Deval Desai


Research Associate
Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy
Areas of expertise
  • Democratic governance
  • Democratic participation
  • Comparative Law
  • Development, cooperation and aid policies
  • Globalisation
  • International organisations, UN
  • Knowledge, Law and expertise
  • Natural resources, extractive economies, commodities


Deval Desai is Research Associate at the Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy . Mixing legal analysis, social theory, and ethnographic field research, he researches political and legal contestation over the role of expertise in domestic and global law and governance, with an emphasis on the legitimacy and accountability of experts.

Deval explores the political and legal struggles through which expertise might emerge as technocratic, democratically “deficient”, or perhaps even innovatively democratic. He also researches the transnational – and often expert-driven - theory and design of rule of law systems in the global South, in particular the ways in which legal institutions can produce political marginalization as well as novel forms of democratic politics.

His current research projects critically examine ignorance and creativity as modes of regulation and policymaking, focusing on multi-stakeholder initiatives and on rule of law reform. His work has been supported by the British Institute for International and Comparative Law, Harvard’s Institute for Global Law and Policy, the Harvard Program on Negotiation, Canada’s International Development Research Corporation, and many others.

Since 2009, Deval has also worked for the World Bank as a rule of law reform and governance expert in Nigeria, Cameroon, Sierra Leone and Uganda; as well as advising the UN on rule of law issues. As a lawyer, he has worked on corporate accountability, including as an attorney on the case of Kiobel before the US Supreme Court. Trained in history and French literature (M.A., Oxford), and law and social theory (LL.M. and S.J.D., Harvard Law School), he is a member of the Bar of England and Wales.



  • Desai, D., Randeria, S., & Lutringer, C. (2020). Redefining Vulnerability and State – Society Relationships during the COVID-19 Crisis: The Politics of Social Welfare Funds in India and Italy. In M. Maduro & P. Kahn (eds.), Democracy in Times of Pandemic: Different Futures Imagined (pp. 182-195). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/9781108955690.014.

  • There Was a Third Man...’: Tales from a Global Policy Consultation on Indicators for the Sustainable Development Goals, 49(1) Development and Change (2018), 89-115 (with Mareike Schomerus).

  • Experimental Justice Reform: Lessons from the World Bank and Beyond, 11 Annual Review of Law and Social Science (2015), 155-174 (with Michael Woolcock; solicited submission).

  • The Politics – and Process – of Rule of Law Systems in Developmental States, in Bukenya, B., Hickey, S. and Sen, K. (eds.), The Politics of Inclusive Development: Interrogating the Evidence (2015), 174-196 (Oxford: Oxford University Press; with Michael Woolcock).

  •  In Search of “Hire” Knowledge: Hiring Practices and the Organization of Knowledge in a Rule of Law Field, in Marshall, D. (ed.), The International Rule of Law Movement – A Crisis of Legitimacy and the Way Forward (2014), 42-83 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).

  •  Intersubjective Meaning and Collective Action in Developing Societies: Theory, Evidence and Policy Implications, 49(1) Journal of Development Studies (2013), 160-172 (with Varun Gauri and Michael Woolcock).

  • Text and Subtext in Agreements Between Mining Corporations and Indigenous Communities, in Perry-Kessaris, A. (ed.), Socio-Legal Approaches to International Economic Law: Text, Context, Subtext (2013), 153-166 (London: Routledge).

  • Governance and Accountability in Extractive Industries: Theory and Practice at the World Bank, 30 Journal of Energy and Natural Resources Law (2012), 101-128 (with Michael Jarvis).