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A PhD alumna and lecturer in Economics at the University of Reading, Neha Hui examines the twists and turns that mould economies. Her special interests form the bedrock of her research and they include the economies of gender; labour and classical politics; as well as economic history and thought.

Unequal negotiation: what lies beneath?

Neha's research examines inequities within negotiation. For instance, the unequal bargaining power of women in sex work and domestic work in present-day India; and that of the colonial era's 'indentured workers'. 

Neha was awarded sought-after British Academy[i] funding for her study of 19th century indentured labour migrants. This was a group that emerged following Britain's criminalisation of enslavement in 1833. The British Government wanted to protect revenue from its Caribbean plantations, and so caused the migration of cheap and dependent labour from the Indian subcontinent to the Caribbean. 

Neha also looks at how caste and economic unfreedoms at home played a role in those migrant workers' decisions about whether to repatriate at the end of their indenture. 

"It's an important area of research given that large numbers of people over the centuries, continuing today, are subsumed by unequal negotiation. My students and I explore the topic in depth."

Choosing the University of Reading for PhD research

"I selected the University of Reading because I was keen to work with my supervisors: Dr Marina della Guista - a leading scholar in the area of economics of sex work; and Professor Uma Kambhampati – a well-established authoritative researcher in empirical development economics.

"I was attracted to the research focus of the Department of Economics and the interdisciplinary collaborative research of academics here, and believed my research interest fitted very well in the Department.

"I also loved the happy atmosphere and beautiful surroundings of the University. "

Studying at the University of Reading

Neha describes the great opportunities she has enjoyed at Reading: including interacting with world-class academics, both from the University and outside, from whom she has "learned an incredible amount."

"The University helped me set my foot on solid grounds in the academic world, through opportunities for collaborative research and the chance to teach in undergraduate and postgraduate modules. Also, I have had excellent exposure to interesting research from around the world, and my Department has given me flexibility to build my own research interests and skills. We have a wonderful international student community and I have made great friends from around the world."

Moving into teaching

Having completed her PhD at Reading, Neha gained further experience at the University of Bamberg in Germany. She was then awarded the prestigious British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship and returned to Reading to commence her academic teaching career, having been a sessional lecturer whilst studying. As a sessional lecturer, she had taught small groups. However, once she started her academic teaching role, her first module consisted of 250 students, which she describes as inspiring and exciting. Neha loves teaching and comments:

"In five years’ time, I hope to be well established as a lecturer. I enjoy my research and believe I am good teacher. I hope to be involved in solid post-doctoral research projects and contribute to research in my area. I also hope to have the opportunity to convene my own teaching modules."

How Neha's research feeds into her teaching

The main module Neha teaches is Development Economics, for which she draws on her research a great deal. 

The Department of Economics is keen for students to get involved in assisting with research during their studies. It helps students to gain knowledge of how economic research works, which can be a valuable boost to future careers. 

Neha's research-embedded teaching examines various economic conditions in which workers do not have complete consent, for instance sex workers. In her module Development Economics, she shares her exploration of the subject, which took her to Kolkata and Delhi, where she assessed economic aspects of sex workers. 

"My research investigated the labour market and well-being constraints for women sex workers. I engaged with Nash Bargaining models to theoretically understand economic outcomes under conditions of asymmetric bargaining power, a result of the stigma and legal framework faced by sex workers that strongly limit alternative career options.

“It was extraordinary researching within the red-light districts. What struck me was people’s tendency towards “othering” sex workers: ie the perception that those who make us uncomfortable belong to a different category, thus dehumanising them.

“Yet what I saw were similarities; humans going about their general lives, enjoying some aspects and hating others. I was staying in a University campus whilst conducting this field work and found many unexpected parallels in the camaraderie and in-jokes between both groups of young people. They were all humans, just with different lives.

“My undergraduate students listened very intently to this area of my research, reporting that it greatly widened their perception of developing economies."

Domestic violence seen through the complex kaleidoscope of economics

Another area that broadened students’ understanding of “others” was learning from Neha's exploration of gender and well-being within the complexities of economics.

“I am working on a project where I look at the relationship between political conflict and domestic violence in Nigeria. My students and I examine how persistent exposure to political conflict increases incidence of domestic violence.

“I also share with my students my examination of the effect of media on domestic violence in India. It is a complex subject; radio and television challenge traditional views and thus may open minds. There is the hope that men might become less violent and women may take courage to resist. On the other hand, the media can make women more independent and assertive, which can trigger a backlash among men. I examine what bargaining power these women have.”

[i] Neha was awarded the prestigious British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship, which is a three year award made to an annual cohort of outstanding early career researchers in the humanities or social sciences. The British Academy is the UK's national body for the humanities and social sciences.


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