Dr. Karishma Desai’s interdisciplinary scholarship, teaching, and professional engagements employ anthropological and feminist lenses in the study of childhood/youth, gender, and education. Her central concerns gravitate around the politics of knowledge and being, and attend to how gendered and racialized differences are stabilized and unsettled. She examines the contested ways in which global norms about gender and childhood/youth are consolidated, translated, and negotiated in educational sites predominantly in South Asia and the United States. Attending to global discourses alongside the everyday embodied and relational cultural lives of young people within unequal educational contexts, she investigates the kinds of gendered subjectivities that are forwarded as desirable with particular attention to the values, aspirations, and affective orientations made available. In doing so, she is interested in onto-epistemic questions related to sites of figuring and educating young people. She asks: what knowledges and ontologies matter in constructions of gendered childhoods? How have they come to matter and how are they disrupted? As a scholar and educator, she is invested in attending to educational problems by foregrounding the construction of youth, their complex material lives, subjugated knowledges, and modes of being that might offer new possibilities. These questions and investments result in the study of coloniality within educational sites and feminist scholarship that decenters liberal, anthropocentric constructions of the human.
Dr. Desai’s first line of scholarly inquiry examines the circulation of normative girlhood within educational and international development projects; it is anchored in a transnational feminist framework concerned with coloniality, geopolitics and global capitalism. She is currently working on a book manuscript based on multi-sited ethnography that examines desired subjectivities and knowledges attached to racialized girlhoods within skills-focused girl empowerment interventions across New Delhi and New York City.
Her second line of inquiry continues her focus on gendered aspirations and futures as articulated in and through the labor and care of young women. It attends to Adivasi (Indigenous) educational sites attached to social movements in Western India, drawing on scholarship examining decolonized futurities with specific attention to human/more-than human relationalities.
Dr. Desai’s research and teaching investments in the politics of knowledge build on over 15 years of experience as a classroom teacher and instructional leader in New York City and Chicago, as well as her work with educators and curriculum design in the United States, South Asia, and East Africa for over fifteen years. Currently, Dr. Desai collaborates with Newest Americans and YURI Education Project on curriculum design and professional development.
• Doctorate, Teachers College, Columbia University (2017)
• Masters of Education in International Educational Development, Teachers College, Columbia University (2017)
• MST, Childhood Education, Pace University (2006)
• B. A. in Sociocultural Anthropology, Washington University in Saint Louis (2004)
• American Anthropological Association (AAA)
• American Educational Research Association (AERA)
• Comparative and International Education Society (CIES)
• National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA)
Expertise & Research Interest
Race & Gender/Education
Anthropology & Education
Childhood & Youth Studies
Recent & Selected Publications
Desai, K. (2020). Life Skills as affective labour: Skilling girls with gendered enterprise. South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, 43(4), 705-722.
Kirchgasler, C. and Desai, K. (2020) ‘Girl’ in Crisis: Colonial residues of domesticity in transnational school reform. Comparative Education Review, 64(3), 384-403.
Desai, K. (2019). Letting girls learn, letting girls rise: Commodifying girlhood in campaigns for secure global futures. In K. Cheney & A. Sinevro (Eds.) Disadvantaged childhoods and humanitarian intervention. Palgrave Book Series on Children and Development. Basingstoke, U.K.: Palgrave Macmillan.
Sanya, B.N., Desai, K., Callier, D.M., & McCarthy, C. Eds. (2018). Educative practices and the making of(non)citizens [Special Issue]. Curriculum Inquiry.
Desai, K. (2016). Teaching the ‘Third World Girl’: Girl Rising as a precarious curriculum of empathy. Curriculum Inquiry, 46(3), 248-264.
Desai, K. & Sanya, B. N. (2016). Towards decolonial praxis: Reconfiguring the human and the curriculum. Gender and Education, 28(6), 710-724.
Desai, K. (2015). Adharshila Shikshan Kendra: An experiment to reconstitute possibilities for Adivasi children. In E. Sumida Huaman and B. Sriraman (Eds.), Indigenous universalities and peculiarities of innovation (149-168). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.
Honors & Awards
Gerardo Marin Postdoctoral Fellowship, University of San Francisco
Faculty Development Fund Award, University of San Francisco
Dean’s Fellowship for Research, Teachers College, Columbia University
Dean’s Fellowship Program for Teaching & Diversity Award, Teachers College, Columbia University
Minority Scholarship, Teachers College, Columbia University