Photo of Professor Deana Heath

Professor Deana Heath Ph.D.

Chair in Indian and Colonial History History


Research Overview

My first monograph, "Purifying Empire: Obscenity and the Politics of Moral Regulation in Britain, India and Australia" (Cambridge University Press, 2010), draws on the theory of governmentality to chart how the drive to regulate “obscenity” in late nineteenth-century Britain was transformed from a national into a global and imperial project and then appropriated in two different colonial contexts, India and Australia, to serve decidedly different ends. Building on my work on governmentality, my co-edited book, "South Asian Governmentalities: Michel Foucault and the Question of Postcolonial Orderings" (Cambridge University Press, 2018), utilises Foucault’s work on governmentality, particularly his recently-translated lecture series at the Collège de France, to chart the intersection of post-structuralism and postcolonialism in order to ask new questions about pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial South Asia and to explore the utility of European philosophy beyond Europe.

A more recent strand of my research investigates the history of violence. A co-edited book, "Communalism and Globalization in South Asia and its Diaspora" (Routledge, 2011), investigates whether globalisation has amplified or muted processes of ethno-religious nationalism, particularly communal violence, through exploring the concurrent histories of communalism and globalisation in four South Asian contexts (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka), as well as in various diasporic locations, from the nineteenth century to the present. My recent monograph, “Colonial Terror: Torture and State Violence in Colonial India” (Oxford, 2021), focuses more concretely on colonial violence through challenging the existing scholarly literature on colonial India that views British colonial rule as operating primarily through a “rule of law” in which violence was the exception rather than the norm, to argue that such “exceptional” forms of violence were instead symptomatic of the wider structural violence that underpinned colonialism. Focusing on the torture enacted by state officials, particularly the police, in colonial India between the early nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the ways in which this was facilitated by both the British and colonial Indian states, the book explores how such torture was systematised as a technology of colonial rule. Drawing upon the work of Giorgio Agamben and Michel Foucault, the book also offers an important critical intervention into the scholarship on states of exception by theorising colonial India as a “regime of exception” in which two different forms, or levels, of extraordinarity, had come to characterize the British colonial regime in the operation of its sovereignty by the early nineteenth century. I am currently working on a new, related project as part of this research strand on sexual violence as a tool of colonial power in India, which includes a focus on how women and girls were constituted as legal subjects.

I am, in addition, developing two new areas of research: on policing, colonialism/postcolonialism/postimperialism, and public health, and on Liverpool, natural history and empire.

I have, lastly, published numerous articles in prominent edited collections and peer-reviewed journals on imperial and colonial and post-colonial history. Focusing primarily on India, Britain and Australia, as well as on transnational processes and processes of globalisation, these explore a wide range of subjects, including explorations into the nature of colonial governance and control (such as moral regulation, censorship, imperial hygiene, governmentality, sovereignty, and biopower), analyses of both the genesis and violation of humanitarianism and human rights, and the effects of these (such as state violence, gendered violence, torture and trauma), states and state-building (particularly through the lens of law, policing, and criminology), examinations of the nature of global trade (via imperial networks), and studies of ethno-religious nationalism and Indian cinema.

Colonial Violence and the Body in Pain

My early research was comparative in scope; it aimed both to explore the cultural power of colonialism and the differing nature of colonialism in two different types of colonies (namely an 'exploitation' colony such as India and settler colonies such as Australia) and their imperial metropole (namely Britain). While my focus was primarily on cultural history - particularly attempts to regulate 'obscene' texts and images - I was also interested in how colonial states operated. Such interests drew me to the study of theories of power (particularly Foucault's concept of governmentality), modernity and globalization. More recently I have developed an interest in violence, particularly in the ways in which colonial regimes - especially in India - employed sovereign power, or the use of force, to enhance and maintain their authority, and the ways this intersected with other forms of power (including governmentality and - to draw from another Foucaultian concent - biopower). I am particularly interested, moreover, in the impact of such forms of violence on Indian bodies and minds, as exemplified in the book manuscript I recently completed on torture in colonial India. My current research is therefore extremely interdisciplinary and draws together a variety of theoretical and methodological strands, including scholarship on: pain and trauma; gender and masculinity; the body and embodied violence; interpersonal violence; violence and spectacle; the state and sovereign power; law; biopolitics and governmentality; and necropolitics and bare life.

Policing and Violence in colonial and post-colonial India

I am currently co-editing a book, with Dr. Santana Khanikar (Jawaharlal Nehru University) and Prof. Jinee Lokaneeta (Drew University) on policing and violence in India, to be published by Speaking Tiger press.

Research Supervision

I welcome inquiries from prospective students who wish to pursue an MRes or PhD in modern Indian (from the 18th century onwards), British, or British imperial and colonial history, in addition to projects in these or other geographical contexts and time periods relating to the history of violence and/or gender, sexuality, and the body.

Research Group Membership

  • Imperialism and Colonialism

Research Grants

Rape, Policing, and the 'Law-Preserving' Violence of Colonial Rule in India


January 2023 - January 2024

Colonial Terror: Torture, Violence and the Unmaking of the World


February 2017 - January 2018

The 'Civilising' Violence of Colonialism: Indian Experiences and Legacies


August 2017