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Dr Deval Desai

Dr Deval Desai

Reader in International Economic Law

MA (Oxon), PGDipL, PGDipLP, LLM, SJD

Office hours:

Research Leave 2023-2024

Tel: 0131 651 4791


View my publications

Dr Deval Desai is Reader in International Economic Law. He joined Edinburgh Law School in 2020. His work focuses on law and development, administrative law and regulation, theories of the state, and (de)colonial patterns of knowledge and authority. He has taught on these topics at the Geneva Graduate Institute, Harvard Law School, Manchester, Northeastern Law School, SOAS, and the Universidad de los Andes.

Deval previously held research positions at Harvard Law School and the Geneva Graduate Institute. He serves on the editorial board of the Hague Journal on the Rule of Law, the Emerging Scholars Forum of Global Perspectives, and has served on the editorial board of the Harvard International Law Journal.

Deval is an interdisciplinary scholar. His articles appear in leading journals in law, political science, and development studies. His first monograph, Expert Ignorance (Cambridge University Press; open access), draws on legal and social theory, development studies, international relations, and performance and theatre studies. His work is also informed by a decade of experience working for the World Bank on rule of law and governance in sub-Saharan Africa; as well as advising the UN on rule of law issues.

His ongoing research projects include:

  • PI on a series of grants exploring the importance of individual and societal “loss” in the legal institutions that guide transitional processes. This includes grants from the British Academy (£9,370) and the University of Edinburgh’s Big Ideas Accelerator (£16,045).
  • A PI on a £2.1 million, four-year Swiss National Science Foundation Sinergia project entitled “Reversing the Gaze: Towards Post-Comparative Area Studies” (with B. Korf, E. Macamo, and R. Weber), which studies the politics of social scientific comparative methods as they are applied to political questions in Europe and the Global South. Within this project, Deval also leads a team that draws on fiscal sociology and administrative law to study social welfare provision in India and Italy, and its implications for theories of the administrative state in the Global South;
  • Co-investigator on a three-year joint Swiss National Science Foundation- Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico grant, “Infrastructuring Democracy: The Regulatory Politics of Digital Code, Content and Circulation” (£267,000, with A. Leander, F. Hoffmann, and L. Fernandes), which draws on theories and methods from international relations and international law to study the regulation of digital programs and platforms that shape democratic politics. 

Deval is a recipient of the Dame Muriel Spark Medal (2024, Royal Society of Edinburgh, for exceptional achievements in the arts, humanities, and social sciences), and the Chancellor’s ‘Rising Star’ Award (2023, University of Edinburgh, for excellence in research).

Deval is also a committed mentor. He was highly commended in the university’s Susan Manning Award for Inspiring Mentor in 2022. Members of his project team have gone on to secure major fellowships at the EUI and Edinburgh’s Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities. He also supports training, collaboration, and mentorship among junior social science faculty and early career scholars more broadly, especially from and in the Global South. To this end, he co-directs the Global Justice summer school at CEU, and helped establish and coordinate the Global Scholars’ Academy at the Geneva Graduate Institute. He has also served as faculty on similar programmes, including Harvard’s Institute for Global Law and Policy Workshop, Bremen’s Interdisciplinary Autumn Research School, and the EDOLAD summer school.

Deval trained in history and French literature (M.A., Oxford), and law and social theory (PGDipL and PGDipLP, City University/BPP Law School; LL.M. and S.J.D., Harvard Law School). At Harvard, he held the Byse, Program on Negotiation Next Generation, and Institute for Global Law and Policy fellowships. In recognition of his work on law and development, he held an inaugural Bingham Center International Rule of Law Fellowship. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, the Young Academy of Europe, and the Young Academy of Scotland.

Ph.D. supervision interests

Deval welcomes proposals for postgraduate research in the areas of law and development, administrative law, regulation, and law and policy.

He currently supervises:

  • Tanapoom Chansawang
  • Yunqing Liu
  • Bhavinee Singh
  • Sukru Surucu