Dr Devyani Prabhat is a lecturer in Law at the University of Bristol Law School, as well as a lawyer with legal practice experience from New Delhi and New York. She is currently leading a three-year ESRC research project on British citizenship and the practice of nationality laws.
Why did you pursue an academic career?
I practiced as a lawyer in the Supreme Court of India, New Delhi and, later, in New York City. In both places I represented clients who were from disadvantaged backgrounds. I was not satisfied to only examine their individual legal cases, but wanted to know about the systemic reasons why they required representation from me. This inspired me to undertake a PhD at New York University with a focus on the Sociology of Law.
My specific research interests on national security, citizenship and the legal profession developed while I was practising law in New York. The landmark Guantanamo Bay cases were being decided by the US Supreme Court at that time, and I was really interested in studying those cases and their context.
What career achievements are you most proud of?
Winning cases for clients who do not expect to win is always a tremendous high. I once obtained a stay order in an eviction case for a street vendor in New Delhi and she brought me many boxes of fruit from her stall as thanks. She could not afford any fees, so it was really special.
As a law teacher, every time a student expresses interest in the law which goes beyond examination needs I am very proud. Recently my students at University of Bristol Law School won a national award for their outreach work on the Human Rights Act. I designed the session and was really pleased they could make it their own and deliver it so beautifully.
It is also very fulfilling to research, write, publish and speak of one’s work. To be welcomed anywhere on earth as a scholar makes one an insider in any community.
What is the most important issue society is facing today?
Whether we as a human community will be able to improve conditions of our planet or continue to battle each other for narrow, sectarian interests. This broad issue comes up in many forms in our diverse areas of research.
What do you feel is the most important finding of economics and social science over the past 50 years?
That eventually inequality harms everyone. If women do not go to school, it harms women and men. If some do not have access to healthcare, no one is safe from epidemics. We are all connected.
Outlook at 50: As part of marking ESRC’s 50th anniversary we have asked a selection of leading ESRC-funded researchers to share impressions from their own careers and thoughts on the role of social science in society.