Studies (AAS) will present the award at a ceremony on 16 March in Seattle. AAS is a scholarly organisation dedicated to promoting the study of Asia in the field of humanities and social sciences.

In this story

Kriti Kapila

Lecturer in Social Anthropology and Law