Jigna Desai

My first book Beyond Bollywood (Routledge 2004) demonstrates the centrality of cinema to the formation of South Asian diasporas in North America and Britain. Through analyses of the production, circulation, and reception of diasporic films, I theorize the gender, sexual, and racial formations of diaspora. My research on the globalizing of Bollywood attends to the rise of Bollywood since economic liberalization in India, the corresponding formation and development of new genres such as NRI or Non-Resident Indian films, the transnational circulation and reception of popular Hindi films within diasporas, and the fluid and heterogeneous relationships between Bollywood and its audiences. I move beyond textual analysis of what diaspora means in the films, to understand what the films do in diaspora, i.e., to analyze the presence, function, and influence of Bollywood in diaspora. Additionally, my scholarship focuses on Asian American racial formations and citizenship in post-9/11 America. I examine how certain figures – e.g., (South) Asian American men – are framed as perpetrators of violence and terror to establish and justify the expansion of empire and the security state in the name of protecting of the vulnerable citizen. The essays explore the convergence and conflation of violence, race, and masculinity within media in discussions of Seung-hui Cho at Virginia Tech, the Harold and Kumar film series (in progress), and Tyler Clementi and Dharun Ravi at Rutgers (in progress). Asian Americans in Dixie brings together essays on historical and contemporary migration, community formation, and racialization in the South to reflect the breadth and depth of the Asian American presence in the region. With the emergence and rise of “brain sciences” (psychology, cognitive science, and neuroscience), a new set of neural knowledge and technologies (e.g. neuroimaging) is transforming how we identify, understand, and manage personhood and citizenship vis-a-vis conceptions of “normal” and “abnormal” brains. Queer and disability studies have elucidated how “normal” bodies and minds are defined and have demonstrated how “deviance” from these norms marks an abject status by characterizing some individuals as sub-human, bestowing on them a diminished citizenship. By interrogating the proliferation of neural knowledge and how it is intrinsically and increasingly related to the governance of the self, my new research examines how neural knowledge about autism shapes our social, political, and material worlds nationally and transnationally. Consequently, the project raises questions about the meaning of autism and about the ways neural knowledge and neuro-normativity (e.g., the hegemony of "normal brains and cognition") increasingly form and inform societies and citizenship in the new millennium.

Educational Background & Specialties

Educational Background

  • Ph.D.: English, Feminist Studies Minor, University of Minnesota.
  • B.S.: Cognitive Science and Literature, MIT, Cambridge, MA , 1990.
  • B.S.: Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, MIT, Cambridge, MA , 1990.

Curriculum Vitae


  • Asian American literature and media
  • feminist theory
  • postcolonial studies
  • queer/sexuality studies
  • South Asian diasporas
  • critical disability studies, autism, neuronormativity
Courses Taught
  • GWSS 1002 - Politics of Sex
  • GWSS 1004 - Screening Sex
  • GWSS 1902 Bollywood! -- Popular Indian Cinema
  • GWSS 1902 - What's" Normal?" What's Not: A Critical Disability Look at Autism
  • GWSS 3301 Writing Difference
  • GWSS 3409 - Asian American Women's Cultural Production
  • GWSS 4103/5104 - Transnational Feminist Theories
  • GWSS 8490 - Asian American Cultural Criticism
  • GWSS 8250 Nation, State, and Citizenship: On Violence and Normativity
Research & Professional Activities

Professional Activities

  • Chair: 2013 - 2016
  • Director of Undergraduate Studies: 2010 - 2013
  • Visiting Associate Professor: Harvard University , Spring 2009
  • Director of Asian American Studies Program : 2006 - 2008


  • South Asian Diasporic Cinema: Study of the gender and sexual politics of South Asian diasporic public cultures, September 1998 - ongoing
  • Globalization of Bollywood: Study the internationalization of Indian cinema, concentrating on their reception and consumption in the US, September 2001 - ongoing
  • Race and migration in Asian American Studies: Examining masculinity, nation-state, and terror, Fall 2007 - ongoing
  • Transnational Feminist and Queer Critique: theorizing transnational feminisms and queer studies, Fall 1998 - ongoing


  • Performer: Dancing from Shadow, March 2003 - April 2003
  • Poet and Performer: A Wife's Letter, August 2001 - September 2001
  • Banerjee, Koel and Jigna Desai. “Mompreneur in the Multiplex: Entrepreneurial Technologies of the “New Woman” Subject in the Age of Neoliberal Globalization.” In Bollywood’s New Woman: Liberalization, Liberation and Contested Bodies. Edited by Megha Anwer and Anupama Arora. Rutgers Univ. Press.
  • Bouchard, Danielle and Jigna Desai. “All That Whiteness Allows: Femininity, Race, and Empire in Safe, Carol, and Wonderstruck” An Indelible Mark: Feminism and the Work of Todd Haynes. Edited by Julia Leyda and Terri Geller. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  • Smalkoski, Kari, and Jigna Desai. “Ethnic Studies for the Multiracial Middle School: Empowering Hmong American Youth.” Teaching Asian America: Politics, Pedagogy, and Practice. Jennifer Hayashida and Cathy Schlund-Vials, eds. Urbana-Champaign, Illinois: University of Illinois Press.
  • Desai, Jigna. “Choreographing Feminist Food justice: Ananya Dance Theater’s Performance of Feminist Food Politics.” Mediations in a Dream. Ananya Dance Theatre, ed. Series: Dissident Feminisms. University of Illinois Press.
  • Bhattacharya, Sayan and Jigna Desai. “Feminist and Women’s Studies.” Sage Encyclopedia of Higher Education. Marilyn J Amey and Miriam David, eds. Sage Publications. 2020.
  • Desai, Jigna. “Bollywood and Asian America.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Literature and Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2019.
  • Butler, Pamela and Jigna Desai. “A Second Read: Further Reflections on Women-of-Color Chick Lit.” Theorizing Ethnicity in the Chick Lit Genre. Erin Hurt, editor. New York: Routledge. 2018. 25-37.
  • Desai, Jigna and Kevin Murphy. “Subjunctively Inhabiting the University.” Critical Ethnic Studies Vol. 4, Issue 1, Spring 2018. 23-43
  • Desai, Jigna. "political, bio-. His Boba Fett Tattoo.” In DSM: Asian American Edition. Asian American Literary Review. Open in Emergency A Special Issue on Asian American Mental Health. Mimi Khuc, editor. 2016. 117-24.
  • Desai, Jigna. “Film.” Keywords for Asian American Studies. Cathy Schlund-Vials, Linda Trinh Vo, and Scott Wong, eds. New York: New York University Press. 2015.
  • Neutill, Rani and Jigna Desai. “Diaspora.” Encyclopedia of Postcolonial Studies. Sangeeta Ray and Henry Schwarz, editors. Wiley-Blackwell. 2015.
  • Thoma, Pamela and Jigna Desai. “Negotiating Neoliberalism: Jigna Desai Interviews Pamela Thoma about Asian American Women’s Popular Literature,” Genders. Issue 59 (Spring 2014). http://www.genders.org/g59/g59_desai.html
  • Desai, Jigna and Rani Neutill. “Wound, Injury, and Restoration: Bollywood’s Formations of Global Terror.” Studies in South Asian Film and Media. Vol. 5, No. 2 (2014): 121-139.
  • Desai, Jigna and Khyati Joshi. “Introduction -- Discrepancies in Dixie: Asian Americans and the South.” Asian Americans in Dixie: Race and Migration in the South. Khyati Joshi and Jigna Desai, eds. Univ. of Illinois Press: 2013. 1-30.
  • Brandzel, Amy and Jigna Desai. “Racism Without Recognition: Towards a Model of Asian American Racialization.” Asian Americans in Dixie: Race and Migration in the South. Khyati Joshi and Jigna Desai, eds. Univ. of Illinois Press: 2013. 77-104.
  • Desai, Jigna and Rani Neutill. “The Anxieties of ‘New’ Indian Modernity: Globalization, Diaspora, and Bollywood.” A Companion to Diaspora and Transnationalism. Ato Quayson and Girish Daswani, eds. Blackwell Publishing. 2013. 233-248.
  • Desai, Jigna. “The Scale of Diasporic Cinema: Negotiating National and Transnational Cultural Citizenship.” Routledge Handbook on Indian Cinema. Moti Gokulsing and Wimal Dissanayake, eds. Routledge: 2013. 206-217.
  • Bashore, Katie and Jigna Desai. “Digital Technology for Feminist Pedagogy: A Useful Method for Learning Key Concepts in a Changing Academic Landscape.” Cultivating Change in the Academy: 50+ Stories from the Digital Frontlines at the University of Minnesota in 2012. An Open-Source eBook. Ann Hill Duin, Edward A. Nater, and Farhad X. Anklesaria, eds. University of Minnesota. 2012. http://purl.umn.edu/125273. (non peer-reviewed).
  • Rajan, Gita and Jigna Desai. “Introduction.” Transnational Feminism and Global Advocacy in South Asia. Gita Rajan and Jigna Desai, eds. New York: Taylor and Frances (Routledge). 2012.
  • Desai, Jigna. “Insurgent Cameras and Postcolonial Squibs.” Preface to Spectacles of Blood: A Study of Masculinity. Swaralipi Nandi and Esha Chatterjee, eds. New Delhi, India: Zubaan Books. 2012.
  • Desai, Jigna. “Pulp Frictions.” Re-Orientalism and South Asian Identity Politics: The Oriental Other Within. Lisa Lau and Ana Mendes, eds. New York: Routledge, 2011. 72-88.
  • Desai, Jigna, Danielle Bouchard, and Diane Detournay. “Disavowed Legacies and Honorable Thievery: The Work of the “Transnational” in Feminist and LGBTQ Studies.” Transnational Feminist Praxis. Richa Nagar and Amanda Swarr, eds. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2010. 46-64.
  • Desai, Jigna and Rajinder Dudrah. “The Essential Bollywood.” Bollywood: A Reader. Rajinder Dudrah and Jigna Desai, eds. London: Open University Press-McGraw Hill, 2008. 1-17.
  • Desai, Jigna. “Bollywood, USA: Diasporas, Nations, and the State of Cinema.” Transnational South Asians: The Making of a Neo-Diaspora. Susan Koshy and R. Radhakrishnan, eds. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.
  • Butler, Pamela and Jigna Desai. “Manolos, Marriage, and Mantras: Chick Lit Criticism and Transnational Feminism.” Meridians: Feminism, Race, and Transnationalism. 8.2 (Nov. 2008): 1-31.
  • Brandzel, Amy and Jigna Desai. “Race, Violence, and Terror: The Cultural Defensibility of Heteronormative Citizenship in the Virginia Tech Massacre and the Don Imus Affair.” Journal of Asian American Studies. Special issue. 11.1 (Feb. 2008): 61-85.
  • Desai, Jigna. “Bollywood Abroad: South Asian Diasporic Cosmopolitanism and Indian Cinema.” South Asian American Cosmopolitanism. Gita Rajan and Shailja Sharma, eds. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006. 115-137.
  • Desai, Jigna. “Planet Bollywood: Indian Cinema in Asian America.” East Main Street: Asian American Popular Culture. Shilpa Dave, LeiLani Nishime, and Tasha Oren, eds. New York: New York Univ. Press, 2005. 55-71.
  • Bouchard, Danielle and Jigna Desai. “’There’s Nothing More Debilitating Than Travel:’ Locating US Empire in Todd Haynes’ Safe.” Quarterly Review of Film and Video. 22.4: (Oct.-Dec 2005): 359-370.
  • Desai, Jigna. “Bombay Boys and Girls: Transnational Gender and Sexual Politics in the New Indian Cinema in English.” South Asian Popular Culture 1.1 (April 2003): 45-61.
  • Desai, Jigna. “Homo on the Range: Mobile and Global Sexualities.” Social Text 73, 20.4 (Winter 2002): 65-89.
  • S. Perlmutter, C. Pennypacker, G. Goldhaber, A. Goobar, R. A. Muller, H. J. M. Newberg, J. Desai, A. G. Kim, M. Y. Kim, I. A. Small, B. J. Boyle, C. S. Crawford, R. G. McMahon, P. S. Bunclark, D. Carter, M. J. Irwin, R. J. Terlevich, R. S. Ellis, K. Glazebrook, W. J. Couch, J. R. Mould, T. A. Small and R. G. Abraham. “A Supernova at z=0.458 and Implications for Measuring the Cosmological Deceleration.” Astrophysical Journal Letters 440 (20 February 1995): L41-L44.
  • S. Perlmutter, C. Pennypacker, G. Goldhaber, A. Goobar, R. Muller, J. Desai, A. Kim, M. Kim, I. Small, B. Boyle, C. Crawford, R. McMahon, P. Bunclark, D. Carter, M. Irwin, R. Terlevich, R. Ellis, K. Glazebrook, W. Couch, J. Mould, T. Small and R. Abraham. “A Supernova at z=0.458 and Cosmology.” Proceedings of the Texas/Pascos '92: Relativistic Astrophysics and Particle Cosmology, Berkeley, California, 13-18 December 1992. C. Akerlof and M. Srednicki, eds; 688 (June 1993): 554-557.
  • C. Pennypacker, S. Perlmutter, G.Goldhaber, A. Goobar, J. Desai, A. Kim, M. Kim, R. Muller, H. Newberg, I. Small, B. Boyle, R. McMahon, P. Bunclark, D. Carter, M. Irwin, R. Terlevich, R. Ellis, W. Couch, T. Small, J. Mould, C. Crawford, R. Abraham, K. Glazebrook. “Supernova 1992bi in Anonymous Galaxy.” International Astronomical Union Circular. No. 5652 (12 November 1992): 1.
  • University of Minnesota, All-University Award for Outstanding Graduate and Professional Teaching; Designation as Distinguished Graduate Professor, 2014
  • Association of Asian American Studies Excellence in Mentorship Award , 2013
  • President's Award for Outstanding Service, Univ. of MN, 2007
  • Red Motley Undergraduate Teaching Award, Univ. of MN, 2004