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Leo Coleman

Associate Professor

    Tel: (212)396-6780
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Department Chair 2020-2021



Ph.D. 2008, Princeton University
M.A. (Hons) 2002, University of St Andrews

Areas of Specialization

Political & Legal Anthropology; Urban Anthropology; Science & Technology Studies; Colonialism & Postcolonialism; Constitutionalism & Nationalism; India, Scotland, and the British Empire

Overview of Research

Leo Coleman is a political anthropologist who researches technology, politics, and personhood in urban experience, especially in India, Scotland, and the British Empire. He also writes about the history of anthropology and examines the mutual entanglements of anthropology with technological modernity and artistic modernism since the beginning of the twentieth century. He publishes widely about anthropological theory, solitude, knowledge and consciousness, technics and ethics, and food and culture. Dr. Coleman is currently pursuing two book projects: a comparative historical anthropology of constitutional and legal form in various parts of the British Empire, and a postcolonial history of the idea of energy and its transformations in social thought.


Dr. Coleman is the author of A Moral Technology: Electrification as Political Ritual in New Delhi (Cornell University Press, 2017), a historical and ethnographic study of electrification in India's capital city, that explores how technological installations helped organize and transform urban political life across Delhi's twentieth-century history, from imperial enclave to national capital to global city. He has published articles on topics including urban solitude in Delhi, power and knowledge in the British Empire, the corporation and American constitutional thought, and reflections on imagination and materiality in political anthropology. He has edited a collection of essays about cross-cultural dining and sharing food in ethnographic fieldwork, titled Food: Ethnographic Encounters (Berg/Bloomsbury, 2011). In addition, Dr. Coleman writes reviews and criticism for a variety of publications.


2017. A Moral Technology: Electrification as Political Ritual in New Delhi. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

[South Asian Edition]: Electrification as Political Ritual in New Delhi: A Moral Technology. Delhi: Speaking Tiger Books.

Edited Book

2011. Food: Ethnographic Encounters. Oxford: Berg Press.

Selected Essays, Articles, and Reviews

Coleman, Leo. 2019. Widened Reason and Deepened Optimism: Electricity and Morality in Durkheim’s Anthropology and Our Own. In Electrifying Anthropology: Exploring Electrical Practices and Infrastructures, Simone Abram, Britt Ross Winthereik, and Thomas Yarrow, eds., pp. 43-63. New York: Bloomsbury.

Coleman, Leo. 2018. Building Scotland, Building Solidarity: A Scottish Architect’s Knowledge of Nation. Comparative Studies in Society and History 60(4): 873-906.

Coleman, Leo. 2017. Functionalists Write II: Weird Empathy in Malinowski's Trobriand Ethnographies. Anthropological Quarterly 90(4): 973-1002.

2017. Beauty's Knowledge: Hawthorne's Moral Fable "Rappaccini's Daughter." In "Speculative Health," Somatosphere: Science, Medicine, and Anthropology, 8 September.

Coleman, Leo. 2017. Material as Opposed to What? Three Recent Ethnographies of Welfare, Biological Labor, and Human Dignity. Somatosphere: Science, Medicine, and Anthropology.

Coleman, Leo. 2016. Why to Read Winnicott After the US Election, and How. Somatosphere: Science, Medicine, and Anthropology. (

Coleman, Leo. 2016. Inside and Outside the House: A Narrative of Mobility and Becoming in Delhi. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography

Coleman, Leo. 2015. Power and Ignorance in British India: The Native Fetish of the Crown. In Regimes of Ignorance: Anthropological Perspectives on the Production and Reproduction of Non-Knowledge. Roy Dilley and Thomas Kirsch, eds. Pp. 159-187. New York: Berghahn.

Coleman, Leo. 2015. The Imagining Life: Reflections on Imagination in Political Anthropology, in Reflections on Imagination: Human Capacity and Ethnographic Method. Mark Harris and Nigel Rapport, eds. Pp. 195-214. Burlington, VT: Ashgate.

Coleman, Leo. 2014. Infrastructure and Interpretation: Meters, Dams, and State Imagination in Scotland and India. American Ethnologist 41(3): 457–472. (

Coleman, Leo. 2014. Corporate Identity in Citizens United: Legal Fictions and Anthropological Theory. Political and Legal Anthropology Review 37(2): 308-328. (

Coleman, Leo. 2014. A View from Anthropology: Anomie and Urban Solitude. In The Handbook of Solitude: Psychological Perspectives on Social Isolation, Social Withdrawal, and Being Alone. Robert J. Coplan and Julie C. Bowker, eds. Pp. 483-498. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Coleman, Leo. 2012. Review essay on The Accompaniment: Assembling the Contemporary, by Paul Rabinow. Anthropological Quarterly 85(1).

Coleman, Leo. 2009. Being Alone Together: From Solidarity to Solitude in Urban Anthropology. Anthropological Quarterly 82/3: 755-778. (

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